Megyn Kelly announced her departure from Fox News on Monday night, saying on The Kelly File that she’s pleased to join “the journalists at NBC … who I greatly admire.” (Hey, how do Fox News fans feel about that ringing endorsement for the corporate home of Rachel Maddow and Matt Lauer — a place Fox spends so much time deriding?) And on Thursday morning, the channel announced her replacement: Tucker Carlson, the Prince of Preppiness, whose 7 p.m. ambush-o-rama, Tucker Carlson Tonight, has been an immediate attention-grabber since it started in November.
Common consensus was that Fox was looking for an in-house woman to occupy Kelly’s spot in primetime. New York magazine’s Fox News swami, Gabriel Sherman, listed the obvious candidates: Trish Regan, Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream, and Sandra Smith. My thinking was, who’s to say Fox News really, really wanted a woman in that time period? Other channels pay fealty to the idea of diversity; Fox does not. Fox barely shed a tear when Greta Van Susteren left, to be immediately replaced by Carlson. Plugging Carlson into Kelly’s time slot is a fast, easy fix. As I wrote in December, Carlson is “the exact opposite of a self-styled working-class brawler like Bill O’Reilly, which actually makes them excellent time-period companions.”
Carlson’s show quickly established its tone and tenor: At the top of every program, Carlson proclaims that his hour is “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink.” He then gets a guest on camera with whom he’s sure to disagree, and debates, interrupts, contradicts, and bullies him or her into submission. Much of the time, he can leave a Fox viewer thinking he’s bested his opponent. But sometimes it doesn’t fare too well for Carlson, as when he tried to ridicule Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca for her criticisms of Donald Trump and found his condescension turned back on him:
I can’t help but think Fox News has missed an opportunity here to do something different. My neighbor Mark, a close watcher of Fox News, posited what I thought was a shrewd programming idea: Move The Five to primetime. The Five started out as a bookmark show, something Roger Ailes devised to throw on the air as a replacement for The Glenn Beck Implosion or whatever they were calling it. The show took off in the ratings; its cacophony of voices and weird personality mix — Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino, Eric Bolling, Juan Williams, and Kimberly Guilfoyle — appealed to the channel’s viewers (although the show was better — odder, more unpredictable — when Bob Beckel was its grumpy liberal voice). The Five would have been an excellent solution to Fox’s Kelly dilemma, and the multiple-host format a novelty for primetime viewers.
My second replacement idea was riskier, but in keeping with Fox News’s roots as a maverick operation that makes TV stars rather than recycling in-house candidates: Tomi Lahren. You know, the machine-gun-mouthed alt-righter who charmed Trevor Noah and reduced Bill O’Reilly to polite silence in the space of a single week just last month. She fit the Fox bill, from the top of her blond head to the bottom of her unhinged lower jaw. I think just about every opinion Lahren holds is repulsive, but she would have drawn ratings for the network.
It’s being reported that Fox is giving the 7 p.m. slot to America’s Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum. The Kelly replacement was the first major test for Fox News after the departure of its guru and (alleged) sexual harasser in chief, Roger Ailes: To lure as many viewers as Kelly racked up, Fox had the opportunity to do something different, and different is something I’m not sure it knows how to do anymore, without Ailes.
Megyn Kelly’s last day at Fox News will be Jan. 6. Tucker Carlson Tonight airs weeknights at 7 p.m. on Fox News.