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If Fox News thought they had the next big thing locked up when they signed Sarah Palin, they may be having second thoughts today.
The broadcast of Sarah Palin’s Real American Fluff Pieces, a collection of old clips that were supposed to be inspirational, probably did not inspire much excitement in the Fox News executive suites. The audience, while besting the competition, was not particularly impressive for Fox. In fact, Palin had fewer viewers than Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record, the program she preempted. There were only about 2 million real Americans tuning into Palin’s show (472K adults 25-54). That compares to Van Susteren’s 2.3 million viewers (654K 25-54) last Thursday and 2.1 million (559K 25-54) average for the first quarter of 2010.
From a critical perspective, the reviews are in, and they aren’t lighting up the Fox Towers. Most of the comments employ adjectives like “tame,” “canned,” “stiffness,” “innocuous,” and “disconnected.” If this is her out-of-town tryout, she isn’t going on to Broadway.
It’s fair to assume that Palin is well compensated for her efforts on behalf of Fox News. I haven’t seen any disclosures of her salary but she gets a minimum of $100,000 for speaking engagements, so you can bet she got a gold-plated contract from her pal Rupert Murdoch. Nevertheless, her numbers would have put her in seventh place in the cable news rankings following Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Special Report w/Bret Baier, Van Susteren, and Fox Report w/Shepard Smith. She did manage to beat Neil Cavuto and an O’Reilly rerun.
Somehow, I don’t think this is what Roger Ailes had in mind when he dropped a pile of cash on her. Of course, this is not her only duties at Fox. She also provides commentary to programs like Van Susteren’s and O’Reilly’s. Well, commentary may be too generous a description. It’s more like a litany of platitudes and cliches that she probably wrote on her palm. Even her colleague Chris Wallace dressed her down on the air – to her face – saying, “Well, you’re not a very good analyst.” Palin responded by inviting Ailes to fire her. That notion might have entered his mind this morning when he saw the overnights.
Yesterday’s program got off to a rocky start when one of the featured guests, LL Cool J, revealed that he had never spoken to Fox or Palin and that the interview was a two year old clip that he had not given permission to rebroadcast for this purpose. Fox responded by insulting him and cutting him out of the show. Shortly after, Toby Keith, another featured guest, made the same complaint as LL Cool J. Oddly enough, the white country singer was neither insulted nor edited out, as the black rapper/actor was.
Fox News is the most profitable division of Murdoch’s News Corp. Over the past few years their ratings have grown and they’ve renegotiated richer contracts with cable operators. But business decisions like the Palin signing are not going to add to the company’s future prospects. They are already suffering the embarrassment of having their second highest rated program, Glenn Beck, going to air with advertising for diet pills and gold recyclers because Ford and Wal-Mart don’t want to be associated with him.
Under the circumstances, I’m not sure that Murdoch and Ailes can possibly think that they are getting their money’s worth from Beck or Palin. But that doesn’t mean they won’t continue to carry them. Murdoch has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into the New York Post and it has never been profitable for as long as he’s owned it. He purchased the Wall Street Journal for $5 billion and last year wrote off $2 billion of that. He has been deficit financing the Fox Business Network for over two years with still no sign of it going into the black. In short, he’s made of money and doesn’t care how much of it he loses in pursuit of his political agenda.
That ought to come as a great relief to Sarah Palin after this disastrous debut as an anchor.