Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Broadcasting Co. made its prime-time United States debut on Sunday night, 05 April 1987. It was comprised of six small TV stations broadcasting to 22% of American homes.
The new network premiered two comedies back-to-back, “Married with Children” and “The Tracey Ullman Show.” It repeated both twice that evening. In 1987, the FCC defined a network as having a minimum of 15 hours of programming airing on stations and affiliates.
The network jumpstarted the careers of Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lopez; made adult “cartoons” popular with The Simpsons; and launched cult classics like The X-Files. It also stole football broadcasts from CBS.
How was a broadcast network birthed to challenge ABC, CBS and NBC?
In early May 1985, Metromedia offered to sell six of its seven television stations to “an entity composed of 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Denver oilman Marvin Davis and Australian publisher and broadcaster Rupert Murdoch.” The price: $2 billion ($5.3 billion in 2022 dollars)
Twentieth Century Fox is owned 50% by Davis and 50% by a subsidiary of The News Corp. Ltd., which in turn is principally owned by Murdoch.
At the time, Murdoch’s companies owned four daily newspapers in the US, the Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post and San Antonio Express and News; weekly newspapers in Houston; and in New York, New York magazine and The Village Voice. Murdoch owned more than 80 magazines and newspapers worldwide, including The (London) Times and Sunday Times as well as Australian newspapers (where he made his start) and television networks
Murdoch was not a US citizen. At the time, FCC rules prohibited “foreigners from owning more than 20% of a broadcast licensee directly; the limit is 25% if that interest is held through an intervening corporate layer.”
In addition, his ownership of a swath of newspapers ran afoul of FCC cross-ownership regulations.
Murdoch became a US citizen on 04 September 1985. The deal went through.
Fox News, on the other hand, launched as a cable channel nine years later, on 07 October 1996. In 1989, Murdoch had created Europe’s first 24-hour cable news show, Sky News.
Fox News “operated under the umbrella of the Fox Entertainment Group, the film and television division of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (formerly News Corporation).”
Despite its claim to be “fair and balanced,” Fox News forged strong links with many leaders in the Republican Party and in the conservative political establishment.