Bill Hemmer to replace Shep Smith at 3 p.m. on Fox

So says Mediaite. A year ago, this would have been a no-brainer. As it is, I’m a little surprised.

You can expect Hemmer to have a less confrontational stance towards Trump world. He has proven himself an adept if reserved anchor on Fox’s three hour slate of morning news programming — Hemmer has worked alongside some of its biggest stars, from Megyn Kelly to Martha MacCallum — but without the contrarian truth-telling and appeals to journalistic integrity that made Smith a hero to critics of Fox News and a villain to much of its audience.

If there’s one thing Fox is looking to change with the 3 p.m. hour, it’s the ratings. While Smith was widely celebrated outside the network, his hour often came dead last in viewership. Since his departure, ratings for the 3 p.m. hour have spiked.

“I think Bill Hemmer will get the 3 p.m. slot. He’s a known quantity at Fox, likable, presumably acceptable to the news side but not a guy known for snarking at the president like Smith was,” said a wise man the day after Shep’s shocking departure.

As I say, that would have been a particularly easy call a year ago. Because primetime belongs to the opinion hosts, Fox has to cram most of its news programming into daylight hours. That means 3 p.m. has to stay newsy, and so who better than an experienced news hand like Hemmer to slide into the slot? He won’t miss a beat.

A perfect fit. For 2018.

In 2019, however, Fox’s most loyal, irascible, and important viewer has soured on his favorite network. Shep contributed to that with his … Trump-skeptical take on the day’s news, shall we say, but it wasn’t all about Shep. Here was you-know-who grumbling about Fox just yesterday:

Last week news broke that Rudy Giuliani is in Ukraine interviewing key players in the Burisma and CrowdStrike matters as part of a documentary for … One America News, the righty cable news network that’s been struggling for years to get the attention of Fox viewers. That felt like more than a coincidence, as if Trump and Rudy were punishing Fox for slobbering over the president only 98 percent of the time instead of the full hundred.

All of which made me think that maybe 3 p.m. wouldn’t go to a fair-and-balanced newsman after all but to some sort of well-known pro-Trump figure, like Pete Hegseth, for a little mid-day cheerleading. There’s only one way back into the president’s good graces after you’ve alienated him, and that’s kissing his ass effusively. The moment seemed ripe.

They stuck with Hemmer instead. I wonder if that’s because they feared an exodus from the news division if they took what used to be a news hour, albeit a very Shep-flavored news hour, and handed it over to the Trump TV wing of the network. Watching opinion encroach on what’s supposed to be news’s turf might have been the last straw for the likes of Chris Wallace in feeding their suspicions that propaganda would eventually consume all of the network’s programming. So Fox brass went with Hemmer, a man respected by newsers but also “safe” for Trump fans inasmuch as he’s far less likely to raise a disapproving eyebrow in reporting on the four or five daily Trump scandals than Shep was.

It might not have mattered who they put in there. According to Mediaite, Fox’s 3 p.m. ratings went from 1.3 million or so in September, which was Shep’s last full month, to 1.8 million in November with a rotating stable of hosts. Was that mostly driven by disgusted Shep-haters returning to the fold now that he’s gone or was it impeachment-driven as more Fox fans of all stripes tuned in to watch Schiff’s public hearings? Little of both, I’m sure, but impeachment seems to have been especially good for Fox among cable broadcasters. I’m guessing that explains the bulk of the ratings surge.

Exit question: Is Fox getting more “selective” about the Trump cronies it has on as guests? There was a report a few days ago that neither Joe diGenova nor Victoria Toensing has been on in weeks. Rudy Giuliani’s been scarce lately too — although that may have less to do with Fox silencing Rudy than with Trump doing so.

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