The daughter also rises: Ms Murdoch conquers America

The name is famous, the Rolodex is deep; but a woman has to make her own mark. Tim Arango reports

One morning last May, Elisabeth Murdoch was leaving a Starbucks in London when her cellphone rang. Her good friend Ben Silverman was calling from Los Angeles to say he could no longer discuss selling her his independent television production company, Reveille.

"He said, 'Liz, you're going to kill me, but I can't have this conversation right now,' " Ms Murdoch recalled recently. "I've only just told my mom. But I was offered the job at NBC, it's my dream job and I have to take it."

But Ms Murdoch is very patient, as one might expect in a media entrepreneur with Murdoch for a surname. Last month, she cinched the deal to acquire Reveille for $125m (£62.6m). By combining Reveille – which has produced the hit shows Ugly Betty, The Biggest Loser and the American version of The Office – with her British company Shine, Ms Murdoch now has a foothold in the world's most important media playground and the beginnings of her own global entertainment business (the family's second).

About two-thirds of the income from Ms Murdoch's burgeoning television empire is expected to come from the US. It may also mean she could be selling shows to Fox, her father's network.

Ms Murdoch, 39, is the second daughter of Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the News Corporation, and the eldest of the three children from Mr Murdoch's second marriage. It is on this set of siblings — Ms Murdoch, James, 35, and Lachlan, 36 — that speculation over who might succeed Mr Murdoch has focused.

On the morning after a long dinner to celebrate the Reveille deal at Katsuya Hollywood, the popular sushi joint designed by Philippe Starck, Ms Murdoch sat down for breakfast at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. In growing up Murdoch, she said, "Media was never a choice. You either have it in your veins or you don't. I couldn't imagine why you would want to do anything else."

So how to separate Ms Murdoch the entrepreneur from Ms Murdoch the Murdoch?

"You know, its such a hard question," she said. "Of course, it's been a huge blessing in my life. I'm incredibly privileged and I've had such opportunity. I've learned at the feet of a master."

It's worth noting that Mr Murdoch's daughter has already paid back some of that debt with one of his company's greatest recent successes – Fox's American Idol. It's one of those stories that gets told so often, and in so many iterations, that one begins to wonder if it's apocryphal.

"I don't understand how it's gotten slightly out of control," she said. "Because all I was doing was watching TV enthusiastically. I happened to call my dad in the middle of the show because I was so excited. And he said, 'Oh, I think someone's shown that to us.' I said, 'You have got to buy it.' As one does when you chat with your family, you are very direct. So I was very direct. So Dad went off and said, 'You have to buy this show.' And therein lies the luck of television."

You might expect that Ms Murdoch would speak with an Australian accent – her father does, and her brother Lachlan often slips into one – but she is by accent and manner, mostly American. Ms Murdoch, who grew up primarily in New York City, where she was educated at the Brearley School on the Upper East Side before attending Vassar College, lives in London with her husband, the prominent public relations executive Matthew Freud (great-grandson of Sigmund), and their two children. The couple cuts a glittering swathe through London's social circuit.

"There is no US equivalent to them as a power couple," said Caryn Mandabach, the producer behind the megahit The Cosby Show and a longtime friend of Ms Murdoch's. "It's actually demeaning to call them a power couple, because they are such fine individuals."

Ms Murdoch rarely gives interviews, much to the chagrin of the British press. A columnist for The Observer in London recently wrote about what a "pity" it was that she "maintains a stony silence in public" and noted that the last extensive interview she gave was to The Observer four years ago.

In 2000, Ms Murdoch left her father's business at British Sky Broadcasting, where she had been managing director of Sky Networks, to introduce Shine. Ms Murdoch, who has citizenship in both the US and Britain, now plans to spend about one week a month in Los Angeles, at Reveille's home base on the lot of Universal Studios.

