Glenn Beck will “transition off” his daily Fox News show later this year. He’ll still be under contract to do specials and things for the network. Somewhat amazingly, the Fox show will end having lasted only a little longer than his CNN Headline News show.
This comes after a long string of rumours in major publications (i.e. stories that are based on leaks from anonymous people behind the scenes) that Fox was trying to find ways to get Beck away from that valuable piece of daily real estate, fearing that he’d become too wild even by comparison with the other hosts. There was also some fear that he might go off the reservation; he was getting some criticism from foreign policy conservatives for his pronouncements about Egypt.
But personally, I don’t think much of the idea that he was a loose cannon or a bad fit at Fox. While I don’t care for Glenn Beck, I don’t see any great difference between him and Sean Hannity; both believe and argue pretty much the same things. And virtually all Beck’s talking points (George Soros, sharia law) are pretty bog-standard on the entire network. It’s just that Hannity or Gretchyn Megson (I can’t always tell Fox’s female hosts apart) seem to take everything they say very seriously, whereas Beck brought some influences of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to Fox — in other words, the shows that made fun of people like him — by doing nutty, often deliberately comedic bits that seemed to raise the question of whether he was serious or not.
I don’t think it was what Beck said that got him into trouble at the network, since everyone on the network says the same things he does. He just said it the wrong way: too hysterically, or too silly, or without the veneer of sophistication affability that Bill Kristol uses. It’s all about Tone and Style, not about Substance.
Mostly, of course, it’s about ratings. Now that the frenzy of 2009-10 is over and the Republicans are in control of one house of Congress in Washington D.C., Beck’s apocalyptic messages have lost some of their spark. This may be what makes Beck less durable than Hannity or, especially, Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh is very good at crafting a message that is effective no matter who is in power: even when the Republicans controlled the entire government, Limbaugh was able to say that the real enemy was liberalism and that liberalism needed to be fought elsewhere (or that the Republicans, when they did something wrong, were secretly liberals). Limbaugh’s tone is meant for the long haul: it’s angry, but not apocalyptic. Beck, on the other hand, attracted a lot of viewers who genuinely believed that Democratic power was a unique, unprecedented and terrifying threat, and that’s the tone he prefers: something really bad is about to happen and everything may collapse at any minute. Once one of the bad things (complete Democratic power in Washington) no longer existed, it was inevitable that some of his viewers would drift away; unlike Limbaugh, his messages at such a high pitch of excitement and fear that they can’t be effective for very long. Yesterday he even admitted on the air (as usual, half in jest) that his formula is getting a little played-out. He’s like the Billy Martin of TV pundits: he starts big but burns out fast.