The Fox Broadcasting Company, usually referred to as just Fox (the company itself prefers the capitalized version FOX), is a television network in the United States, owned by Fox Entertainment Group, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Since its launch on October 9, 1986, FOX has grown from an upstart "netlet" to the highest-rated broadcast network among young adults. The FOX name has been used on other entertainment channels internationally that are affiliated with News Corporation, including in Australia (FOX8), Japan, Italy, Serbia, Spain, Portugal, South America, and Turkey, although these do not necessarily air the same programming as the U.S. network. The network is named after sister company 20th Century Fox, and indirectly for producer William Fox, who founded one of the movie studio's predecessors.
The groundwork for the launch of the FOX network began in 1985, with News Corporation's $250 million purchase of 50 percent of TCF Holdings, the parent company of the 20th Century Fox movie studio. Six months later, in September, Rupert Murdoch agreed to pay $325 million to acquire the rest of the studio. In May 1985, News Corporation agreed to pay $1.55 billion to acquire independent television stations in six major U.S. media markets from John Kluge's company, Metromedia: KTTV in Los Angeles, California; WFLD in Chicago, Illinois; KRLD in Dallas, Texas (which was renamed KDAF); KRIV in Houston, Texas; WNEW in New York (which was renamed WNYW); and WTTG in Washington, DC. These first six stations, broadcasting to 22 percent of the nation's households, became known as the Fox Television Stations Group. Except for KDAF (which was sold to Tribune in 1995 and joined the WB Television Network after FOX affiliated with, then later bought VHF station KDFW), all of these stations are still part of FOX today.
In October 1985, Murdoch announced his intentions to form an independent television system which would compete with the three major U.S. television networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). He planned to use the combination of the Fox studios and the former Metromedia stations both to produce programming and distribute it. Organizational plans for the network were held off until the Metromedia acquisitions cleared regulatory hurdles in March 1986. In January 1986, Murdoch said of his planned network, "We at FOX at the moment are deeply involved in working to put shape and form on original programs. These will be shows with no outer limits. The only rules that we will enforce on these programs is they must have taste, they must be engaging, they must be entertaining, and they must be original."
From the beginning, FOX portrayed itself as a somewhat edgy, irreverent, youth-oriented network compared to its rivals. Its first prime-time shows, focused on offbeat comedy. One notable example was the Tracy Ullman Show, which eventually spawned the hit series The Simpsons, the longest-running cartoon program on television.
FOX also pioneered the genre of reality show with the introduction of America's Most Wanted, profiling true crimes in hopes of capturing the criminals, and Cops, a reality show documenting the day-to-day activities of police officers. The two shows are among the network's longest-running and are credited with bringing reality television to the mainstream. In August 1988, America's Most Wanted was FOX's first show to break into the top 50 shows of the week according to the Nielsen ratings. Both America’s Most Wanted and Cops are still in active production and are among prime-time TV's longest-running television shows.
FOX survived where DuMont and other previous attempts to start a fourth network failed in part because FOX programmed just under the number of hours to be legally considered a network by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This allowed FOX to make money in ways forbidden to the established networks, since during its first years it was considered to be merely a large group of stations. By comparison, DuMont was hampered by numerous regulatory roadblocks, most notably a ban on acquiring more stations since its minority owner, Paramount Pictures, owned two television stations. Combined with DuMont's three television stations, this put DuMont at the legal limit at the time. Also, Rupert Murdoch was more than willing to pay well for programming and talent. DuMont, in contrast, operated on a shoestring budget and was unable to keep the programs and stars it had. Most of the other startup networks followed this model as well.
Despite a few successful shows, the network did not have a significant market share until the mid-1990s when News Corporation bought more TV station groups. The first was New World Communications, which had signed an affiliation deal with FOX in 1994. Later, in 2000, FOX bought several stations owned by Chris-Craft Industries and its subsidiaries BHC Communications and United Television (most of these were UPN affiliates, although one later converted to FOX). This made FOX one of the largest owners of television stations in the United States. Though FOX was growing rapidly as a network, and had established itself as a presence, it was still not considered a major competitor to the big three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC).
This would all change when FOX lured the National Football League (NFL) away from CBS in 1993. They signed a major contract to broadcast the National Football Conference (NFC), which included luring sportscasters Pat Summerall and John Madden from CBS as well. At first, many were skeptical of this move, but the first year was a rousing success, and FOX was officially on the map for good.
The early and mid-1990s saw the launch of several soap-opera dramas aimed at younger audiences that became quick hits: Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and Party of Five. However, it was the Friday night show that debuted immediately following it, The X-Files, which would find long-lasting success, and would be FOX's first series to crack Nielsen's year-end Top 25.
