The Times cites two sources “close to the network” but FNC exec Bill Shine claims they’re blowing smoke. Another unnamed exec tells TV Newser in an update:

A Fox News insider with direct knowledge of the situation questions the motive of the New York Times sources, but tells TVNewser, “Roger [Ailes] is brilliant and he realizes Hannity cannot carry the show alone for an hour like O’Reilly. If we were to even go in this direction, one of the possibilities would have to include surrounding Sean with packages and panels with diverse personalities.”

Colmes supposedly started talking about leaving around Labor Day, weeks before Hannity signed a new four-year contract. If, as the Times says, the plan is to go solo, wouldn’t/shouldn’t that have been settled last month before the two sides locked into a long-term deal? If it was, why the delay now in announcing it and why the murmurings from “insiders” about how they haven’t settled on a format? It’s bizarre to me that the threshold question of whether to give him his own show might have been kicked down the road for resolution after the agreement was signed, but here we are — which means Fox almost certainly did want to consider its options on co-hosts. Maybe they’ve since decided to let him go solo after all, but again, in that case, why not announce now?

All of which is to say that Shine’s probably telling the truth. Hannity’s website is monitoring the TV Newser poll I was pushing yesterday, and it’s a testament to KP’s appeal that not only is she still way ahead there notwithstanding the influx of true blue Hannity fans spamming it for him to go solo, but even the prospect of a nightly death match with Carville wasn’t enough to dent her lead in our own HA poll. HuffPo digs her, too, which I guess makes her the Hillary of FNC — a nominee whom both righties and lefties can agree on. If you like the idea of an hour of Maddow being political junkies’ only alternative to an hour of Hannity (or Hannity & Beckel) at nine p.m., fair enough; if not, now would be a good time to vote again for our favorite liberal. As I say, it’s — hopefully — not too late.

That said, there is one candidate I’ll happily accept in lieu of her. Exit question: Is the FNC insider right that Hannity can’t carry a show for an hour the way O’Reilly does? Intuitively I think he’s right, but after 20 minutes of trying I can’t articulate why. It’s not like O’R’s opinions and lines of questioning are wildly unpredictable, and if anything, he’s more prone to reducing interviews to shouting matches. Besides, Hannity does gangbusters business solo on the radio, much more so than O’Reilly himself does. So why does an hour of the Factor work whereas an hour of Sean feels not quite right? Is it just because we’re used to watching him with a partner?