The Loudest Voice, Showtime's in-depth depiction of the events that led to the rise of Fox News and the fall of its CEO, Roger Ailes, might never have a sequel. At least, that's what showrunner Alex Metcalf told The Hollywood Reporter when asked — in fact, his reaction was a flat-out no.
"In a few years, you could do the Fox News sequel, but that story is still being told — the Fox News relationship with Trump and what happens with that," he said. "But we won't know how that ends for a little while."
The final episode of the season, "2016," features Ailes' firing from Fox News, following the lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson that unleashed numerous additional complaints. It also, however, features the ascent of Donald Trump as his campaign for the presidency succeeds.
The decision to make the series run seven episodes didn't happen immediately. "Honestly it was a combination of a lot of factors. I mean, originally this show had been 10 episodes, then eight episodes, then nine episodes, then eight episodes, then seven episodes. We worked with the story in a number of different iterations to find the right number," Metcalf said.
The series shows Ailes Russell Crowe in close communication with the Trump campaign even while still working for Fox News, including him suggesting key moments like Trump's infamous escalator entrance. Metcalf said that while there wasn't direct evidence of that happening, "we know that Roger was in regular contact with Roger Stone, who was really influential to Trump at the time, and with Trump. Andof course, was the media master. So it is fictionalized, but it absolutely could have happened, because he was deeply involved in those conversations."
When it comes to the final notes of the finale, which features Trump speaking as Ailes watches from home, Metcalf said that "funnily enough, the end has always been the end. Really early on in the room, we had a very specific image for the end of the show, and that image always stuck."
While that moment, he said, was not exactly what they originally imagined for that sequence, "it still fulfills everything we wanted about that image, which is Roger essentially sad and alone, having lost his empire, watching the rise and triumph of the candidate that he helped put on the throne," Metcalf said. "The ironic balance of that always felt really important to us.
"I love the ending. I think it's really powerful."
Metcalf even loves the final title cards that come up, a traditional aspect of stories based on real events and people like this, "because, weirdly, they're all emotional to me."
The one dedicated to Ailes is purely factual, but the others all contain notes that reflect on the impact of this narrative, from Beth Ailes changing her first name to Ailes' longtime assistant receiving a $2 million payoff that she's never discussed. "There are surprises to me, and they're interesting and they're vital, right? They don't just say, oh, this person did this. They are comments on the show we've just seen."
Thus, there was never a question of including the cards, though Metcalf said that the big argument was whether to use real photos of the people being depicted for a side-by-side comparison, which the show ultimately did not do. "It sort of weirdly and ironically made it more real, to use the pictures of our characters rather than the real people," he said.
While he's done with this particular story, Metcalf does see the potential in the concept of The Loudest Voice becoming an anthology, "in such a way as to talk about power and media and abuse of power and harassment in other arenas that aren't necessarily Fox News."
But one obvious idea — the story of Harvey Weinstein's rise and fall, which almost runs parallel to the tale of Roger Ailes — doesn't appeal to Metcalf. "I would hesitate to make Weinstein as season two. I mean, then we become the sexual harassment show. Actually, the sexual predators show, if we want to be honest about it."
And while being real about Ailes' treatment of women is a major factor in The Loudest Voice, Metcalf believes that the show goes beyond just that one issue: "I don't think this show is that. I think that's a piece of Roger, but I think there's so much more there. I mean, it's the thing that brought him down and really the dark secret over his entire career, but really it's about his influence on the country. It's about Trump. It's about the political machines and media machines that create our political reality. So I would think if there were a season two, it would have to somehow deal with those ideas as well."
Right now, Metcalf is winding down from this show by writing a "big sci-fi pilot, just because I wanted to do something totally different and fun. I needed some fun after this."
It's one thing for an author to help adapt his book for the screen. It's another for the author to be part of writing himself into the story — the position that The Loudest Voice co-executive producer Gabriel Sherman found himself in while working on the Showtime drama based on his years of reporting on Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes Russell Crowe. Sherman was a part of the show's development from the beginning, he told The Hollywood Reporter, and "we didn't want to do a conventional biopic, like a cradle-to-grave, by-the-numbers highlights of Ailes' life. So the moment we decided to focus on his time at Fox News, I knew I would be a character at some point, in some form." Episode five of the series, "2012," largely focuses on Ailes' escalating harassment of Gretchen Carlson Naomi Watts but also introduces "Gabe," played by Fran Kranz, as a reporter working on a book about Ailes' life — specifically, The Loudest Voice in the Room, the book that would, in real life, become the basis for much of this show. "It became inevitable that we were going to write about my book in some way, because Ailes' obsession with the idea that a journalist was gonna write a biography of him, and that he would be digging into his life and his secrets, was such a pivotal moment in Ailes' time at Fox that accelerated his downfall," Sherman said. That didn't make it any less surreal for Sherman in the writers' room, though. "We kind of had to have different ways of talking about it," he said. "Sometimes we would refer to my character as the journalist, but eventually we would just refer to him as 'Gabe.' So it became kind of this out-of-body experience where I was pitching stories and pitching ideas and talking about myself, but in the third person but kind of detached and looking out from the outside."
While in the writers' room, Sherman said he would joke about wanting Armie Hammer to be cast as "Gabe," but that he was "thrilled" with Kranz whose previous roles include Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods and Homecoming. The two of them weren't able to connect before Kranz's first day of filming, because thanks to the complications of Crowe spending hours getting into prosthetics every day, the production schedule was reorganized and Kranz's scenes were moved forward: "Fran had to fly in at the last minute, and we didn't actually have a chance to meet, before shooting started up. He was just thrown into it."
However, Sherman and Kranz had lunch that day, and kept in touch via email for the rest of the shoot. "It was important to him that he wasn't doing an impersonation of me. He, as an actor, had to come up with his own ideas of what it was like to play a reporter," he said. "When we had lunch, I imagine he was watching how I talk and my body language, but it wasn't like he was asking me specific things. He was trying to understand the world that I came from, so that he could embody that character." As depicted in the episode, Ailes does his best to thwart "Gabe's" attempts to report on him via a number of duplicitous means, which Sherman said really captured Ailes' real-life paranoia over being investigated. "I got death threats. I was followed by a P.I. A lot of people had trouble imagining what that was like. So I think the show really captures the degree to which Ailes set out to destroy me and my book," he said. But at the same time, Sherman noted, "Gabe" functions differently in the series from the role often occupied by journalists in films and TV shows. "I think one of the things the show does, that's kind of innovative and groundbreaking, is that it doesn't use the traditional journalists-as-hero device, you know, from All the President's Men, and Tom McCarthy's film Spotlight, which I love," he said. "What we wanted to do was actually show the flip side of that. What is it like for the people who are being reported on by journalists? I think what this show really captured is the way in which inside Fox News, I was perceived as this George Soros-bankrolled hatchet man that was trying to destroy Ailes." The "Gabe" in the series might be too busy reporting on Ailes to imagine a future where his reporting would become fodder for a dramatic series. But Sherman said that it was something he thought about even as far back as 2012. "When I was reporting the book, I kept seeing in my mind that this could be a movie or TV series some day, because Ailes' life was stranger than fiction," he said. "I remember joking with my wife at the time that these characters were like our own private TV show. It was this whole fully developed world that I had thrust myself into, and I knew that there was enough there to turn into a drama. I'm just thrilled that Showtime actually was the one who ended up doing it." The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
Episode four of The Loudest Voice begins with one of the show's most explicit scenes to date.
In earlier installments, the Showtime drama about the creation of Fox News hadn't danced around the fact that Roger Ailes Russell Crowe reportedly had sexually abusive relationships with his employees, as well as sexually harassing others. But "2009" opens with Laurie Luhn Annabelle Wallis on her knees before Ailes, humiliated and teary-eyed. She says she "can't do this anymore." He pushes her to finish, saying "we can talk about that later."
It echoes another scene from episode three, "2008," which shows Luhn being forced to dance in lingerie for Ailes while he films her, which leads into another sexually explicit scene, The way in which "2009" launches right into things makes for a haunting beginning to an episode that once again continues to reveal Ailes' many layers — some good, mostly bad.
Luhn was just one of the female Fox News employees whom Ailes harassed and eventually drove away from the company, though the extent of his abuse as CEO wasn't fully revealed until Gretchen Carlson's bombshell 2016 lawsuit, which gave the Murdoch family the ammunition they needed to demand Ailes' resignation later that year.
It's difficult sometimes, in the #MeToo era, to remember how pervasive and in many ways accepted this sort of behavior used to be. But both in real life and on the show, what is now deemed inappropriate conduct is treated as relatively commonplace — at least in Ailes' eyes. Showrunner Alex Metcalf tells The Hollywood Reporter about instances of Ailes joking about how "men can watch Megan Kelly, and I fuck her while they sit next to their wives" Kelly also came forward after Carlson's lawsuit, telling the Murdoch family's investigators that 10 years earlier, in the early days of her career, Ailes had harassed her as well.
Metcalf notes that the choice to ramp up the depiction of Ailes' abuse over the course of the series was a very deliberate one, though one that's planted from the beginning. "The interview with the young woman in episode one, where he runs his finger across her lips — it's deeply uncomfortable," he says. "But with the Laurie Luhn storylines specifically, dramatically, you have to build to that."
That interview scene, as well as the repeated motif of Ailes following women down hotel room hallways, proves to be only a prelude for later moments. The reason for that, Metcalf says, came down to wanting not to immediately alienate the audience. "You can't just drop an audience into that, because then we hate him. And we were conscious of trying to not have people hate himas long as possible, honestly," he says. "Because once you're in that situation, in that room with Laurie, it's really hard to get behind Roger just emotionally. I mean, how do you support that as a human being? That kind of abuse of power, and the ugliness of that situation. So we were really conscious of holding that off as long as possible."
The Loudest Voice, after all, is fully aware of the fact that the audience is sitting in judgment of Ailes, but Metcalf says that "I have no actual interest in that judgment, honestly. I mean, there are people who do incredible things who are not good people. One's professional life and what they accomplish in the world can arguably be separated from one's personal life."
With Ailes, Metcalf says, "it's harder, and I admit that, especially if you don't support what he did in his professional life. But I tried really hard not to be judgmental, personally, right here in the telling of Roger's story. I think it's very easy to be judgmental."
This means that while the show contains plenty of Ailes' documented actions, Metcalf says "it's not like I'm trying to make a judgment about the man. I obviously have a lot of personal judgments about the man, dramatically."
But, he adds, "if you come away understanding that he's deeply complicated, did terrible things to some people, and had more influence on the country than arguably anybody else in the last couple of decades, I'd be happy. But as far as is he a bad man? That'd be a little reductive to me, to just come away with, oh, he's a bad guy. I would hope you come away with more than that."
The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
When it comes to stories based on real people and real events, there's an expectation of some fictionalization. One interesting choice made in episode three of Showtime's The Loudest Voice, "2008," was to show Roger Ailes Russell Crowe not getting to meet in the lead-up to that year's election with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama — despite the fact that a meeting did take place between Obama, Ailes, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch. In the show, rather than depict a face-to-face meeting with the candidate, Ailes is left outside "with my dick in my hands" waiting for the meeting to start — and then gets brought into a hotel ballroom to learn that Murdoch met with Obama without him. Ailes gets a talking-to from Murdoch, telling him to tone down Fox News' coverage, including the constant use of Obama's middle name, Hussein, on camera; a 2019 feature on Fox News by The Guardian confirms that this was something orchestrated internally, though it does not credit Ailes directly with the order to do so. In real life, Ailes' version of the Waldorf Astoria meeting, as given to Ze'ev Chafets and readable in this Vanity Fair excerpt from Chafets's book Roger Ailes: Off Camera, was that Obama "was concerned about the way he was being portrayed on Fox," specifically in regards to the constant use of "Hussein" by Fox News staff. Gabriel Sherman's book The Loudest Voice in the Room also includes an account of the Ailes/Obama meeting, which ends with Ailes telling Obama "that he would get better treatment if he engaged, rather than opposed, Fox."
The choice to change the scene in the series, though, makes dramatic sense, as it sets up Ailes' ongoing resentment of Murdoch and motivates him to pursue dirt on Wendi Deng Murdoch, Murdoch's wife the hit piece that Ailes attempts to place with Gawker, as seen on the show, never appeared to run. Also, while many of the public figures the show has so far depicted are not terribly well-known to audiences, finding a believable Obama impersonator who's not the very busy Jordan Peele is a tough thing to accomplish.
While discrepancies like this exist, he consistent truth that comes out both in The Loudest Voice and all the reporting surrounding the 2008 election is that Ailes felt "personally betrayed" by Obama's eventual victory. It's a feeling of betrayal that showrunner Alex Metcalf believes wasn't, and isn't still, unique to Ailes.
"I have people on the right in my family, very close to me, who have a similar belief about Obama," Metcalf told The Hollywood Reporter. "You see it all the way through Trump and the allegiance of all of Trump's people — this idea that our America is lost and we need to get our America back. And I really see that, especially with an older generation of white men, honestly, you know, that I think Obama really crystallized a fear for them. And Roger really felt that.
"I'm not trying to denigrate older white men. I just do think that there's this interesting thing that has happened culturally where there's this assumption of control and power by older white men. And when other people reach for power who are not older, white men, it's perceived as a threat. I see that a lot, in Roger's generation. I see that a lot and I think he's indicative of that fear." Obama, of course, would go on to become Fox News' primary target, and a key factor in cementing its place as the No. 1 cable news network. Meanwhile, Ailes would continue to sexually harass the women who worked for him — an issue which begins to take center stage in "2008," even as he becomes more invested in finding a candidate who might one day take back the White House for people who would, in Metcalf's words, "support his point of view. That, of course, is the drive to Trump." The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
he volume is certainly starting to rise for Showtime's The Loudest Voice.
Coming off a but of a whisper of a debut on June 30, the Russell Crowe-led bioseries on Fox News Channel Svengali and seemingly serial sexual predator Roger Ailes has now topped over 2 million viewers, according to the CBS owned premium cabler.
hat 602% uptick, to put it mildly, from the less than 300,000 who tuned in for the first linear airing of the seven-episode show has exceeded Showtime's own multi-platform expectations, I hear. The strongest portion of the expanded viewership has come from streaming and on-demand, with word of mouth being given as the primary reason — which is a mix of old school and new school small screen habits when you think about it.
