Fox News has decided to oust top-rated host Bill O’Reilly, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported Wednesday.
Top network execs are in talks about how to end their relationship with O’Reilly “without causing collateral damage to the network,” the report said, adding that 21st Century Fox’s board is set to meet Thursday about it.
The Drudge Report is linking to the story, an apparent wink of confirmation given proprietor Matt Drudge’s connections to Fox News.
“Very few in the business get to decide when and how things end. Media is most brutal of all industries,” Drudge tweeted Tuesday in apparent reference to O’Reilly.
New York Magazine reported Tuesday that the sons of Fox News executive chairman Rupert Murdoch are considering pulling O’Reilly off the air in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
CNN and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday evening that O’Reilly and Fox are in exit talks. O’Reilly’s camp denies via sources that any such talks are occurring.
“The O’Reilly Factor” has been the top-rated cable news show for the past 15 years.
The question now turns to who will replace O’Reilly, a 21-year veteran of the network since its inception.
Fox faced a similar situation in January with the departure of Megyn Kelly to NBC despite a reported $100 million offer to her to stay. But Tucker Carlson has filled the void at 9 p.m. seamlessly, even generating higher ratings than Kelly, who finished 2016 as the second-most-watched host in cable news behind O’Reilly.
Replacing O’Reilly may be far trickier, given how long “The O’Reilly Factor” has been a staple on Fox News. The program began as “The O’Reilly Report” in October of 1996 before becoming “The O’Reilly Factor” months later.
Four names are seen as the most likely candidates to fill O’Reilly’s shoes if reports of his demise are true: “The Five” co-host and “Cashin’ In” host Eric Bolling, “The Five” co-host and former White House press secretary Dana Perino, “The Five” co-host and former “Red Eye” host Greg Gutfeld and “Watters World” host Jesse Watters, a longtime producer and man-on-the-street interviewer on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
All four have guest hosted for O’Reilly this year.
Bolling, a former commodities trader and staunch supporter of President Trump, has served in that capacity the most over the past few years.
Watters and Gutfeld, whose brands are more casual, comical and self-deprecating than those of O’Reilly or Bolling, have also been given plenty of at-bats.
Perino got her first opportunity on O’Reilly’s first day on vacation last Wednesday. After handing over the reigns to Bolling on Thursday and Gutfeld on Friday, she was tapped to host the first two days of this week.
Another post-O’Reilly possibility is moving “Tucker Carlson Tonight” from 9 p.m. to O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. slot.
Carlson’s show started at the 7 p.m. slot in September and performed so well that he was chosen to replace Kelly at 9 p.m., increasing ratings considerably at the time slot.
In this scenario, Sean Hannity’s 10 p.m. show would move into Carlson’s vacated 9 p.m. timeslot. Hannity, who has been with the network as a prime-time host since its inception in 1996, was previously Fox’s 9 p.m. host until Kelly was moved into that position in 2013.
Such a move would let Fox tap a new host for the 10 p.m. slot with diminished pressure to perform up to O’Reilly’s standards from a ratings or content perspective. Under this scenario, Fox could experiment on its own terms via rotating hosts for the foreseeable future until a permanent personality is decided upon.
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