If Roger Ailes' fellow inductees to the 2008 Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame learned anything from last week's awards ceremony, it's this: Don't follow Roger Ailes at an awards ceremony.
Thanks to his alphabetical advantage, the chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations was the first honoree to accept his award in a ceremony held Oct. 21 at New York's Waldorf-Astoria. And by all accounts, he killed.
Ever the contrarian, Ailes began by declaring his solidarity with the lone, defiant conservative panelist on ABC's The View. Stepping up to the podium, he surveyed the audience and deadpanned, "So this is how Elisabeth Hasselbeck feels."
He then proceeded to thank "whoever screwed up at B&C and put me on this list" and said he only agreed to accept it because it wasn't a "lifetime achievement award."
"Don't ever get one of those," he said. "The hearse is waiting downstairs."
Acknowledging the nice things his boss, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, and former GE chief Jack Welch said about him in the video introduction, Ailes joked that "Rupert had to say nice things—the stock price is a little iffy. And Jack Welch is not at GE anymore, so what else does he have to do?"
Never shy about his enthusiasm for capitalism, he noted that "with fame comes wealth" and riffed on America's favorite working stiff when he quipped that "we all have financial advisers to help us duck taxes to screw Joe the Plumber."
Remarking on his rise from "digging ditches" 50 years ago to building and running the top-rated cable news network, Ailes revealed the secret to his success: "It's not enough to hire good people. You must also take credit for everything they do."
In closing, Ailes dusted off and deftly delivered the old chestnut about how he always wanted to die peacefully, like his grandfather—"not screaming, like his passengers."
Good as Ailes was, however, several of the inductees who followed kept things lively, including Ailes' fellow News Corper, Bob Cook.
The president and COO of Twentieth Television, Cook self-deprecatingly referred to himself as just a sales guy from the Midwest and said that one of the things a colleague taught him early on was "how many opportunities TV provides for 'C' students."
In one of several references to the economic crisis, Cook wondered if the kind words from News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin in the video introduction were "in lieu of my bonus this year."
In accepting the award for 40-year-old CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Executive Producer Jeff Fager paid tribute to his predecessor, founding Executive Producer Don Hewitt. To a list of famous Hewittisms that included "tell me a story," "take it one Sunday at a time," and "never rest on your laurels," Fager added Hewitt's typical response to legendarily hard-headed correspondent Mike Wallace: "No, screw you, Mike."
But Fager got into trouble with the event's emcee, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, when he offered thanks to 60 Minutes' estimable team of correspondents—as well as CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves and CBS News and Sports chief Sean McManus. But, as Couric pointed out afterward, her "good friend Jeff Fager" forgot to mention Scott Pelley—"and moi!"
When Today show co-host Matt Lauer accepted his award later on, Couric ribbed her former morning-show partner about having to get up early the next day: "Dude, you have to tell them you have to go early in the program!"
As for Lauer, he apparently saved his best lines for the next morning on the air. When his co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Al Roker—who, incidentally, emceed the 2006 Hall of Fame awards with Today's Ann Curry—noted how late the evening went, Lauer joked, "At the beginning of the event, I didn't think I was old enough to be in the Hall of Fame. By the end of the event, I was old enough."
No hard feelings at B&C, though. When people start grousing about how late your awards show is running, that's a sure sign you've arrived.
So, to the 2008 Hall of Famers, congratulations and thanks for the laughs.