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Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Rises to ‘First 100 Days’ Challenge in Primetime

Variety logo Variety 1/13/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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For Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, anchoring a new primetime hour focused on the Trump administration’s first 100 days in office is a natural extension of the election coverage that consumed so much of her working hours during the past 18 months.

MacCallum was a natural choice for Fox News, to help fill the vacancy in its primetime lineup following the surprise of Megyn Kelly’s decision to leave the all-news cabler for a new gig at NBC News.

MacCallum has been a presence on Fox News since 2004. Most recently, she’s been the co-anchor with Bill Hemmer of the 9-11 a.m. “America’s Newscast” block. And she was a regular fill-in host for Kelly on her 9 p.m. “The Kelly File.” Starting Monday she’ll shift from daytime to the lead off hour of primetime as the solo anchor of “The First 100 Days,” to air at 7 p.m. now that the previous occupant of the slot, Tucker Carlson’s “On the Record,” is moving to 9 p.m.

MacCallum has no shortage of ambition for her show. She wants it to be a vehicle for holding Trump and his administration accountable for the promises he made to voters during the bruising campaign against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Fox News, like other news organizations, is under pressure to show that it will demonstrate its journalistic independence in covering Trump and his new administration as it seeks to up-end the status quo. Trump’s contentious relationship with the mainstream news media — as evidenced by his conduct during his Jan. 11 news conference — promises to be a challenge for the Fourth Estate.

“We’re going to be very newsy and cutting-edge,” MacCallum told Variety. “This show is very much about accountability and truth and holding Trump to the things he said he wanted to do.”

“The First 100 Days” will originate from Fox News’ Midtown Manhattan headquarters, with contributions from correspondents in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. She also intends to incorporate a panel of everyday people in an effort to bring “the voice of the voters” into the show. “I don’t think people will hesitate to tell us what they think about how Trump is doing,” she said.

MacCallum expects to trek to D.C. on a regular basis for sit-down interviews with key administration officials. “They’ve said they will be available to us and we’re going to hold them to it,” she said. MacCallum’s executive producers are “Kelly File” alums Tommy Firth and Tom Lowell.

The decision to call MacCallum up to the big leagues of primetime came together quickly after Kelly’s Jan. 3 announcement of her move to NBC News. The anchor has long been a history buff, particularly as it relates to presidential administrations. She’d been looking back at past presidential inauguration speeches in preparation for covering Trump’s Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony. And she’d been thinking about stories to be done through the prism of the first 100 days, a concept that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt’s first term in office.

MacCallum promises to weave a lot of history into the coverage and analysis of the day’s headlines.

“I want to put Trump in historical context and see where he fits in the realm of presidential history,” she said. “He won this election with a very unconventional mix (of political ideology) that was not quite Republican — it’s Trumpism. So we want to really show our audience — what does that look like now?”

MacCallum emphasized that the bar is high for Trump to move forcefully in his first weeks in office, given his vow to break through the gridlock in Washington, or in Trump’s terms: “Drain the swamp.”

“Remember the faces of people at his rallies and how excited they were about his message,” MacCallum said. The new administration “really has to deliver.”

MacCallum’s show by its very title may have a limited run in the time slot. She is hopeful that it will evolve into a permanent part of the primetime lineup. For now, her focus is on delivering rigorous and objective coverage of the new administration.

“We’re not cheering it on and we’re not rooting for it to fail,” MacCallum said.

MacCallum hasn’t had much time to think about what “First 100 Days” could mean for her profile in TV news — she’s been too busy pulling the show together. She’ll miss her partnership with Hemmer in the mornings — she admits she had not particularly focused on landing a primetime slot prior to Kelly’s departure. The fact that the opportunity popped up so quickly is part and parcel of the unpredictability of TV news, something she’s enjoyed since her earliest days in local TV.

“I’m very invigorated by this project,” MacCallum says. “It feels like the natural way to continue our coverage. I love that we’re going to bring a historical element. I think it’s good in life just to shake it up once in a while.”

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