courtesy FNC
Shepard Smith's fast-paced nightly program The Fox Report has been the most-watched cable news show at 7 pm since October 2001. But when the program celebrates its eighth anniversary in September, there'll be a new set, new graphics and, Smith says, a whole new approach to delivering the day's events. But, wait, didn't we hear something about reinventing the evening news when Katie Couric was hired by CBS last year? The Biz talked with Smith about why he's forging ahead with an overhaul to his program - and why you won't see him moderate a presidential-candidates debate anytime soon. Why relaunch the program? Your ratings are good, and visually it's always looked cutting-edge.
Shepard Smith: It was when we first rolled it out. The goal is to always be able to communicate in a new and better way. There are certain kinds of stories that have never really worked well with television, stories that are just so visually deficient. We're going to try to use this new environment that we have - new graphics and technology - to tell stories that don't always have pictures with them. This is going to be a lot more than a new set. We're learning a lot about ourselves from the Internet. You'll see some of the communicators people know online on this program from time to time. We want people who have a fresh way of telling things. I know you don't want to give up too many details, but give me a sense of other ways it's going to be different.
Smith: We have to do more news. We've already given up the "coming up" teasing that we were known for in the early days. We've taken all of that time and put it into content. We did that because viewers said that's what they wanted. Viewers have said, "Stop telling me for 45 seconds what you're going to do in the next four minutes." So we have. We're not going to do more crap. We're not going to do more titillating [stories], Hollywood-movie reviews and jokes. We're going to do less of that. There are other places that do that better than we do. I don't make any apologies for the way we've done it in the past. There was an atmosphere where it was acceptable because people didn't have so much of it. We need to do news. You're getting the corporate and financial support to do this?
Smith: One of the exciting things about being here right now is that across the landscape on television, everyone is firing except Fox. We're hiring. CBS Evening News tried to do something different last year after they hired Katie Couric, and it was rejected.
Smith: They didn't try it for long. And was everybody at CBS News on board? Probably not. Did they give it a chance? Did they take the woman who was successful beyond everyone else's dreams in the morning and try to change her into something else after a week? Was there a PR disaster that happened? Did they mismanage it beyond the exclusion of every reasonable thought? I think these are all fair questions. I'm glad we don't operate the way they do. But doesn't it suggest that people like their evening news programs the way they are, and shouldn't be messed with?
Smith: That's why our industry is dying. If you don't change, you will die. Because the world is changing around us. If people who sit in executive boardrooms in midtown Manhattan and go out for cocktails with their executive friends and don't get in touch with the way the world is acting and reacting, this industry will die. We're not going to. We're going to change. You're the signature anchor on Fox News, but we haven't seen you moderate any of the presidential candidates' debates. Has that ever come up?
Smith: We've talked about it. Do you want to do it?
Smith: If they want me to moderate something, I'll moderate something. We have [Washington managing editor] Brit Hume. Why would I do that? You would bring something different to it.
Smith: I defer to Brit. He's our guy. That's his territory. But I could see you asking regular folks questions that would cut through in a different way.
Smith: They might. That might be an interesting exercise. It has been talked about. But I don't deal with people whose job it is to not tell you anything very well. I want to know some things. But [the candidates] are not going to tell us. If you try to get answers from people these days, they turn it around and make you a villain. And I've run into this. If a liberal comes on and won't answer questions and you pound and pound, you're a right-wing nut. If a conservative comes on and won't answer questions, you're a crazy lefty. All you do is alienate people and you don't get anywhere. If there were a way to make someone answer a freakin' question, I'd be interested in doing it.