Murdoch begins Hollywood goodbye

LOS ANGELES (TNS) — Thirty-four years ago, Rupert Murdoch showed up in Hollywood with $250 million, buying a stake in the 20th Century Fox film studio — even though he had little interest in making movies.

The scrappy Australian newsman, then known for his clamorous tabloids, was viewed with suspicion. Skeptics assumed he was a corporate raider intent on stripping value from the studio. Instead, Murdoch rescued a threadbare operation from financial ruin and turned it into the centerpiece of a growing empire that has reshaped the entertainment industry.

Now, Murdoch is dismantling his life’s work: a kingdom worth more than $100 billion. On Tuesday, his largest company, 21st Century Fox, will be broken apart. Walt Disney Co. will absorb Fox’s legendary movie and television production studios, with their deep trove of titles that include “Avatar,” “Deadpool,” “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons.” The Murdoch family will create a new entity, simply known as Fox that will include Fox News Channel, the Fox broadcast network, national Fox Sports channels, TV stations and the 50-acre Fox studio lot in Century City.

The sale seemed unthinkable to many. But the 88-year-old Murdoch was never enamored of the clubby movie business. He wanted the film studio to support his global push into television, where he has left a more indelible mark. Along the way, he has relished his influence and his image as an outsider, a rascal who took big swings and thumbed his nose at the establishment.

On the Fox Studios lot, Rupert Murdoch is the godfather. Murdoch’s original company, News Corp., purchased the film studio in 1985, midway through his long campaign to buy and launch properties that now span the world and touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Murdoch in 2013 divided his holdings into two separate companies: News Corp., the publishing unit that includes The New York Post and Wall Street Journal; and 21st Century Fox, the entertainment arm. The Murdoch Family Trust controls both through its ownership of 39 percent of the companies’ voting shares. Murdoch agreed to the corporate split to appease Wall Street, which agitated for him to sell his newspapers — something he refused to do.

So when word leaked, in late 2017, that Murdoch was planning to unload much of his Hollywood operation, many were stunned. Bloomberg News estimates his fortune (including family trust holdings) at $19.5 billion, putting him at No. 46 on Bloomberg’s billionaires list.

He is most associated with Fox News, the conservative-leaning outlet, which he has helped run since Roger Ailes was forced out in 2016 in a sexual harassment scandal. But Murdoch also is a towering presence at Fox Studios in Los Angeles.