Now, more than ever, modern history is told through television drama and made accessible to millions through streaming, writes columnist NICK OVERALL…
LAST year’s “The Comey Rule” (on Stan) caused a fuss when, toupee and all, Donald Trump was played by Brendan Gleeson in a take on the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 election.
There was also controversy when the fourth season of Netflix’s regal hit “The Crown” was released, a show which retells the modern history of the monarchy and one that Prince Harry himself wants ended before it reaches the present day.
But a year before that there was “The Loudest Voice” (on Stan), where Aussie star Russell Crowe played American media tycoon Roger Ailes, the man who concocted Fox News.
An infamous figurehead of conservative politics, Ailes made Fox the most watched news channel in the US, a record it still holds today, and was pivotal in its spread to what is now 86 countries.
Despite left-wing critics chastising the channel for its conservative slant, especially over the last decade, Ailes relentlessly defended his creation with the catch cry of “fair and balanced”.
Layers of make-up, prosthetics and just damn good acting make Russell Crowe near impossible to recognise in his portrayal of the mogul. He’s completely immersed in the role, which spans 20 years of Ailes’ life throughout the series’ seven episodes.
But make no mistake, the show depicts Ailes as the villain.
It spares him nothing short of evil mastermind, with stark confrontation of the multiple sexual-harassment claims made against him amidst the explosion of the “#metoo” movement.
“We don’t break the news, we make the news,” says Ailes in one of the show’s early episodes.
He’s a mix of both detestable and fascinating, and while I found the takedown to be justified, there’s something to be considered in just how consuming these shows can be.
Television with this calibre of production is armed with incredible realism, especially when led by talent such as Crowe who so vividly realise their characters, and it’s the writers and producers who get to wield that realism in their political messaging.
As captivating as it is convincing, television such as “The Loudest Voice” has the power entirely in and of itself to steer political opinion.
The show also features a portrayal of a figure slightly closer to home, the Australian owner of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, who appointed Ailes as head honcho of Fox News.
It’s a strange depiction of Murdoch, one more subdued compared to other portrayals where he’s presented as a commandeering puppet master of media.
He certainly has more rein of the strings in the voguish HBO series “Succession” (available on Binge), which has a third season on the way before the year is out.
It’s about a fictional billionaire family called the “Roys” who battle and bicker over the media throne sat on by its patriarch.
While not directly about the Murdochs, the fact that the original script of “Succession” was a film about Rupert is just one of many “coincidences” that let the cat out of the bag.
Entertainment and dramatisation of real-world politics and history will continue to play a part in the way audiences form their opinion, especially as they become more accessible and readily produced through streaming.
While shows such as “The Loudest Voice” plead with viewers to more carefully consider how news is trying to sway them, it also reveals something about the way scripted television has the power to do the very same thing.
Television drama has emerged as a powerful new medium of information dissemination and while it’s only a few taps on a screen away, so too is access to endless information that can support, refute or inform what’s presented in them.
The importance of doing one’s own research has never been more important.
“There’s a certain element of the melding with show business or entertainment,” Ailes told “Broadcasting & Cable” magazine in 2003.
“Entertainment and news should always be separate, but you should walk right up to the line and get your toe on it.”
Who can be trusted?
In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.
If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.
Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.
Ian Meikle, editor