June 30, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Loudest Voice”


THE LOUDEST VOICE:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

The rise of Fox News through its dark visionary Roger Ailes, and the resulting effect on media, politics and the world at large, is one of the most important sociopolitical stories of this era, but on the basis of its opening hour, Showtime’s 7-hour limited series THE LOUDEST VOICE appears to be a watchable but uninspired account of the man and the events he set into motion.  The miniseries, created by Tom McCarthy and Alex Metcalf, is based on Gabriel Sherman’s book “The Loudest Voice In the Room” (Sherman shares credit with McCarthy for the initial episode’s script), and while it wouldn’t be fair to call it plodding, it feels dutiful and dogged.

Ironically, it was the central inspiration of Roger Ailes (played here by Russell Crowe) to remove the dutiful and dogged from TV news.  The show downplays any involvement that Rupert Murdoch (Simon McBurney) may have had in the creative direction of the Fox News product, and makes Ailes the singular mind behind the decision to aim the new network squarely at America’s right wing, with little attention to balance (despite the network’s “Fair and Balanced” slogan) or even facts.  Ailes had his “non-news” talk shows scripted, and he cast his hosts like nighttime soaps, with beautiful young women and ordinary-guy men.  By turning news into serialized entertainment, he created an extended narrative universe long before the MCU existed, and to much greater effect.

Of course, it was Ailes’ abuse of the beautiful women he cast that contributed to his downfall, a story we’ll be getting in more detail when Jay Roach’s film, which concentrates on the women and features John Lithgow as Ailes, opens later this year.  The Loudest Voice presents those actions (which are only hinted at in the opening episode) as being part of his overall tyranny, which included insults and screams directed toward both male and female employees, and furious firing of those who didn’t conform to his auteurist vision of the future.  The key scene in the premiere is a 4AM forced gathering shortly before the launch of Fox News (he fires the lone executive who dares to complain about the time), in which he jeers at those who work for him before inspiring them with his idea of a network that would cater to what a slightly earlier generation would have called the Silent Majority.

The show’s first hour is given shape by a ready-made ticking clock, as Fox News proceeds toward a premiere that it seems ill-prepared to commence, and director Kari Skogland keeps the pace driving forward.  There’s little sense of style, though, either dramatically or visually.  (The most obvious aesthetic choice is an annoying tic of distorting real-life TV footage and character introductions.)  The only point of view seems to be that Roger Ailes was a smart but very bad guy whose shrewd insights were inseparable from his evil.  The make-up artists have worked overtime to make Russell Crowe resemble Ailes, yet there’s little sense of a distinctive personality under the prosthetics, and Crowe, despite all his years playing Americans, keeps lapsing into flattened Australian intonations.  Aside from noting the character’s hemophilia, there’s almost no insight into Ailes as an individual beyond his bluster and scheming.  That’s not enough in the time of Adam McKay’s political films, or even Showtime’s own Billions, which overflows with brilliant, charismatic monsters.

For now, the supporting cast, which includes Seth MacFarlane and Annabelle Wallis, and which will eventually have Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, are shadows compared to Ailes, and it appears that Sienna Miller will have a particularly grim time as Ailes’ wife, whom he pushed to give up her own TV news career for him.  The only other person to make an impact is Simon McBurney as Murdoch, the only character depicted as being as tough and smart as Ailes himself.

The Loudest Voice is telling a story that should be heard, and it has intelligence and purpose.  It’s hard not to wish, though, that there was some artistry here too.  It tells the story of a man whose career was defined by risk without taking many risks of its own.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."