By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two years after his ouster and death, Roger Ailes returns to television in a new drama series that traces the rise and fall of the controversial creator of Fox News and underscores his lasting impact on the U.S. media landscape.
In "The Loudest Voice," Oscar-winner Russell Crowe portrays Ailes, who launched Fox News in 1996 and within six years made it not only America's most-watched cable news network but also a force in the modern Republican Party.
"Most of us have a sense of what Fox News is today and we were wondering how we got here. What was the design, the intention? That's what appealed to us," Tom McCarthy, an executive producer who also wrote the first episode, told Reuters in a phone interview. The seven-part Showtime series premieres on Sunday.
Based on Gabriel Sherman's 2014 book, "The Loudest Voice in the Room," which included interviews with more than 600 people, the TV series depicts Ailes as a brilliant but manipulative man who created a news channel designed to appeal to a conservative audience despite its "fair and balanced" slogan.
McCarthy said the portrayal of Fox News, which was not consulted for the series, "is not a particularly favourable one."
"We know people will come after us. Telling stories like this, it goes with the territory," McCarthy said.
Asked to comment on the TV series and its portrayal of Ailes and the network, a spokesperson for Fox News told Reuters that Showtime never reached out to fact-check the TV series. When Sherman's book was published in 2014, the network noted that the author did not interview Ailes.
Ailes had previously worked as a media strategist for Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Fox News was widely seen as instrumental in the 2016 election victory of Republican President Donald Trump.
Ailes died in May 2017 at the age of 77, less than a year after resigning from Fox News following sexual harassment accusations, which he denied.
Crowe said he tried to keep his personal opinions out of his portrayal.
"We try to just lay out the cards with the facts as we could find them and let people make up their own mind as to the validity of the changes that have happened in society," the actor told Reuters Television at a red carpet premiere in New York earlier this week.
"The Loudest Voice" dramatizes relationships between Ailes and some of his female accusers, including former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, played by Naomi Watts.
Carlson, who left Fox News in 2013, said it felt like "an out of body experience" to have Watts portray her yet be unable herself to be involved in the series because of a non-disclosure agreement around her 2016 settlement of a lawsuit against Ailes.
"It's a really painful emotional story for me and since I can't take part in it, all I can hope for is that it's as accurate as possible," Carlson told Reuters Television on the red carpet.
McCarthy said he doubted the TV series alone would change how Fox News is perceived by its audience.
"I don't think you can rely on any show or movie or book to solve a problem, but as storytellers it's our job to raise the conversation and get people talking about it. Hopefully, as a series, we have done that," he said.
(Additional reporting by Alicia Powell; Editing by Howard Goller)