Shepard Smith was getting bored with the news — not the news itself, but how he’s been delivering it for the last 14 years on Fox’s signature evening newscast, “Fox Report.”
“When is the last time you learned something on the news, that wasn’t already on your phone?” Smith, a 17-year Fox News veteran, asks.
Changing times call for new challenges. And with his multi-year, multi-million dollar deal — he’s now Fox’s second highest-paid anchor, behind Bill O’Reilly — he’ll certainly be challenged. In addition to his 3pm show, rebranded “Shepard Smith Reporting,” Smith will “weave” breaking news into and out of FNC’s programming block — shows that are more opinion, than news.
Smith met with several networks over the past few months as his three-year deal with Fox News was coming due. (MSNBC president Phil Griffin said he’d hire Smith, if given the chance.) FNC chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was already trying to accommodate another of his stars — Megyn Kelly — who wanted a higher profile in primetime. Ailes was also trying to devise a way of bringing TV news into the 21st Century.
“Roger came to me one night at dinner and said, ‘I hope you’ll stay here, but if you do go somewhere else, I got your back,” he tells TVNewser. “People don’t really know this, but we have a father-ish, son-ish relationship.”
“Other networks offered great platforms,” he says. “But what I didn’t know was that there was going to be something new and modern we could do here.”
Now he’s in the driver’s seat. He’s not just delivering the news, he’s deciding what will air and when. “Now I head a unit…make decisions…decide what goes where…work with sending out correspondents,” the frenetic newsman says.
And he’ll do it from something called the Fox News Deck, a new studio being built on the 12th floor of the Fox News headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
“I’ve been in this business 25 years and I’ve never seen technology like this. My whole team is moving outside the News Deck. We’ll have information specialists and social media people.”
No prompter. No problem. He won’t have one for his 3pm hour or the news updates in the opinion shows. Smith says the new role is meant to “build up our firewall between news and programming even higher.”
“Imagine a quarterback calling an audible at the line,” says Smith a rabid Ole Miss Rebel fan. “I’ll do just that.”
But it’ll all have to wait a few weeks. Smith is going under the knife next week to fix a torn labrum, rotator cuff and bone spurs in his shoulder. Then he’s looking forward to getting back to the news and tennis.
“I’ll be medicated and miserable, but I’ll be back.”
As for who he’d like to see take over the 7pm hour he’s been anchoring for the last 14 years: “When the news happens, I’d like to see me,” he says.
“Mr. Ailes is a genius when it comes to this. He knows what talent works at what hour. But he hasn’t told me anything because he knows I can’t keep a secret.”