Fox News host Glenn Beck took viewers by surprise Wednesday with the announcement that his 5 p.m. program will “transition off” the network.
“I am going to leave this program later this year, but I am not leaving Fox,” Beck told viewers at the top of his TV program Wednesday.
Beck’s program is the nation’s third-highest rated cable news program, attracting nearly 2.2 million viewers a night.
Fox News and Beck stated that they will continue to “produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News’ digital properties.”
The news surprised millions of loyal Beck fans, but rumors had swirled for months that Beck might be leaving his 5 p.m. slot. There had been widespread speculation that Beck would be expanding his own subscription-based television programming and might even launch his own cable channel.
The news of Beck’s departure from the 5 p.m. time slot on Fox triggered mixed reactions from across the media universe.
Liberals predictably took their shots at a host whose ratings dominance was never even close to being challenged by competitors at left-leaning networks.
“Glenn Beck is leaving Fox. Where’s he gonna go? The Oprah Network?” tweeted The View co-host Joy Behar. She added: “I give him 20 minutes alone in a room with Rosie” O’Donnell.
Some left-wing activists suggested that their campaign of intimidation targeting Beck’s advertisers had contributed to the decision not to renew his 5 p.m. show.
TV advertising consultant Adam Armbruster, who has appeared regularly on Fox News, called Beck “controversial, a real lightning rod for many advertisers.”
Advertisers, he observed, often prefer to avoid anything controversial.
“But you also have to remember that some enjoy controversy . . . Glenn Beck got a lot of attention for Fox News. The bottom line is that advertisers love attention,” he said.
Controversy aside, Beck in many ways has redefined the standard for success in the 5 p.m. time slot. Although his ratings had cooled from the height of his popularity, he continued to provide Fox’s prime-time lineup with an extraordinarily strong lead-in viewership.
“I still think if he was not the bane of the liberal media opinion-leader world, there wouldn’t be this kind of pressure on Fox,” Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkovitz tells Newsmax.”I mean, who wants to get rid of someone with those kinds of numbers at 5 in the afternoon? Who the hell else is ever going to pull those kinds of numbers?”
Jeffrey M. McCall, a communications professor and analyst at DePauw University, said the announcement didn’t surprise him.
“I think the timing, as we head to some really tough governmental decision that have to be made, and also heading into the election season in 2012, I think Fox probably just wanted to turn the page on this,” he said.
Both Fox and Beck made every effort to demonstrate that the two sides look forward to working with each other going forward.
“Glenn Beck is a powerful communicator, a creative entrepreneur and a true success by anybody’s standards,” Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said. “I look forward to continuing to work with him.”
Beck in turn offered kind words to Ailes as well: “I truly believe that America owes a lot to Roger Ailes and Fox News. I cannot repay Roger for the lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn from him and I look forward to starting this new phase of our partnership.”
Beck’s rise to media stardom followed a meteoric path since he joined Fox News in October 2008 just weeks before Barack Obama captured the presidency. With his black-rimmed glasses and chalkboard, at times he seemed like the living personification of Howard Beale, the fictional character in the 1976 film “Network,” who persuaded Americans to stand up en masse and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Beck’s accomplishments transcended the ordinary role of media in the early days of the Obama administration, when the president’s popularity was riding so high that many other news personalities were hesitant to subject his policies to the normal level of press criticism.
But not Beck, who became a one-man media empire, with one of the nation’s most popular syndicated radio programs, a string of sold-out personal appearances, and a bevy of best-selling books.
As his notoriety grew, Beck went beyond merely commenting on the news and began to impact it. For example, he created a grass-roots organization called The 9-12 Project that played a major role in the huge tea party rallies and town hall demonstrations in protest of President Obama’s healthcare initiatives.
Beck’s exposes of radical associations and statements of key administration figures such as green-jobs adviser Van Jones, FCC chief diversity officer Mark Lloyd, and political strategist Anita Dunn, resulted in embarrassing revelations and resignations that blunted the momentum of the Obama juggernaut at a time when it appeared to be virtually unstoppable. In the process, he became the man the left most loved to hate on cable TV.
His “Restoring Honor” rally, which drew up to 500,000 people to the National Mall in August 2010 in support of traditional American values, marked Beck’s transition from talk host to cultural icon.
In some ways, Beck’s phenomenal popularity may have ultimately proved impossible to maintain at its apex.
“It’s the meteor theory of cable talk,” Berkovitz said. “If you’re too hot, you can burn up in the atmosphere. So maybe that’s part of it.”
Popular New York City-based, syndicated talk show host Steve Malzberg tells Newsmax: “I think whatever he does, he will continue to be successful. He’s very unique, and he has a huge, huge following.”
Added Malzberg: “He’s going to blow them away no matter where he goes, no matter what his next venture is going to be, no matter where he’s going to take his media talents.”
Beck closed his program Wednesday by saying to his viewers: “We will find each other. I’m developing other content for Fox — there are specials and other things — on television and beyond. I will continue to tell the story, and I’m going to be showing you other ways for us to connect.
“But I have other things to do. And not because it’s good or bad for business, but I think you out of all the people will truly get this: Our only business is the business of freedom and our country at this time. It’s why I’ve told you . . . at the beginning of the year — prepare to be a leader, educate yourself, be the mouthpiece — never rely on anyone else to spoon feed you.
“Now today — now today, you have to carry more weight, you must know what you believe; you must be prepared to be the person that explains it to others.
“Fox is one of the only places you will find truth — spread the word, stick together — and together, we will do the right thing for our country and for our world.”