Her strength, say executives who know her, is her acumen for spotting what television viewers want to watch, as well as her ability to adapt different formats to different audiences, whether they be in America, England or elsewhere. At present, for example, her company is working on creating a version of Law & Order for the British audience.

"I think she has a very strong point of view, and a very strong sense of what the public wants," said Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, an investor in Ms Murdoch's company.

Sony helped finance Ms Murdoch's acquisitions, having recently raised its stake to 20 per cent from 14 per cent. Another source of funds was a distribution from the Murdoch family trust last year, in which each of the Murdoch children received $100m (£50m) in News Corporation stock for their personal use.

That distribution was part of a resolution of a family disagreement over how much influence Mr Murdoch's two young children from his third wife, Wendi Murdoch, would have over the future of the company.

Reveille became successful by acquiring the rights to shows such as The Office, which was first a hit in Britain, and adapting them for American audiences. Ms Murdoch is currently working with ABC to bring the BBC hit Life on Mars to the US. She calls Mr Silverman's success with The Office a model for taking a foreign show and refashioning it for the American viewer, which usually means making the action faster and stressing the story.

"While the entire premise is still intact, as are formal points and even jokes and story lines, the intensity of the hooks in the series has been turned up – the claustrophobia of the office is more intense, the love affair more quickly established and the characters more intensely drawn," she said.

But television audiences do not care what your surname is, how deep your Rolodex is or the ease with which you can access capital. Ms Murdoch knew this when she introduced Shine, and it took years before she achieved any notable success.

It wasn't until 2006, about six years after Ms Murdoch left Sky, that Shine earned serious plaudits, winning an International Emmy for the drama Sugar Rush and scoring a hit in an adaptation of Project Runway called Project Catwalk, according to Broadcast magazine.

"Why I love TV, and I see it in print journalism, too, is that the audience will tell you that day whether they like what you've done," she said. "You live or die by whether or not you've got it right."

The relationship between Ms Murdoch and Mr Silverman, who is the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, goes back to the 1990s when Mr Silverman was an agent for the William Morris Agency in London.

"We always got on like a house on fire," said Ms Murdoch, who years before the show was broadcast in the United States produced The Biggest Loser in Britain for Reveille.

In fact, Mr Silverman said he never opened up bidding for Reveille to a wide group of suitors and called Ms Murdoch his "handpicked" choice. "I just wanted to go to one buyer," he said. "She's young, and that works to her advantage. She's in the demo – she can think like the audience."

Instead of just selling Reveille or Shine fare to international markets, a growing piece of the group's business is selling show formats abroad for independent producers. In this vein, Reveille has sold the format for Mark Burnett's Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? in over 60 countries, and The Moment of Truth, which is shown on Fox, in more than 40 countries.

"What she needed to pull everything together was a distribution company made up of producers selling content," said Chris Grant, president of Reveille International, who was recently in Paris pitching Shine and Reveille shows to the Luxembourg-based television company, the RTL Group. "She didn't have a company to sell her content internationally."

Her own entrepreneurial activities will always have people wondering if it's not just training to one day rejoin the family business.

Building her own company, she said, is "validating of yourself, and makes you feel like more of a full person". Her brother Lachlan, once seen as the heir apparent to their father, left the News Corporation in 2005 and is starting to dabble in media investments in Australia. Her other brother James is the only sibling still at the company – he runs Europe and Asia operations.

"Obviously, you are very conscious of people thinking, 'Oh, let's see how good she really is.' My brothers have it," she said. "I think it's one of the factors that led me to be an entrepreneur on my own because I had to do it for myself."

"Could I foresee a day going back to News Corp?" she said. "Yes, I could. Do I know how, or when, or what shape that would take? No. I don't really ever want to leave Shine. So I don't know how it would happen one day, but it's certainly not off the cards."



From the New York Times Syndicate

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Software Developer / Software Engineer

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: Combining a passion for Softwa...

Lead Software Developer / Senior Software Developer / Technical Architect

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: Lead Software Developer / Seni...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried