The Man Behind Rupert's Roll: Media Titan Rupert Murdoch Has Much to Savor. He's Newly Remarried. His Company's Surging. and He's Thinking Seriously about a Successor. but for Now It's Not His Kids He's Talking Up-It's Right-Hand Man Peter Chernin
Roberts, Johnnie L., Newsweek
Peter Chernin's TV production executives were already in his Twentieth Century Fox office when he arrived for a June 8 meeting. In his affable style, the CEO of Fox Group quickly got down to business. Chernin sought cuts in the $1 billion budget for "Ally McBeal," "Dharma & Greg" and the rest of the record 30 prime-time series the Fox Group produces. "We can't live with these numbers," said the man who wanted the "Titanic" set quickly dismantled after filming, partly so the movie's overspending director couldn't reshoot any more scenes. Just then Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. controls Fox, appeared at the office door. "Peter, may I see you outside?" Murdoch asked softly. So close are the two men that the aside could have been about anything. Maybe Murdoch briefed Chernin on how he had spent that day divorcing Anna, his wife of 32 years. Maybe it was to invite Chernin to his wedding 17 days later to Wendi Deng, 32, aboard his yacht in New York Harbor (Chernin came). Or perhaps it was only a routine chat on Chernin's pending trip to Germany, where he's replicating the Murdoch strategy that helped make the Fox network a huge success in the United States. "They confer on a minute-to-minute basis," says a top Murdoch executive.
At the age of 68, Rupert Murdoch has become a lion in winter, and Peter Chernin is his lord-in-waiting. Chernin is also the man Murdoch now expects to run his company--at least until the media titan's children are ready. Murdoch, the controversial visionary who transformed the media business worldwide, insists he's not slowing down. Piece by piece, he continues to build his global empire even as his personal life has come to resemble one of his own prime-time dramas. There's romance, marital discord and ambitious kids--Lachlan, 27; James, 26; Elisabeth, 31--who are constantly depicted as sibling rivals for corporate power. Murdoch's relationship with Deng, who resigned last fall as an executive in Murdoch's Asian satellite-TV business, has also drawn the kind of tangy headlines his tabloid papers have long inflicted on others. Recently, his British and Australian publishing rivals have been serving up mischievous accounts about a "Viagra-chomping Murdoch" and his "smoochy cruise" with Deng around the Mediterranean.
Yet through all the tumult, Murdoch's company has only prospered. Its stock has surged 34 percent this year, and throughout the industry News Corp. is admired for being a self-sufficient global media conglomerate. Its Fox Entertainment unit produces a stream of hit TV shows and movies--including six of the top 10 grossing films of all time--to distribute over News Corp.-owned satellite-TV operations, cable channels and broadcast outlets spread across five continents. "We reach people around the world, around the clock," says Chernin. Almost overnight, News Corp. has also turned into a powerhouse in sports and kids' programming. "They are 10 steps ahead of everyone," says Jessica Reif-Cohen, Merrill Lynch media analyst. And analysts agree that a pivotal factor in News Corp.'s success is Chernin, the company president who seems to possess a rare mastery of both the creative and the corporate sides of the business. "I guess it's from being a lit major from a long line of accountants," jokes the Berkeley-educated Chernin, who resembles a bespectacled Wayne Newton and is surely one of Hollywood's most unassuming top execs. Chernin's emerging star power also represents what many investors say is the missing piece in News Corp.'s Wall Street profile: a solid succession plan.
Murdoch's utter domination of his company, and his buccaneering ways, have long made investors nervous. His autocratic, rollicking management style worked while News Corp. was small; Murdoch used to think nothing of carrying multimillion-dollar certified checks in his pocket to pay for deals (once, while he was buying New York Magazine, he left one on the airport ticket counter). "He was always too busy moving on," says one of his executives, Anthea Disney. …