Megyn Kelly is a star.
The Fox News prime-time host runs a successful cable news show, has book publishers throwing millions of dollars her way, co-stars with Donald Trump in this season’s most compelling political soap opera, and is even starting to consider what life might look like after Fox News.
Kelly deserves whatever success comes her way. Few anchors in cable news history have been able to grab the number of viewers that The Kelly Files has garnered in two short years. Besides, who could fault a parent for tiring of a schedule that rarely allows her to sit down for dinner with her children or tuck them into bed at night?
If Kelly wants to leave Fox News for family reasons, good for her. But if Kelly is thinking of escaping Roger Ailes and Fox News because she thinks she has outgrown the man and his star-making machinery, I humbly offer a friendly suggestion: Call Glenn Beck.
From 2006 to 2008, Beck hosted a show on CNN Headline News. If that comes as a surprise to you, there is a reason. Few people watched the show, and it garnered even less buzz in the media world. Beck was making millions on his successful radio program but few influencers in American politics knew or cared who he was.
Then Ailes called.
Within months, Fox News introduced Beck to millions of TV viewers who started tuning in every day. Within a year, the new Fox News host was holding political rallies on the Mall in Washington and drawing half a million Fox News fans. Ailes’s wildly successful cable news platform even gave Beck the reach to launch a successful website called TheBlaze.
Beck began gracing the cover of magazines such as Time and Forbes. And soon enough, the man who saw himself as a latter-day version of Walt Disney was raking in tens of millions of dollars a year, was outpacing competitors on multiple media platforms, and, most important for Beck, was controlling a central place in America’s political and cultural zeitgeist.
Beck began to believe he had outgrown Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. He was wrong.
After leaving Fox News in 2011, Beck quickly expanded TheBlaze into a multimedia platform. By 2012, he had signed a deal with Dish TV and reached into over 10 million homes. By 2013, he had expanded his operations in New York and bought a massive facility in Dallas. But the further he moved away from the shadow of the News Corp. empire, the less relevant he became.
Fast forward five years from his Fox News departure and ask yourself when the last time it was you saw a Glenn Beck show on TV, read about him in the newspaper or heard political commentators even discuss his name in a political debate. Other than a brief sighting in Iowa in February, Beck has been largely irrelevant to the 2016 campaign. That may be, in large part, because his business has fallen apart since Beck left Fox News.
As the mercurial TheBlaze founder told staff members last year, “We are three million dollars in the hole! That means we are three million dollars from profit. That means I have to take three million dollars out of my wallet, and I have done this now for several years. I don’t have money left. I’m out … I need three million dollars by the end of the year. If we wait, it’s gonna be massive, bloody cuts.” Those massive cuts came later in the year and the media empire Beck imagined creating while sitting comfortably in his Fox News anchor chair never materialized.
Perhaps Kelly could succeed where Beck has failed. But if I were Kelly’s agent, I would take a long hard look before telling my client to take that leap. Ailes is part of a media machine that has few rivals in the United States. While broadcast outlets keep bleeding millions in revenue, Fox News rakes in more than $1 billion in profits a year as the channel grows in size and influence. And most important for hosts like Kelly, its audience is one of the most loyal around. That means higher ratings, bigger book deals and more magazine covers.
Maybe the grass will be greener for Meygn Kelly than it was for Glenn Beck. But if history is any guide, Kelly’s smartest move may just be building on the remarkable platform that has already been handed to her by Roger Ailes.