I say this no more than half-jokingly: The only proper replacement for Hannity at 9 p.m. on Fox would be Trump broadcasting live from the White House for an hour, riffing on whatever he wants to riff on. A nightly national rally, five nights a week.
Well, four nights. Hosts often get Fridays off, especially during the summer. Jared could sit in for him.
Hannity is supposedly signed at Fox through 2020, which means one of two things is true. It could be that Sinclair is thinking long-term here. They’re plotting to build a national competitor to Fox but it won’t be ready tomorrow. It might not be ready at all, in fact, if their merger with Tribune Media isn’t approved by the feds. Maybe they’re not expecting to launch until 2020 at the earliest anyway and are approaching Hannity now because it’s never too early to start pitching him on a career-changing idea.
The other possibility is that Hannity has an out clause in his contract, possibly a “key man” provision tied to Roger Ailes, and Sinclair is aiming to swipe him right out from under Fox later this year or next. Hmmmm.
As its executive chairman David Smith prepares to launch a competitor to Fox News, he has met in the last few months with the executive producer of Hannity’s top-rated show on Fox, Porter Berry, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Berry is not the only person connected to Hannity who Smith has gone after. The Sinclair boss has also been wooing Sean Compton, a Tribune Media programming executive who is close friends with the Fox host…
Smith has yet to settle firmly on his plans for a Fox News rival, which are contingent on Sinclair’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media being approved by the Federal Communications Commission, but he has been laying out a vision for a three-to-six hour primetime conservative cable news block.
Third possibility: Sinclair would like to sign Hannity but more than anything they want it known to Trump that they’d like to sign Hannity (and Jeanine Pirro, whom they’ve also been sniffing around), whether they actually do or not. If you’re a conservative media company awaiting merger approval from Trump’s FCC, it can only help your chances if the president knows you’re a fan of his favorite TV host — and “shadow” chief of staff — and are eager to amplify his message if approval is granted.
The benefits to Sinclair of landing Hannity are obvious. It would put them on the conservative media map instantly, announcing their arrival as a rival to Fox with fanfare. And Hannity’s the one host at Fox who might be capable of taking his audience with him if he left. Other big-name Foxies like O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly have either dived overboard or been tossed and the FNC juggernaut has sailed on, assured that their viewers will stay put because in the end they’re the only right-wing game in town on cable news. (Sorry, OANN.) If Sinclair touches down and Hannity climbs aboard, though, that changes in the biggest possible way. Hannity also occupies a niche that literally no one else in television shares, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham: His nightly message is invariably in sync on every point with that of his close personal friend, the president. If you’re a Trump junkie, you simply will not find a hit as potent anywhere else on television. And needless to say, if Sinclair landed him it would immediately raise their stock in the eyes of Trump himself, which might lead to some presidential plugs on Twitter or an exclusive interview or two. Gaining Trump’s public approval would be important to the network as de facto “permission” for longtime Fox fans to give the new network a try. Hannity could deliver it.
What does Hannity get out of the deal, though? He’d be taking a major professional risk, and for what? He doesn’t need the money. Sinclair could promise to make him the face of the network but he’s already the biggest name at Fox and seems to operate with complete freedom in his 9 p.m. enclave. (I remind you that he wasn’t so much as wrist-slapped by Fox for covering Michael Cohen on his show without ever mentioning that Cohen considers him a client.) The lure, I assume, would be the pure challenge of trying to launch a fledgling Fox competitor to the top of the ratings, but that might end up with him having a smaller audience in perpetuity than he ever had at Fox. Not all of his viewers will follow him, after all; depending upon who replaces him at 9, Fox fans might conclude that the new guy delivers the daily talking points about as well as Hannity does and therefore there’s no need to change the channel. Hannity jumping ship would essentially be a test of whether his brand or the Fox brand is chiefly responsible for the size of his audience at 9. Literally every time that test has been taken by other hosts, the Fox brand has won. It could be different with him, but how much of his stature would he want to bet on it?
As for Fox, who could they conceivably get to replace him? I don’t think you could sub in a generic talking-points machine like Tomi Lahren at 9 p.m. to replace the biggest name on the network. They’d either need to get someone who already has a big following (Mark Levin, maybe? Would he be willing to compete with Hannity?) or, more likely, they’d move Ingraham to 9 and give someone less tested like Lahren the 10 p.m. slot to see what she could do with it.
Here’s Hannity yesterday congratulating Ingraham on how rockin’ Fox’s primetime ratings have remained despite losing three-quarters of the line-up in the past few years. Maybe four quarters soon!