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Tuesday 15 March 2011

Hello Dobbsy Lou, Bye Bye Glenn?

The New York Times started the rumour: the increasingly wayward Glenn Beck, “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), might not be staying at the broadcaster after his contract comes up at the end of December. At first, the thought of Beck leaving what many see as his spiritual home may seem unimaginable – until you look at the numbers.

Cable news channel ratings had been on the wane throughout 2010, but Beck’s show has lost viewers at a rate far above the average: his audience declined by over a million during the year. Moreover, this year he has been out-performed by the man whose show follows Beck’s, Bret Baier. Baier is a steady, straight news kind of presenter, not one of Fox’ big guns.

Also, Beck is also eclipsed regularly by Shep Smith, whose 7pm ET “Fox Report” is another in the Fox “news” strand. What makes the latter comparison interesting is that Smith is liked by liberals as well as conservatives: he’s not always “on message”.

So why has Beck lost so much of his audience? Those who see only snippets of the Beck show, with the chalkboards, the hollering rhetoric, and the suggestions of wild conspiracies, might find two or three minutes of this amusing and novel. The trouble is, Beck goes on like this for the best part of fifty minutes every weekday, and it seems that much of the target demographic is tiring of it.

God's messenger?

And the boycott of advertisers, which has left breaks filled with commercials for Goldline – Beck likes to urge his viewers to buy gold – and little else, will not have gone down well with Fox management. Nor will his suggestion on his radio show yesterday that the Japanese earthquake might be a message from God.

Beck’s response to the rumour of his departure will not stop the speculation: he was non-committal on the subject yesterday, saying that “the only thing in life that is constant is change”. And Fox already have an ideal replacement under contract: former CNN man Lou Dobbs has been installed on the Fox Business Network, which has a fraction of the main channel’s audience.

Dobbs does not appear too unhappy about being on such a minority outlet, which will only add to the speculation that he is being pencilled in to replace Beck in 2012. Will Lou be less controversial than Glenn? Heck, no – he’s as far to the right as any of the better known Fox names. But he’s predictable and reliable, and with a Presidential Election coming next year, that may be just what Roger Ailes wants.

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