“Hannity” Goes HD, Embraces New Media

By SteveK 

Since the network launched in October 1996, Fox News Channel has had just two programs at 9pmET — “Hannity & Colmes” and the two-day-old “Hannity.”

Sean Hannity’s new solo program premiered on Monday to strong ratings, with an interview of President George W. Bush highlighting the show.

For those who expected “Hannity & Colmes” minus Alan Colmes (who’s leaving the show but remaining at Fox News to work on other projects), they were in for a surprise.

The new show, airing in one of Fox News’ new HD studios (12J), looks very different to its predecessor — and its competition. The opening interview Monday with Newt Gingrich featured various shots of Hannity talking to Gingrich on a large HD screen, as b-roll played next to the guest. The Great American Panel featured three opinionated guests (Rev. Al Sharpten, Rep. Michele Bachmann and, well, Meatloaf) who argued with each other while Hannity stayed partly out of the fray. “We’re happy with the first night,” FNC SVP of programming Bill Shine tells TVNewser. “Obviously it is a work in progress and we’re going to do tweaks along the way.”

Of the panel: “It got a little loud at one or two points. If the mission was to feel different and look different, to throw some curve balls in the mix with Meatloaf and Rev. Al, we accomplished the goal.”

But one of the changes will not be seen on the small screen — it comes on the Web. Fox News has made a push recently to expand their reach on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the blogosphere, and “Hannity” will be no exception.

“I can’t tell anything specific, but most of the answers are yes,” says Shine. “New media and digital are certainly not the direction we went with Hannity & Colmes, but we’re going to go down that road now. Obviously it is a new and exciting way to reach out to our audience. Every day the news audience in America wants more of that so we’ll be giving it to them.”

And the signs are already there. The behind-the-scenes picture on the left comes from Hannity’s new blog, so far written by producers, and Hannity fans can friend the host on Facebook.

What else is in the works at 9pmET, and for the new FNC lineup in general, after the jump…

“We’re also going to, in the coming days, set up a system of sign-ups for emails,” Shine said. The emails will have a guest list and tune-in information regarding upcoming programming.

But “Hannity” is not the only new show at FNC, which has prided itself in a lineup largely unchanged for years longer than its competition. In fact, three of the five hours from 5pm-10pmET will feature new hosts, with Glenn Beck starting Monday at 5pmET and Bret Baier now hosting “Special Report” at 6pmET.

“Well I think it’s all positive,” says Shine. “Glenn hasn’t made air yet but we have very high hopes for him and that show. He’s a very talented guy and has a loyal radio audience. In terms of performance, Bret is doing a great job. In terms of numbers, he’s holding the audience Brit had. There’s only one Shep Smith and we have him, and he’s at 7, and then Bill, Sean and Greta.”

Looking ahead, Shine sees the changes as reflective of the country as a whole. “It’s a new year, a new President, a new administration and there’s new things to talk about,” he says. “We’re doing just fine.”