Building around its flagship The Simpsons, FOX has been relatively successful with animated shows. Family Guy was canceled in 2002, but the network commissioned new episodes that began in 2005 due to strong DVD sales and highly-rated cable reruns. Less successful efforts included The Critic, which originally aired on ABC, and The PJ's, which later aired on the WB Television Network.
FOX arguably hit a few bumps in its programming during 1999 and the early 2000s. Many staple shows of the 1990s had ended or were on the decline. During this time, FOX put much of its efforts into producing reality fare with subjects often seen as extravagant, shocking, or distasteful. After shedding most of these shows, FOX regained a ratings foothold with acclaimed dramas such as 24, The O.C., and House. By 2005, FOX's most popular show by far was the singing talent search American Idol, peaking at up to 30 million viewers on certain episodes and finishing the 2004–2005 and 2005–2006 seasons as the nation's highest-rated program. House, airing after Idol on Tuesday nights and having had a successful run of summer repeats in 2005, has also positioned itself as a top-ten hit as of the 2005–2006 season.
It was estimated, in 2003, that FOX is viewable by 96.18 percent of all U.S. households, reaching 102,565,710 houses in the United States. FOX has 180 VHF and UHF owned-and-operated or affiliate stations in the United States and U.S. possessions. FOX began broadcasting in high-definition television (HDTV) on September 12, 2004, with a series of NFL football games.
FOX hit a milestone in February 2005 by scoring its first-ever sweeps-month victory among all viewers. This was largely due to the broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX, but also on the strength of American Idol, 24, House, and The O.C. By the end of the 2004–2005 television season, FOX ranked number one for the first time in its history among the 18–49 demographic most appealing to advertisers.
During the early 1990s, FOX began having stations branded as "FOX," then the channel number, with the call signs nearby. By the mid-to-late 1990s, the call signs were minimized to be just barely readable by FCC requirements, and the stations were simply known as "FOX," then channel number (for example, WNYW in New York City, WTTG in Washington, DC, and WAGA in Atlanta, Georgia, are referred to as "Fox 5"). This would be the start of the trend for other networks to do such naming schemes, especially at CBS, which uses the CBS Mandate on all of its owned-and-operated station (O&O) stations. NBC and ABC are less rigid in this.
However, while the traditional "Big Three" do not require their affiliates to have such naming schemes—unless they happen to be owned and operated by those networks (though some affiliates choose to adopt it anyway)—and only on their O&O's are these naming schemes required, FOX mandates it on all stations. All FOX affiliates must have a FOX-approved logo, and most refer to themselves on-air as, for example, "Fox 12." But some affiliates do not include the channel number in the name, and opt instead to place the city's name there (Parkersburg, West Virginia, affiliate WTAP employs the moniker "Fox Parkersburg" rather than "Fox 14"). This is because many cable companies assign FOX networks to different channels, often a different channel than it is broadcast over the air. Also, a handful of affiliates (like Miami, Florida's WSVN, which only uses its calls and channel number in its branding), have remained defiant of FOX's mandate altogether.
In 2006, more standardization of the O&Os took place both on the air and online. All the O&Os adopted an on-air look more closely aligned with the Fox News Channel. This includes changing the logos of all O&Os to have the same red, white and blue rotating box logo of the Fox News Channel. The news music and graphics are the same on all the O&Os as well.
Taking a cue from News Corporation's recent acquisition of MySpace, all the FOX O&Os launched new websites that look the same and have similar addresses. MyFoxDC.com, MyFoxNY.com, MyFoxLA.com, MyFoxHouston.com, and MyFoxPhilly.com take visitors to the Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia Fox O&Os, respectively. Until now, Fox O&Os had very limited websites with few news updates and almost no video. The new sites are updated constantly and have dozens of video segments.
Unlike the "Big Three," FOX does not air national morning or evening news programs. However, FOX does air live coverage of the State of the Union Address, as well as live breaking news alerts (also known as Fox News Alerts), and produces national news segments to air on the local Fox affiliates' news programs. Fox News Sunday moderated by Chris Wallace airs on the local Fox network affiliates. In prime time, FOX first tried its hand at a news show in summer 1998, with a newsmagazine called Fox Files, hosted by Fox News anchors Catherine Crier and Jon Scott, as well as a team of correspondents. It lasted a little over a year before being canceled. During the sweeps of the 2002–2003 TV season, FOX tried again at airing a newsmagazine series called The Pulse, hosted by Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith.
