TRYING TO CURE WHAT AILES YOU
It figures that Roger Ailes would create and run a talk-TV network. Ailes is quite the talker.
Tough talk, persuasive talk, even sweet talk--it all comes naturally for this former TV producer, media consultant and political strategist for such candidates as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
In August, 1993, Ailes was named president of CNBC, the NBC-owned business news and talk-show cable hybrid. Then he set about to start a sister channel, this one from scratch.
His brainchild would be a round-the-clock, sea-to-shining-sea confab that would focus, depending on the hour, upon one of the many issues of everyday life. American life.
Created in five breakneck months in early 1994, what Ailes refers to as “the people’s network” launched unabashedly that Fourth of July.
It was called ... America’s Talking.
Now Ailes is talking:
“To build the network, I phrased a series of questions that I think Americans probably ask themselves consciously or subconsciously every day. Then I said, ‘Let’s try to create shows that answer those questions.’ ”
Proudly heavyset and combative, Ailes holds sway in his windowed corner office that looks out on Ft. Lee, N.J., and, for that matter, the rest of America.
But his channel casts a blind eye on what Ailes calls, with his patented bluntness, “freaks” and “bozos"--that is, the habitues of the syndicated talk shows he brands “dysfunctional programming.”
By contrast, with America’s Talking, he says, “We’re looking for the average people. I figure there are 18 shows for freaks. If there’s one network for normal people it’ll balance out.”
And here, he reckons, are those normal people’s questions:
“We get up in the morning and ask ourselves, ‘What happened overnight?”’ Hello! Catch “Wake Up America” weekdays from 7 to 9 a.m. EDT.
”... We look in the mirror and say, ‘Am I healthy? What should I do to take care of myself?”’ Watch “Alive & Wellness” (11 a.m. to noon), of course.
”... You say, ‘Gee, I need some advice on my relationships’ ” -- just “Ask E. Jean” from 4 to 5 p.m --"and then you wonder, ‘How did the government screw me today?”’ Hey, you might learn that on “Pork,” from 5 to 6 p.m.
He might have added this question: “Who’s Ailes talking to today?” Ailes himself hosts a celebrities-and-newsmakers interview show, “Straight Forward,” weeknights from 8 to 9 p.m.
In sum, you might think of America’s Talking as a boxed set of 11 shows that come in different flavors of You.
“If they find a network that is about them, they will watch it,” he concludes grandly. “That is the philosophy, the theory, the driving force and the vision of America’s Talking.”
But that’s not all.
“We added on the layer of interactivity, so viewers can call in and say, ‘Wait a minute, I didn’t get that,’ or ‘I don’t agree with you, what about this instead?”’
Thus is America’s Talking tied by phone and computer to its viewership, rendering the information superhighway a sort of Main Street USA.
Under the direct stewardship of programming vice president Elizabeth Tilson, America’s Talking keeps its two cozy studios humming every weekday with a dozen hours of live programming (some repeated during the 24-hour cycle, and again on weekends).
It’s a tight ship. As one space-saving measure, the set for each show is designed to swing around to serve as the set for another.
Just past its first birthday, it can be seen in more than 16 million homes, Ailes reports, “and we expect to be at 20 million before the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, he expects to remain at the helm of CNBC and America’s Talking for another few years.
“I would have left in a heartbeat, and they knew it, if I didn’t feel that I was in a position to contribute to the CNBC franchise worldwide,” Ailes says.
Yet another reason to stay on: It’s fun.
“I’ve gotten over all the cynicism of politics,” says the man who did his part to define it.
“That’s because I’m around bright, young, fresh, happy people and ...” Detecting skepticism from his audience he interrupts himself, and smiles a knowing smile.
“It’s true!” he chuckles, and there’s nothing more to talk about.