“If I were a liberal, I would watch Rachel Maddow,” says Laura Ingraham. “She’s really passionate about what she does.”
Ingraham is not a liberal, and she most likely will not have a lot of time in the days ahead to watch Maddow’s progressive-analysis program on MSNBC. Indeed, the veteran conservative-leaning host and President Trump confidante could give Maddow, who in recent months has often enjoyed the distinction of being the most-watched primetime host in cable news, new competition. Her “The Ingraham Angle” kicks off a new era of Fox News Channel primetime on Monday and is likely to be as attractive to viewers of the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news outlet as Maddow’s is to her network’s audience.
“It’s politics and the rest of life” that will stand at the center of her new 10 p.m. program. Ingraham says she is eager to look not just at the latest news developments, like Senator Jeff Flake’s decision to retire from the U.S. Senate, but also changes in American culture, as well as the effects of giving a smartphone to a 10-year-old. And the show will develop as it moves along, she says. “Everything is on the table and it’s a work in progress.”
Executives likely hope Ingraham’s arrival on Monday along with the addition of Shannon Bream at 11 p.m. – the first time a live show will air regularly on Fox News in that time slot — will cap a flurry of schedule changes that have been made since the controversial departure of Bill O’Reilly in April. As part of the shifts, each weeknight on Fox will be full of live programming, said Meade Cooper, senior vice president of primetime programming at Fox News Channel. Tucker Carlson runs a live hour at 8 p.m. (O’Reilly often did not), and Sean Hannity has returned to doing a live show at 9 p.m., rather than taping a program on most days for the 10 p.m. slot. And there will be more women anchoring evening and daytime programming on Fox News than at rivals CNN or MSNBC.
“It’s a new opportunity for us,” says Cooper. “There’s no shortage of things to talk about.”
Fox News’ programming schedule had long been something akin to an immoveable object. Each night for years, viewers tuned in to O’Reilly, Hannity, and Greta van Susteren, and, more recently, Megyn Kelly. Ratings were unbeatable.
But upheaval at the network in recent months led to shifts. Since O’Reilly left in the wake of revelations he paid out millions to women who accused him of sexual harassment or other troublesome behavior, Fox News has moved Tucker Carlson to 8 p.m.; launched Martha MacCallum in a new program at 7 p.m.; temporarily bumped “The Five” to primetime; and tried to start a new show, “Fox News Specialists,” that had to be terminated after Fox News host Eric Bolling was ousted from the network. Since the election of President Donald Trump, the network has had to contend with a resurgent MSNBC primetime lineup.
To be sure, Fox has held its own. In the third quarter, Fox News showed eight of the 10 most-watched cable-news programs and seven of the most-watched among viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic most coveted by advertisers. For the four weeks ended Oct. 20, Hannity’s program has topped the cable-news ranking in terms of overall viewers and in the demo, according to Nielsen.
Executives are “just looking forward,” says Meade, though a new controversy surrounding O’Reilly surfaced late last week. “We are launching two new shows on Monday, and that’s entirely where my focus is.”
There have been other changes, too. Fox News has in recent weeks extended its morning “Fox & Friends” franchise so that it starts at 4 a.m.; given new hours to Harris Faulkner and Dana Perino; and added Sandra Smith as co-host of “America’s Newsroom.” In all cases, female anchors have been given new spotlights. “While having more women represented at Fox News, and in news more generally, is absolutely a positive development, the extent to which this will result in substantive content change remains to be seen,” says Shauna MacDonald, a gender-studies professor at Villanova University.
Expectations are high. “I think Fox News Channel might be striking ratings gold” with the additions of Ingraham and Bream, says Jeffrey McCall, a professor who studies the media at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He thinks Ingraham’s style “will be more conversational than Tucker and Sean” while Bream’s 11 p.m. hour will offer news, not more punditry.
Bream is eager to get started. In the current news cycle, she says, audiences are hungry for information well into the evening. “The days of waiting for your morning paper to show up in your driveway and tell you what the main stories are? Those days are over,” she says.
Her “Fox News @Night” will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington, she says, and she expects colleagues like Chris Stirewalt, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace to show up to discuss the latest developments. She also intends to continue her regular job of covering the Supreme Court and examining legal issues on the show. She hopes to tap “some younger voices” that will help “speak for a generation that hasn’t had as much of a voice in Washington.”
There might be a few surprises. “We have a couple of really big guests the first week we are trying to lock down,” says Bream.
Ingraham, too, has a few teases. People who tune into her radio show can expect some new executions, she says, like examining issues over multiple segments or returning to stories when new developments surface. But she is intent on speaking to a broader set of Americans, and wants to have guests from a wide variety of backgrounds. She wants to sift through what’s happening in the state courts and federal district courts, which she thinks don’t always get the largest amount of media coverage. And she’s intent on examining how changes in technology and culture are altering society.
She says she doesn’t see as great a need to be confrontational. Adopting three children and surviving a breast cancer scare in 2005 have “changed me,” she says. “I’m seeing things through another set of eyes now.” Fox News is counting on her to draw in its audience and her fans to take in that point of view.