Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News — but his status elsewhere in the media world remains unchanged.
National Geographic channel, where O’Reilly has a television movie in development, and Henry Holt, which published his commercially successful nonfiction books, said Thursday that they have no immediate plans to sever ties with the former Fox News host.
National Geographic announced in 2015 plans to develop “Killing Patton,” a film adaptation of O’Reilly’s book, part of his best-selling “Killing” series. A network spokesperson Wednesday said that the film is currently slated for 2019, adding “We’re focused on 2018 right now. We’re not making any decisions today.”
The cable channel, which made its upfront presentation to advertisers Wednesday in New York, is majority owned by Fox News parent 21st Century Fox. “Killing Patton” is slated to be the fourth “Killing” adaptation for the network, following “Killing Reagan,” “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy,” and “Killing Jesus.”
The movies have been solid ratings performers for National Geographic, averaging 3.1 million total viewers in Nielsen live-plus-same-day numbers. The books on which they are based, however, have been even greater successes for Macmillan’s Henry Holt.
“Our plans have not changed,” a Henry Holt spokesperson said Wednesday in response to an inquiry from Variety about the status of future projects from O’Reilly and the publisher — which in March released the host’s newest book, “Old School.”
While that volume has performed respectably, the “Killing” series has reached a level rarely seen in non-fiction book publishing. The six installments — the five adapted by National Geographic, as well as “Killing the Rising Sun” — have sold a combined 9.5 million copies, according to Nielsen.
Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, said that the books have been successful because of their crossover appeal, drawing in readers from within and outside O’Reilly’s core conservative viewing audience.
“It’s not about him, but about the way he sets up these reframings of history,” Hildick-Smith says. “That seems to have a tremendous amount of appeal for his book-buying audience. They’re very consistent, high-selling books, probably more than [books by] any other author in non-fiction today.”
O’Reilly and Fox News officially parted ways Wednesday after the host became enmeshed in controversy over mounting allegations of sexual harassment. His long-running show “The O’Reilly Factor” had for many years been the highest rated in cable news.
National Geographic and Henry Holt face very different calculations in determining whether to cut ties with O’Reilly. National Geographic’s status as part of 21st Century Fox will no doubt be key to the fate of “Killing Patton” and any other potential O’Reilly development there.
Henry Holt, meanwhile, will face potentially less intense business pressure than Fox News, which saw advertisers abandon “The O’Reilly Factor” in droves.
“In publishing, there’s a much different business model,” Hildick-Smith says. “In TV, you have advertisers, and advertisers don’t have the luxury of narrowcasting. Books do.”
But the loss of his Fox News perch could impact O’Reilly’s appeal for publishers.
“One of the things that book publishers look to is the platform,” Hildick-Smith says. “O’Reilly obviously has a very big platform with the Fox fans. If he’s no longer on the air, that will probably put a bit of a damper on his ability to inform people if his new book is coming out.”