The Murdochs have decided Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end. According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him…
Sources briefed on the discussions say O’Reilly’s exit negotiations are moving quickly. Right now, a key issue on the table is whether he would be allowed to say good-bye to his audience, perhaps the most loyal in all of cable (O’Reilly’s ratings have ticked up during the sexual-harassment allegations). Fox executives are leaning against allowing him to have a sign-off, sources say. The other main issue on the table is money. O’Reilly recently signed a new multi-year contract worth more than $20 million per year. When Roger Ailes left Fox News last summer, the Murdochs paid out $40 million, the remainder of his contract.
How would that sign-off work? Unless O’Reilly cops to sexual harassment and apologizes, which he wouldn’t, he’d have to either ignore the elephant in the room in his farewell or acknowledge it and claim that he’s being forced out unfairly. Excruciatingly awkward, whichever path he chooses.
The last straw may have come yesterday, when a lawyer for yet another former Fox employee accused O’Reilly of harassing her too. It’s one thing for Fox to keep him on during a crisis that seems to be subsiding, it’s another to keep him on during a crisis that may only be getting started. But wait, you say. Didn’t he sign a new contract with Fox News not long ago? So he did — just last month, in fact. But the Times reported a few weeks ago in its story about the many settlements Fox News has been involved in vis-a-vis O’Reilly that the company structured his new contract “to include more leverage over his behavior,” although it didn’t specify what that means. The implication, obviously, is that Fox knew it might eventually have to dump him and insisted on language that would give it the power to do so. As Drew McCoy said, “If O’Reilly does go, remember Fox’s problem with him wasn’t the serial harassment, it’s that people started to notice.” Indeed. And it seems they made arrangements for the contingency.
So now what? Once he’s gone, who gets the most coveted time slot in cable news? Sherman says Eric Bolling, Dana Perino, and Tucker Carlson are under consideration, but all three have drawbacks. For Tucker, it’d be his third move in the line-up since December. He started off at 7 p.m., moved to 9 after Megyn Kelly left, and now would be moving to 8 to replace O’Reilly. Let the man settle in somewhere. Bolling is a natural possibility, having substituted regularly for O’Reilly in the past, but he may be too similar to Hannity to give him a permanent slot in the evening. Everyone likes Perino, but Perino isn’t a bomb-thrower — and she’s a Trump skeptic, or was during the campaign at least. There’s always a chance they move Martha MacCallum up, but MacCallum isn’t a bomb-thrower either and would be the least ideological of the four choices. And moving her to 8 would only create the same problem they face with moving Tucker, i.e. filling one time slot by vacating another. Who do they get for 7 p.m. then?
An interesting rumor per Mike Allen:
The tea leaves: Axios’ Mike Allen reports that corporate execs would love to bring in an outside, non-political big name from another network.
What does “non-political” mean? A hard-news anchor like Jake Tapper? For the 8 p.m. audience at Fox? C’mon. Someone has to deliver the red meat. Unless the next generation of Murdochs wants to take the enormous risk of turning fabulously successful Fox News into a more traditional news network, they’re more likely to put Tomi Lahren in at 8 than someone like Tapper.
Lahren’s name has been kicked around on Twitter in the last 24 hours, by the way, but I doubt Fox would do it. They do want a woman somewhere in the 8-11 bloc, I’m sure, especially to counter the bad PR from O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, but Lahren’s too green to handle the 8 p.m. slot. If they did bring her in, they’d move Tucker to 8 and put her either at 9 or at 10, with Hannity moving to 9. Ed’s suggestion seems more plausible to me: Laura Ingraham. She’s substituted for O’Reilly before so she knows how the format works. And although she’s a loyal Trumper most days, an absolute necessity for a regular solo “opinion” host at Fox, she was willing to criticize him recently for the Syria strike (on Fox, no less), saying, “I’m not sure getting rid of Bashar al-Assad was at the top of the list of the people in Pennsylvania.” She and Carlson would be an interesting 1-2 punch insofar as they’re populists first and Trump fans second, which could make for an unpredictable climate in Fox primetime if Trump continues his drift towards the establishment, especially on foreign policy. You wouldn’t be getting doctrinaire conservatism anymore on Fox — but then, when have you ever?
Exit question: There is someone out there who would seem to be an ideal fit for the 8 p.m. slot, no? A woman, sort of “non-political” but willing to mix it up, with lots of experience hosting an hour-long show in the evenings on cable news. Come home, Megyn! All is forgiven!
Update: Why choose one host when you could have five?
Lot of scenarios being discussed inside Fox, source says. Possibly Tucker to 8, The Five at 9 or Dana Perino in the mix. Hannity stays at 10
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) April 19, 2017
Update: And there it is. The Factor is no more.
BREAKING: Bill O'Reilly OUT pic.twitter.com/oJ9QPeRo27
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) April 19, 2017
Update: It’s Tucker at 8. Who’s at 9?
NPR can report that @TuckerCarlson will take O'Reilly's 8 p.m. slot. A new generation takes over the most valuable real estate in cable news
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) April 19, 2017