I’m already on the record in predicting that we’ll eventually see “Primetime News featuring Shepard Smith and Megyn Kelly.”
I just assumed it’d be CNN that airs it instead of some new conservative-leaning start-up.
Really, though: How is this going to work, exactly? It’s big news if only because of who’s behind it — Shari Redstone, vice chairman of CBS and Viacom, the type of media titan who really could jumpstart a credible competitor to Fox on the right if she wanted to.
But why would she want to? Which niche of the right would be served by a Megyn-Kelly-led news channel?
This Redstone plan for a new TV service also would have a streaming component. THR has learned that Pluto, which Viacom acquired in March for $340 million, is about to launch an as-yet-unannounced streaming conservative news and opinion channel. A source says the idea for a conservative network was in the works before the Pluto acquisition.
Redstone has approached current and former Fox News personalities about such a plan, sources say, and she has spoken with former NBC News host Megyn Kelly. A rep for Kelly declined to comment…
Redstone sees an opening as the audience for TV news grows older and more conservative and Trump and some of his fans express disenchantment with ratings giant Fox News, which lost its top news anchor Oct. 11 when Shepard Smith announced his departure amid conflict with some of the network’s opinion hosts. One insider says Redstone thinks Fox News, whose top shows are hosted by Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, has “gone crazy” in the Trump era as it also grapples with the sexual harassment-tainted legacy of network founder Roger Ailes.
That’s a shrewd insight about the demographics of cable news. It’s already a format preferred by geriatrics and geriatrics skew right, ergo in theory there’s money to be made in right-leaning programming as the geriatric population grows. It’s also shrewd to want to hire people known for working at Fox. The wider media will pay attention if Kelly lands there since it’s a “comeback” story on a silver platter. And righty media will (grudgingly) pay attention, at least at first, to see how pro- or anti-Trump the new network generally and Kelly in particular are being. If you want your new initiative to be in the same conversation as Fox, sign some anchors whose presence will necessarily place the network in the same conversation as Fox.
And support staff too. Rumor has it that Shep’s departure might trigger a mass exodus from the Fox News news division, so there’ll be no shortage of available talent.
Now, tell me who the target audience is. How many “Megyn Kelly conservatives” are out there? Shep isn’t mentioned in the piece but assume Redstone is interested in him too for his Fox pedigree. Which Republican viewers are tuning into this channel to watch Shep? The excerpt notes correctly that Trump and Trumpers have felt “disenchantment” with Fox lately, but that’s not because there aren’t enough Shep types at the channel. It’s because there are too many! Shep and Chris Wallace and John Roberts and the g–damned polling bureau, always delivering bad news for the president. Why can’t they all be like Hannity? Fox succeeds because the primetime bloc serves up a nightly smorgasbord of culture war and grievances about Trump’s nefarious enemies. That’s what righties want. Imagine flipping the channel from that to Shep and Megyn chattering about how, no, really, this Ukraine business with Rudy and Sondland and Parnas and Fruman looks shady as hell.
If something like this is going to work, it would need to follow the same basic formula as Fox. Fine, hire Kelly or Smith or whoever as some big-name attraction on the news side, but you’d better have A-list culture warriors on in the evening if you want to deliver the olds. Who’s Redstone going to get? O’Reilly? According to the excerpt, the “sexual-harassment-tainted legacy” at Fox is one reason why she thinks the network has “gone crazy.” Why would she transplant part of that to her own network?
I think OANN has the right idea, if not the A-list talent or production values, about how to beat Fox: Out-slobber them. Get to their right on opinion, to the extent there’s room to the right of Fox’s opinion, and let viewers (and the president) conclude that Fox is the RINO network after all.
For the record, Redstone insists this is all fake news:
Viacom statement: “Viacom has no intention of launching a TV news channel, conservative or otherwise.” But Shari Redstone did have a meeting w/ President Trump in recent weeks.
— Ted Johnson (@tedstew) October 15, 2019
I wonder, actually, if the idea of a CBS-backed conservative network is something Redstone cooked up to try to gain leverage over the administration as she waits for approval of the CBS/Viacom merger. If Trump knows that she’s thinking of launching an alternative to Fox, he might conclude that whether that network covers him favorably or not may depend on whether the merger is approved. Normally you wouldn’t expect the president to meddle for political reasons in the merger approval process, but … c’mon. Redstone understands how this administration functions. “I’m thinking of hiring Megyn Kelly” may be her way of nudging Trump not to make an enemy of her and to make sure the merger is approved.
Oh, by the way: This is making the rounds this afternoon. A new network called “The First” featuring right-wingers like Jesse Kelly, huh?