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Sean Hannity in the Spotlight as Bill Shine Departs From Fox News

Variety logo Variety 5/1/2017 Brian Steinberg
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At Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity is in some ways the last man standing. The network would no doubt like to keep it that way.

After a series of departures and dismissals, the 55-year-old political commentator is the only remaining member of a killer-ratings Fox News Channel lineup. For years, the network’s primetime grid was inviolate: Bill O’Reilly’s “O’Reilly Factor” at 8 p.m.; “Hannity” at 9 p.m.; and Greta van Susteren’s “On the Record” at 10 p.m.  But van Susteren and O’Reilly have left the network, the first as part of a contract dispute in the wake of the ouster of former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after sexual-harassment charges (which he has denied), the second after revelations of settlements made to women who accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. Monday’s announcement that Fox News co-president Bill Shine will resign amidst continued controversy swirling around the network makes Hannity’s presence at Fox News a critical one.

But he’s hinted Shine’s departure would leave him dissatisfied. On April 27, after New York magazine reported that the Murdochs, the controlling shareholders of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, had declined to offer Shine a statement of public support, Hannity said “i pray this is NOT true because if it is, that’s the total end of the FNC as we know it.” He later added: “Somebody HIGH UP AND INSIDE FNC is trying to get an innocent person fired.” When asked about speculation that Hannity could consider departing the network, the network released a statement attributed to both Hannity and a Fox News spokesperson: “This is completely untrue.”

The anchor on Monday evening said that he was not negotiating an exit from the network and indicated he might say more about Fox News’ current situation on his Monday-night broadcast.

Hannity’s current contract is supposed to extend through 2020. And though he was one of a number of Fox News anchors who had a “key man” clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if Ailes stepped down, he opted to stay. A Fox News spokeswoman said Hannity did not have a similar clause that related to Shine.

Since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Hannity’s stature has grown. He has been an ardent defender of the new President, which no doubt reassures the conservative audience that tunes in regularly to his show. In September, Fox News Channel had to tell the host he could no longer appear in promotions for a Presidential candidate after he was spotted making a cameo in an eight-minute-long video from Trump’s campaign that surfaced on YouTube

According to Nielsen, overall viewers for “Hannity” have increased 47% for the period between December 26 of last year and March 26 of this year. For the first quarter of 2017, only Tucker Carlson and Bill O’Reilly had more viewers between 25 and 54, the audience that advertisers in news programming demand, among cable-news programs.

Hannity maintains a no-holds-barred approach to his broadcast – and his critics. When he sat down for an interview with Ted Koppel broadcast on “CBS Sunday Morning” in March, he lashed out when the segment showed Koppel telling him that he believed opinion hosts like Hannity are bad for America because they attract “people who have determined that ideology is more important than facts.” Hannity suggested the segment, culled from a 45-minute interview, was taken out of context. Koppel said he felt the story spoke for itself.

He has also been unafraid to challenge fellow Fox News employees. In October, Hannity questioned Megyn Kelly regarding remarks she made about Donald Trump and rival Hillary Clinton making appearances only on programs known to be friendly to their particular cause, citing Trump’s appearances on “Hannity.” Hannity used Twitter to accuse Kelly of openly supporting Clinton. Outsiders wondered if the display made Kelly feel uncomfortable.

Hannity has ties back to Fox News’ earliest broadcasts. In 1996, Fox News’ first year broadcasting, he and liberal political commentator Alan Colmes engaged in a red-versus-blue debate on the issues of the day on “Hannity & Colmes.” The program would continue through 2009. Fox News executives likely hope Hannity’s tenure at the network will continue far into the future.

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