How Will Fox News Fare in the Post-O’Reilly Era?

bo2With the sudden departure of top draw, Bill O’Reilly, from Fox News, and a restructuring of the channel’s weeknight lineup, it will be interesting to see how the network will fare.

Tucker Carlson, who has proven himself to be a ratings success in multiple time-slots on FNC, will be taking over O’Reilly’s old hour. The Five will move to prime-time, right after Carlson’s show. Eric Bolling will be hosting a new show of his own in The Five’s old spot (presumably a Keith Olbermann-esque countdown program entitled something like “The Ten Things I Love About Trump”). And Martha MacCallum’s temporary show, which follows Special Report, will become permanent.

Ratings-wise, the network will almost certainly take a hit (at least at first). Over his twenty-plus years at Fox, O’Reilly had built a huge, loyal following of viewers. They tuned in every night, eagerly bought his books, and turned out to see him on tour with the likes of Glenn Beck and Dennis Miller.

Sure, the show had lost much of its “No Spin” claim over the past two years. That responsibility was unwittingly abdicated to regular Factor guests like Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, and Bernie Goldberg, while O’Reilly himself adopted an unreasonably defensive posture when it came to President Trump (a personal friend of his). But if we learned anything throughout this past election cycle, it’s that a pro-Trump cable-news product isn’t going to lose viewers, and O’Reilly only benefited from his stance in the ratings.

Stephen Battaglio of the L.A. Times wrote in a piece on Wednesday:

It’s no exaggeration to say Fox News Channel’s loss of “The O’Reilly Factor” could be the equivalent of NBC losing its top-rated comedy “Friends” in 2004, which spelled the end of the network’s “Must-See TV” lineup that provided dominant ratings for years on Thursday night.

While that comparison may be a bit overblown, it’s a safe bet that Tucker Carlson (even with a Trump-friendly format) will have trouble maintaining O’Reilly’s level of viewership. O’Reilly had a famously unique style, and appealed to a bit older demographic that might not be as receptive to Carlson. While a younger audience (the coveted 25-54 year-old range) is typically sought after by network executives, the loss of that time-slot’s older viewers (who might just give up on cable-news commentary at the eight o’clock hour) would hurt the overall ratings picture.

This also wouldn’t be ideal news for The Five, as the show could use a strong lead-in (as Carlson had with O’Reilly) while it courts a wider audience than it has had in the afternoon hour. That being said, it’s been a long time since Fox has aired a co-hosted debate program in prime-time (the last being Hannity & Colmes which ended in early 2009). New viewers might just appreciate seeing something different, and with Eric Bolling gone from the panel, the discussions should be more substantive and less sycophantic. Then again, Jesse Watters is taking his place.

As is the case with any rebuilding period, there will likely be some trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. And though Fox News always seems to land on its feet, and lock in their audience’s interest, I would hope that the network (as it moves forward) would also be mindful of the integrity that it has lost along the way.

Fox has always been in the cross-hairs of the legacy media (aka mainstream media) for presenting a conservative perspective on the news, but there used to be a level of seriousness behind the network’s “fair and balanced” mantra. There used to be a far more disciplined effort put forth to provide keen and trustworthy commentary. Unfortunately, that theme has been greatly diminished over the past two years as the network has become increasingly comfortable with portraying itself as a beacon of pro-Trump advocacy.

Though the channel’s serious journalists (mostly out of the Washington Bureau) have remained fair and true to their profession, the commentary-wing has grown increasingly shameless in its (sometimes admitted) obedience to the leader of the free world. Base-pandering and intellectual dishonesty have been tolerated beyond acceptable levels, and if that’s truly the only way for Fox News to pull the kind of numbers that it wants and expects,  the network has far worse problems on its hands than figuring out how to adjust with the loss of Bill O’Reilly.

Broken Slate