Silencing pessimists even more, the Tom McCarthy-EP'd series had a pretty good second week too.
Centered around those horrible days in September 2001 when America was under direct attack by the forces of terror, the Kari Skogland directed episode drew 356,000 sets of eyeballs for its 10 PM ET airing. That's a 19% lift from the premiere in first showing linear comparisons.
Nielsen figures actually have the “2001” episode totally at 618,000 viewers so far when you add in the 123,000 that watched replays on Sunday and the 139,000 that have checked it out on streaming and on-demand so far.
Of course, if Week 1 of The Loudest Voice is any indication, Week 2 is going to bark in the coming fair and balanced days.
With each episode focusing on one pivotal year in Roger Ailes' career as the mastermind behind Fox News, some might be surprised that Showtime's The Loudest Voice leaps from 1995 and the actual creation of the network to 2001 for its second episode — bypassing all of the drama that surrounded the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his administration.
"We miss Lewinsky. There's a bunch of stuff we missed that Fox built its name on," showrunner Alex Metcalf told The Hollywood Reporter. "But it was more important to us for us to understand the fulcrum of what turned Fox News and Roger into what it and he became. And that was to me at least was really 9/11."
The episode, "2001," begins in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2001, and chronicles how Roger Russell Crowe and the Fox News team reacted to the horrifying events of that day. "In keeping with the idea of the important moments that changed-slash-created Roger and Fox, 9/11 was a singular event," Metcalf says. "It was a singular event in the national consciousness, but it was a particularly singular event because it created a kind of a weaponized fear. And Roger took that event, took the fear that we all had in that moment and in the weeks following, and really weaponized it on Fox News. And that was the moment when they became the highest rated cable network, soon after 9/11, and clarified the political vision of the network."
The events of 9/11 also led to a far-less-discussed aspect of Roger Ailes' history: the fact that, as depicted in the show, he was asked to consult with President Bush's White House in the aftermath. "That's something that a lot of people don't know — it's kind of deeply hidden in Bob Woodward's book, but it's really there," Metcalf said. In real life, in fact, Ailes officially confirmed to the New York Times in 2002 that he had sent Karl Rove a memo suggesting strategies for addressing the American people though he denied using the term "harsh," as The Loudest Voice shows him doing.
Part of telling the story of what happened that day meant utilizing footage of the actual event — images which will not leave the American consciousness anytime soon, but are still very hard to watch.
"We all understood the triggering aspects of the imagery," Metcalf said. "But I think that's the moment where everything changed and to not be honest to the imagery of the day would be a cheat. Both in the sense of how it makes us, the audience, feel and how it makes those characters feel, because that's what they were doing all day. They spent all day there watching the towers fall again and again and again."
Director and producer Kari Skogland told THR that how they chose to show real 9/11 footage was "a big conversation, and we were really very sensitive and careful. I also wanted to portray it as honestly as I could and let the audience decide."
"A lot of us were in New York that day and it's a very, incredibly sensitive subject to all of us. However, the power of that day was so profound to everybody and especially, don't forget, to all of those people in the newsroom that day, all of those images, coming at them all the time. All of the stuff that we didn't see that was way worse than anything we saw, it was particularly powerful for them," Metcalf said. "So we had to honor that. I think we walked a pretty good line at honoring the power of the day for them and not tipping it overboard into gratuitous 9/11 porn."
As Skogland added, "we also have to remember the entire country felt, rightly so, paranoid at that point. It was the first major terrorist attack of its kind, so it was very important for me to recapture that feeling. It's 20 years later. We're in a different mindset than we were even 10 years ago, so we're trying to create the truth of each decade, I suppose, and make sure that that layered into the normalcy of whatever it was we were dealing with. So in terms of 9/11, I had to recapture those feelings of paranoia, the incredible anger — I tried my best to just be honest and not pull any punches."
The episode almost takes on a meta layer, in fact, when the Fox News staff debates whether to show the footage of jumpers falling from the Twin Towers. "I actually think we were relatively sensitive in not showing as much as was there," Metcalf said. ", that's actually the moment where we decided, okay, too much. We cannot go down that road because that is just too painful. Those are actually individual people who people know. So we have just the one shot, and left it at that. But I've seen the shots that they actually had that day and they're fucking horrifying. Had we gone there, I think that's crossing the line."
As he added, though, "I think the imagery we use speaks to the power of the day, both on the country and on the characters in the show. And I think we have to use it, honestly, I think we can't shy away from it because of how important that day was."
The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
Hilary Lewis contributed reporting for this story.