Have you been itching to watch Fox News personality Shepard Smith, but don't have the cable access necessary to tune him in? Don't worry - Shep and his Fox News cohorts could soon be coming to you free and over the air. Fox News is getting into the broadcast news business, if not with a new evening newscast, then at least with behind-the-scenes training of local news personnel. Brooke talks to TVNewser.com editor Brian Stelter about the changes in store.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you're one of the rapidly dwindling subset of TV viewers without cable, you've no doubt listened to our past discussions of Rupert Murdoch, Bill O'Reilly and their Fox News comrades and you've wondered about all you've been missing. Well, dear listener, wonder no more. It looks like Fox News soon could be coming to you free over the air. Planning is underway at Fox's parent company, News Corp., to begin exporting the kinds of offerings now available only on cable to the 35 broadcast stations it owns around the country. Get ready, "Family Guy." Here comes Geraldo. Joining me now to talk about what else is coming is Brian Stelter, editor of the blog TVNewser. Brian, welcome back.
BRIAN STELTER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the changes started a couple of months back, right, when Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan resigned as chief of News Corp.'s 35 local stations and Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes took over?
BRIAN STELTER: That's right. Roger Ailes, in the last 10 years, has created Fox News and made it a powerhouse. So Rupert Murdoch turned to him and said now you're going to do the same thing for my local news stations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how does he plan to do that?
BRIAN STELTER: In many ways it's going to be a "Foxification" of local news and local broadcasting from morning shows to syndicated shows, like "Geraldo at Large," possibly a nightly newscast, trying to rejuvenate the lineup.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I understand that he's actually flown editorial staff from local stations to the Fox News headquarters for crash courses in the Fox News method. So what's your best guess as to what's going on in those sessions?
BRIAN STELTER: Well, they are producers and anchors. They're being taught how to be conversational on the air, the way that anchors like Shep Smith on the Fox News Channel already are. And I think those lessons are just the start of how Roger Ailes and his deputies at Fox News will try to take the Fox News style that's worked so well on cable and put it into the local affiliates.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There's been some talk in the trade press about Fox starting up a broadcast version of its own evening newscast to compete with the big three networks. How real a possibility is that?
BRIAN STELTER: I think it's very real and very likely that in a year or two we will see a Fox nightly newscast, a lot like what we've seen now on Fox News at 7 p.m. with the Fox Report, very fast-paced, very conversational, very engaging. It might have up to 60 stories in the course of an hour. The reason Fox News Channel on cable has been so successful, is because it gets its viewers to watch for long periods of time. If they can do that on broadcast as well, they'll be very rich.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shep Smith in the anchor chair?
BRIAN STELTER: Either Shep Smith or Brit Hume. And I'm putting my money on Shep Smith. They've really been grooming him as America's anchorman of the next generation. He's the anti-Dan Rather. He does not lecture to the viewers the way that anchors did 30 or 40 years ago. He gets straight to the point. Now, critics would say he also makes it too dumbed-down, he rushes through the news. But he definitely knows how to get those younger viewers because he gives the news quickly, for instance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, Brian, all this comes at a time of soul-searching for the big three broadcast networks. What do you think the entry of Fox into their turf will mean for the look and feel of their news shows? Will there be another "Fox effect," like there was on cable, influencing CNN, for instance, to be more conversational, to pitch personalities rather than news?
BRIAN STELTER: I think it's very possible that we're moving in that direction for the broadcast network news shows. And we've recently seen CBS News appoint a new president, who is also president of CBS Sports, who has absolutely no news experience whatsoever. Now, he's going to bring certain entertainment qualities of the sports programming to news. ABC and NBC could very well do similar things if they're confronted with the prospect of a Fox evening newscast that is really distinctive and attractive to viewers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's compare the ratings for the lowest-rated newscast on CBS to that of the Fox News Channel, just so people have a sense of the real numbers here.
BRIAN STELTER: On a good night, CBS Evening News is the number three evening newscast, and they get about six to seven to eight million viewers. Now, to contrast that, Fox News, their news broadcast with Shep Smith gets about 1.5 million viewers a night. But the trend is that Fox is going up and the broadcast networks are sliding down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Any broadcast station has a license that is regarded as a public trust, and in it there's some assumption that it will offer a broad range of views. And I wonder, if the Fox broadcast stations were to become "Foxified" to the point where they sounded like the Fox news channels, do you think that that would pose a risk to their licenses?
BRIAN STELTER: They would never get to the point where they're so blatantly conservative or liberal, you know, so blatantly political that they're going to lose viewers. I think they still want to be, as they say, "fair and balanced." They don't want to put on shows that are clearly conservative because then they would fall under those issues of licensing and of sanctions. What they're going to interject into local newscasts may be less political and more the bells and whistles, more the sexy sort of attitude that Fox News puts on cable.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brian, do I have you right? You may be the first person on the show who's ever used the phrase "fair and balanced" in connection with Fox without irony.
BRIAN STELTER: [Chuckles.] I think it's an ingenious marketing slogan. I'm not sure it's always true. In fact, I'm sure it's not always true. But I guess I see it as an economic thing. You know, we've heard recently that Rupert Murdoch may be allying himself with Hillary Clinton if he thinks she's going to win because it comes down to dollars and cents for them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Brian, thank you very much.
BRIAN STELTER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Brian Stelter is editor of Tvnewser.com, a blog with all the latest on the TV industry. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Coming up, helpful hints for faking sincerity in murder fiction and reality TV.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from NPR. copyright 2005 WNYC Radio