Weeks after revelations surfaced that Bill O’Reilly settled several sexual harassment claims – leading to an advertiser exodus from his Fox News program – the embattled host is out of a job. The announcement came from Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News and its parent 21st Century Fox.
“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” a statement read.
The news is not a complete surprise, but it is nonetheless stunning. O’Reilly, 67, has been hosting the network’s 8 p.m. program The O’Reilly Factor for two decades. And it has been the No. 1 show in cable news for 15 consecutive years bringing in more than $400 million in ad revenue between 2014 and 2016 and $118 million in the first three quarters of 2016, according to Kantar Media.
And in recent years, O’Reilly has branched out with a series of best-selling books and spin-off TV movies on National Geographic Channel (majority owned by 21st Century Fox), which have broadened his brand outside of Fox News, where he earns about $18 million annually.
By the time O’Reilly signed off on April 11 for a pre-planned two-week vacation, the advertiser exodus – including blue chip brands Mercedes-Benz, Allstate, BMW, Bayer and Lexus – had reached more than 50. Many buyers were re-allocating their ad dollars to other Fox News programs. There was also external pressure from advocacy and women’s groups including Color of Change and the National Organization for Women.
But many media insiders predicted O’Reilly would survive because of his towering presence as the face of Fox News and also because the company recently renewed his deal – which was set to expire later this year – while it was aware that revelations of the payments were going to be disclosed by the New York Times.
“He’s too important to the bottom line,” said one rival TV news executives prior to today’s announcement. “In some ways he’s more important to them now than Ailes was.”
Roger Ailes was ousted last summer, two weeks after former anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment, which led to a cascade of similar allegations and an investigation by the Manhattan law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The same law firm was retained to investigate claims made against O’Reilly by former on-air contributor Wendy Walsh. Megyn Kelly was among more than a dozen women who came forward with allegations against Ailes, which she detailed in her memoir, Settle for More.
Both Ailes and O’Reilly have denied the allegations. But a deepening toxicity between Kelly and O’Reilly, Kelly’s former lead-in on Fox News, was among the many reasons Kelly decided to forgo a $100 million offer from 21st Century Fox to stay at the network and instead left for a deal with NBC News. She was said to be especially annoyed that O’Reilly publicly accused her of disloyalty for speaking out about Ailes. And in an interview on CBS This Morning last November, she responded to O’Reilly’s criticism by noting: “I believe Roger Ailes made the company look bad.”
After Kelly left in January, Fox News moved quickly to put Tucker Carlson’s program into Kelly’s 9 p.m. time slot. All of cable news has been lifted by the unpredictable opening months of the Trump administration. But Carlson has had an impressive early run; for the first three months of the year, Tucker Carlson Tonight averaged 3.27 million viewers.
It was the second most-watched in cable news for the quarter, behind only The O’Reilly Factor, which had its best quarter ever, with 3.98 million viewers. But now, Fox News is without its primetime linchpin. And it’s unclear if a second transition will be as seamless.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.