Fox News on Monday morning announced a massive overhaul of its daytime and early primetime weekday lineup, with several anchors facing ostensible demotions—losing their solo hosting duties or moving to a less-viewed time slot—amid ratings struggles following the 2020 election.
Among the many changes set to take effect on January 18, Fox will move anchor Martha MacCallum out of the 7 p.m. hour and into the 3 p.m. midday slot, replacing her early primetime news broadcast with an opinion-focused show with a host to be named later. Elsewhere, anchors Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer will lose their early afternoon solo broadcasts and join together in the 9-11 a.m. hours to co-anchor a rebooted America’s Newsroom.
“This new powerful lineup ensures FOX News Media will continue to deliver outstanding coverage for our viewers who depend on the most trusted names in the business,” said Suzanne Scott, the network’s CEO, in the announcement.
Fox News emphasized that no anchor was demoted and MacCallum will continue co-anchoring all major political events. But to network insiders who spoke with The Daily Beast, the moves signal a clear step down for several key anchors as the network experiences some ratings decline—the result of its election week on-air call to project President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of Arizona’s vote and a subsequent surge in ratings for Newsmax, the upstart right-wing cable outlet that has sought to lure Fox viewers away with its unabashedly alt-reality, pro-Trump coverage.
“The Fox is on the run,” Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy gloated in a statement following Fox’s announcement. “The rise of Newsmax TV has caused a major shake-up at Fox News with news today that early evening host Martha MacCallum has been demoted to early afternoons.”
Indeed, MacCallum appears to be at the center of the internal shake-up after rabidly pro-Trump Newsmax host Greg Kelly, a former Fox News personality, beat her on December 9 in the key ad demographic of viewers ages 25-54. In fact, between Election Day and mid-December, The Story with Martha MacCallum’s ratings dropped 44 percent compared to pre-election while Kelly’s viewership in the same hour skyrocketed by 486 percent.
And while MacCallum’s ratings have been in freefall since the election—and Newsmax’s single-night victory capped her stunning decline—she was regularly getting beaten in both the demo and total viewership by her CNN and MSNBC counterparts before the election, per Nielsen numbers.
As a result, network brass “clearly don’t think [MacCallum] is strong enough to be part of the prestigious primetime lineup,” said a current staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about their current employer. “Before the election, she was always number one. Then we called Arizona for Biden and everything changed. Bottom feeders like Newsmax and OAN scrambled to accrue our disenfranchised viewers.”
One person familiar with the matter suggested the pressure to revamp Fox’s programming came from above CEO Scott and network president Jay Wallace. “This is the Murdochs,” the source said. “The world changed for Fox the day they called Arizona and the question that remains is will the audience ever forgive the news people for doing it.”
Of course, while much attention has been placed on Newsmax’s exponential post-election ratings growth, the network still only attracts a small fraction of Fox’s total audience. And Newsmax’s ratings have indeed fallen back to earth after its two-week post-election surge. But the damage had already been done.
“I think it scared them to their core when Greg Kelly beat Martha in the key demo,” a current Fox staffer said. “I don’t think anyone took Newsmax seriously until that.”
MacCallum’s was far from the only weekday program to face post-election ratings struggles. Fox News experienced double-digit declines for every weekday show between the election and mid-December, with its daytime (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) hours hit particularly hard, losing 39 percent of its viewership.
“Dana [Perino] wasn’t rating,” a Fox News insider told The Daily Beast regarding the soon-to-be-former 2 p.m. anchor. “Dana and [Bill] Hemmer lost solo gigs. Martha goes from primetime to dayside. All demotions.” The only clear step up, the insider claimed, was for chief White House correspondent John Roberts, who will now co-host a two-hour news broadcast with Sandra Smith that, in part, replaces Perino’s hour.
The dramatic revamping of Fox’s lineup comes as the network has openly attempted to shift its on-air tone rightward and more opinion-focused—an apparent effort to retain its core conservative base and win back fleeing viewers angered by the network’s “straight news” coverage of Biden’s electoral victory and repeated debunking of the “stolen election” lies peddled by Trump and his allies, including some Fox stars.
Most notably, since the election, the network’s so-called “hard news” daytime broadcasts have devoted significant airtime to showcasing and discussing remarks made the night prior by their devoutly pro-Trump colleagues like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. It has been a peculiarly meta move that reflects the audience’s appetite for aggressive right-wing commentary over factual news reporting.
“They’re definitely giving conservatives more airtime,” another current Fox News staffer told The Daily Beast. “One thing of note is that [far-right commentator] Candace Owens has been back on our air, she was off for a while. I haven’t seen any new contributors though that are central or left-leaning. Doesn’t surprise me.”
And so MacCallum’s “straight news” hour will be replaced by an opinion show, titled Fox News Primetime, and hosted by a rotation of commentators until a full-time replacement is announced.
A source familiar with the situation said that one potential candidate to take over the gig is current Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain, a former ESPN personality and radio host who is fluent in the conservative culture-warrior grievance-speak that fuels much of Fox’s opinion programming. Another Fox insider noted that the network has plenty of conservative pundits being groomed to take over hosting duties. “It wouldn't surprise me if they had someone waiting like Tammy Bruce, Jason Chaffetz, or Lawrence Jones,“ the source said. “Those are the go-to hosts for filling in on primetime, Lawrence has especially been rising through the ranks quickly. Even [Dan] Bongino, he's anchored too.”
And MacCallum isn’t the only news personality to seemingly pay for Fox’s crime of accurately reporting Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Chris Stirewalt, the network’s political editor who was once a fixture of Fox’s political coverage, overseeing the decision desk that made the infamous Arizona call, has been curiously absent from the airwaves since a November 16 hit on the Fox Business Network.
—Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018.