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Learning From A USC Journalism Class

Thanks to Professor Mary Murphy, I get to meet with students who have read my book on the birth of the Fox TV network, and discuss how the network behind shows like “The Simpsons” and “Married With Children” helped revolutionize TV


By Alex Ben Block

For close to a decade required reading for a journalism class at the USC Annenberg School has been my 1989 book, “Outfoxed: The Inside Story of America’s Fourth Television Network.” A couple of times a year I have the pleasure of meeting with the students to discuss it or to hear their ideas for new networks, in a class taught by Mary Murphy, a brilliant multi-media journalist now also Associate Professor of Professional Practice of Journalism at the University of Southern California (USC).

  Alex Ben Block and Mary Murphy with journalism students at USC

It is fascinating for me to talk to the students, take their smart questions and hear what they have gotten out of the book about how Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller and a bunch of brilliant young TV executives changed television forever. It is the story of how they upended the traditional networks while creating  while shows that include the hit anti-comedy “Married With Children” and TV’s long running adult animated show, “The Simpsons.”

Barry Diller (left), Rupert Murdoch when the Fox Network was being created.

It also gives me a chance to catch up with Professor Murphy, a top journalist in Hollywood, where she has been an on-air correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, and written for print outlets including The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, TV Guide, Reader’s Digest International, and the New York Post, among other outlets. Her work covers not only entertainment, and pop culture, but also politics, and even the crisis of people experiencing homelessness. She also writes for The Wrap.

Mary shared with me the big news that her 2002 book, “Blood Cold: Fame, Sex & Murder,” an investigation into the notorious Robert Blake murder scandal, co-authored with Dennis McDougal, is now in development to be produced as a film.

For this visit to USC, the students questions probed how Rupert Murdoch came to buy the Fox studios from Marvin Davis, why he wanted to launch the fourth American TV network when many in Hollywood said it was impossible to succeed (Variety had a headline story to that effect), how Johnny Depp became a TV and movie star and much more.

We talked about the rise and fall of Joan Rivers talk show, why Murdoch overpaid to get pro football, and  how the network was different from CBS, NBC and ABC. We even discussed how Murdoch years later came to launch the notorious Fox News Channel, took over sports on TV, and his international impact on media and politics.

The original Fox Network logo.

In past years I have also been one of the judges at the end of the term as the students break into groups and create their own ideas for TV networks, complete with one night of shows, who they would cast, proposed budgets,  marketing plans and lots of other details. It is fascinating to hear from them what is in the zeitgeist that moment and who they consider stars.

For the evening this week, it was all about how I came to write the book, behind the scenes stories about the business, programming, development and casting of stars, among other things.

These classes inevitably leave me impressed by how smart and alert many of the students are; and a feeling they really are the future of entertainment and media.

A final note. For those who think I am getting rich because the students go to the USC bookstore and are required buy a copy of my book, I long ago signed away the rights. The students actually buy a photocopy of the book, and I do not get any royalties. Just the satisfaction of hearing what they learned, what it inspired in them and how it might impact their future and enrich all of us who watch TV and go to movies.

Thanks Mary for keeping my story alive and vital to new generations.  


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