Many FOX stations have a local morning newscast that airs on average three to four hours, including an extra two hours from 7 to 9 a.m. as a local alternative to nationwide morning programming. FOX, however, did air a nationally based morning show called Fox After Breakfast (which was formerly Breakfast Time on Fox's FX cable channel) between 1996 and 1998, which aired on all affiliates from 9 to 10 a.m., as opposed to the other major networks who aired theirs from 7 to 9 a.m. FOX tried its hand again in 2003 at another morning show called Good Day Live, inspired by KTTV's Good Day L.A.—this time in syndication mode. The show did not fare well in ratings and was canceled in 2005. In 2007, FOX made a third attempt—The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet for its O&O stations, hosted by Mike Jerrick and Juliet Huddy of the Fox News Channel's DaySide program.
FOX management, having seen the critical role that sports programming (soccer programming in particular) had played in the growth of the British satellite service BSkyB, believed that sports, and specifically professional American football, would be the engine that would make FOX a major network the quickest. To this end, FOX bid aggressively for football from the start. In 1987, after ABC initially hedged on renewing its contract to carry Monday Night Football, FOX offered the National Football League (NFL) to pick up the contract for the same amount ABC had been paying, about $13 million per game at the time. However, the NFL, in part because FOX had not established itself as a major network, chose to renew its contract with ABC.
Six years later, when the football contract was up for renewal again, FOX made what at the time was a bold and aggressive move to acquire the rights. Knowing that its would likely need to bid considerably more than the incumbent networks to acquire a piece of the package, FOX bid $1.58 billion for four years of rights to the National Football Conference (NFC), considered the more desirable conference due to its presence in most of the largest U.S. markets, such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. To the surprise and shock of many, the NFL selected the FOX bid, in the process stripping CBS of football for the first time since 1952.
FOX's acquisition of football was a watershed event not only for the network but for the NFL as well. Not only was it the event that placed FOX on a par with the "big three" broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) but it also ushered in an era of growth for the NFL, which continues on largely to this day. More importantly, FOX's acquisition of the NFL rights also quickly led toward FOX reaching a deal with New World Communications to change the affiliation of ten of their stations to FOX.
The rights gave FOX many new viewers (and affiliates) and a platform for advertising its other shows. With a sports division now established with the arrival of the NFL, FOX would later acquire over-air broadcast rights to the National Hockey League (1994–1999), Major League Baseball (since 1996), and NASCAR auto racing (since the 2001 season).
Despite its popularity, FOX has also come under fire from many quarters, especially from fans of sci-fi/fantasy television. This displeasure stems from the premature cancellation of some series that had small but passionate audiences, such as Firefly, Sliders, Reunion, and other. The cancellations of animated series Family Guy and Futurama were also criticized; in the former's case, the program was picked up again in 2005, while the latter series is being revived for 2008 on cable's Comedy Central.
The network's justification for canceling such programs has generally been poor ratings. Fans of these programs respond by pointing toward critical praise and dedicated core fan followings, and blame the ratings on inconvenient time slots, poor advertising, or illogical broadcasting (for example, the first episode of Firefly was the last episode aired, and other episodes were aired out of order).
In 1997, Fox-owned station WTVT in Tampa, Florida, fired two reporters, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who had refused instructions from superiors to revise a story on bovine growth hormone in ways that the reporters saw as being in conflict with the facts, and had threatened to report FOX to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The reporters sued under a Florida whistleblower law. A jury ruled that FOX had indeed ordered the reporters to distort the facts. FOX successfully appealed against judgment on the grounds that its First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and press protected it from such litigation, and that the FCC's policy against distortion of news was not a sufficiently significant rule for its breach to invoke the whistleblower law.
In 2006, a number of FOX affiliates said that they would refuse to air O. J. Simpson's two-night interview special with Judith Regan, If I Did It, Here's How It Happened, scheduled for November 27 and 29, citing overwhelmingly negative viewer feedback. With other major affiliate groups reportedly threatening to pull their stations as well, FOX pulled the special a week before its air date.
The Parents Television Council named FOX "the worst network to watch with your children," describing many of its shows as "100 percent immoral."
The network has been criticized by sports fans for poor coverage, regional bias, childish graphics, and poor commentating.
Also part of Rupert Murdoch's Fox Entertainment Group is the Fox News Channel. Fox News Channel is known to be more conservative in its editorial stance. Murdoch founded the channel in 1996 to fill a hole left by what he believed were the overtly liberal CNN and MSNBC. Fox News Channel employs famous pundits Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Geraldo Rivera. By 2003, Fox News Channel's ratings had surpassed those of both CNN and MSNBC and remains the most-watched cable news channel.
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