"Oh, the network slogan is true! Watch Fox and be damned for all eternity!"
—Ned Flanders, The Simpsons
Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch came to America in the 1980s in order to buy out the Twentieth Century Fox film studio and give it a sibling TV network. Murdoch purchased the Metromedia group of six independent stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington DC and Houston to serve as the nucleus of the network.
Some of these stations had formerly been a part of the DuMont Network, which came on the air in the late '40s as the nation's third television network. Several problems, like ownership complications, problems keeping talent, and NBC and CBS making sure that they got all the good stations, did it in slowly. DuMont was finished off by the quick rise of ABC in 1954 from an also-ran to a money-making also-ran who could hang in there patiently. For the next thirty years, all attempts at creating a fourth television network (not counting PBS, which nobody does anyway) were met with little success, and most of the former group of DuMont stations ended up part of Metromedia, which eventually began to run strong independent stations from the 60's and into the 70's and 80's.
However, Rupert Murdoch had plenty of clout (and cash) on his side, and unlike the failed leaders of fourth networks past, was bound and determined to make Fox successful. By purchasing the Metromedia stations, he could easily influence other stations in other markets to give Fox a try, and have owned-and-operated stations that always cleared the network's programming, no matter what (with the possible exception of breaking news). He had to forfeit his Australian citizenship due to regulations disallowing foreign investors from owning more than a small part of an American television station or networks, meaning he was "all in" on a bet that a fourth network could attain success. Fox would make or break him.
The Fox network began broadcasts in 1986 in Late Night with the Late Show with Joan Rivers, but it was more of a whimper than a bang. Johnny Carson disowned his former guest host Rivers completely, providing a literal kiss of death (she was never forgiven by Carson) to the show before it ever began. She lasted less than a year before the show would die a slow death with guest hosts. Fox has never done well in late night and eventually gave the time back to their affiliates to run mainly Seinfeld reruns (after The Wilton-North Report nearly broke up the network completely), and the less said about Chevy Chase's short run on Fox, the better.
Fox truly launched in April 1987 in primetime, making its name with edgy, risque TV shows like The Simpsons, Married... with Children, Beverly Hills, 90210, and the pioneering Reality Show Cops. In 1993, they shocked the industry by picking up the NFC contract for over a billion dollars. The network then signed up with stations owned by New World Communications, owner of stations in several NFC markets. While ABC and NBC were hurt by this loss, it had truly devastating effects on CBS, who had to move to lower-tier UHF stations in several cities (such as channel 46 in Atlanta, initially set to affiliate with The WB, and channel 62 in Detroit). Fox also signed over football commentators from CBS in addition to plundering its affiliates. The combination of the New World deal and the football contract in the early '90s were responsible for cementing Fox's status as being on par to the three major networks.
Today, thanks to the success of American Idol, Fox is running neck-and-neck with CBS for first place in the ratings, eliminating any doubt as to its position on American television. The network is often stereotyped (rightfully or wrongly) for being overly trigger-happy in terms of cancelling shows, which has been mocked by Family Guy, among others.
Another source of controversy surrounding Fox, alluded to above, is that its content has historically pushed far more boundaries than its broadcast competition, making it a frequent target of Moral Guardians (ironic, considering their news division's reputation). The Simpsons character Bart Simpson was seen as promoting juvenile delinquency, Married... with Children was subject to a boycott attempt by a Michigan Housewife due to its raunchy content (which only increased its ratings), and trashy reality shows like The Swan, Married by America, Temptation Island and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? managed to disgust nearly everyone. In The Nineties, Fox was also famous for running shockumentaries like the When Animals Attack! specials and World's Wildest Police Videos.
Fox News Channel also dominates cable news, coming in as the number-one rated cable news network in 2007, hosting the number-one rated cable news Talk Show, The O'Reilly Factor (which has held the spot for one hundred months in a row), and grossing more viewers than the other cable news networks combined. However it is always important to note that Fox and Fox News are completely different operations, and even some of the network's affiliates go out of their way to make sure that viewers know that in their local news coverage. Sister cable network Fox Business Network is a Spirited Competitor to CNBC with a much deeper pro-business slant.
Fox Kids utterly dominated children's television throughout The Nineties, and them, Kids WB, and The Disney Afternoon waged war for the hearts and minds of American children through what could be considered one of the finest and last moments for children's broadcast television programming. However a muddled strategy after Fox bought the Family Channel in 1997 did in Fox Kids eventually, and by 2001 Fox had sold out most of the Fox Kids library and Fox Family itself to Disney and ended the broadcast block. For the next eight years the time was leased out to 4Kids, until a conflict between the two ended in a breakup and 4Kids taking their ball to The CW, leaving the Saturday morning time to a network programmed block of Infomercials which is completely ignored by everyone, including it seems Fox.
Fox through their cable division also runs a number of general networks, including FX, the FX/Fox Movie Channel (which is like Turner Classic Movies, but with solely older films from the Twentieth Century Fox libraries during the day as Fox Movie Channel, and recent films and more commercials during the night as FX Movie Channel), and the National Geographic Channels, both the original network and National Geographic Wild, which replaced the Fox Reality Channel. Spanish viewers are targeted with the upstart Utilisima network, and in September 2012, the broadcast Mundo Fox network, which will draw from the network's deep reserve of Latin American and European Spanish programming.
Fox also owns a number of regional sports networks, most of which are now branded "Fox Sports (insert region here)" (sometimes branded as "FS(insert region or name of team being broadcast here)", with some owned by Direc TV's parent under the branding Root Sports). They also own Fox Soccer Channel, which broadcasts portions of the English Premier League, Serie A, Barcelona FC and UEFA Champions League, along with both Sky News and Sky Sports News under the hope that the beautiful game will catch on in America eventually, a bet that paid off as Fox will be the US English language broadcaster of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Also owned by Fox is Speed Channel (more known as NASCAR's official network), and Fuel TV, which shows mainly extreme sports. Fox also began carrying the UFC in late 2011, which is considered a major step in legitimizing that sport further, and sees some programming on Fuel TV.
On a smaller note, Fox also has their hands in radio via Clear Channel, which distributes two networks from them; Fox News Radio, which provides a traditional radio news service to radio stations with FNC anchors, along with a few full-fledged talk shows. Fox Sports Radio is the Spirited Competitor to the larger ESPN Radio with mainly sports talk, but no play-by-play rights outside of local stations affiliated to them which have their region's teams. A lesser program, Fox All Access, is one of those weekend shows that airs on pop music stations, play current tracks and promotes Fox shows and films; it used to promote Fox Kids programming until that block's passing in 2001.
The Fox name is used for several Murdoch-owned channels across the world, including the British/Irish channels FX and FX+. In Australia, the name is used both for the FoxTEL cable and satellite television service (quarter-owned by News Corporation) and their general entertainment cable network, which is sandwiched between Seven Network and Nine Network and named Fox 8 in an attempt to establish parity between them and the broadcast networks.