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October 24, 2014

Is Glenn Beck the New Oprah?

by Gary Susman, posted Nov 12th 2009 5:00PM
Glenn BeckGlenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey may not seem to have much in common. One is an afternoon TV host whose own personal struggles inform shows that are laughter-and-tears-filled spectacles meant to educate and empower the average folks watching at home, and the other is Oprah.

There is, however, one thing they share: an enthusiasm for promoting novels to their audiences, who faithfully respond by sending the hosts' selections up the Amazon chart. But while Oprah's taste runs to middle- and highbrow epics and tales of personal and family drama, Beck focuses on political thrillers. Both frequently invite authors onto their shows for substantive chats, something rare in a TV universe that usually treats literacy with condescension and contempt.Glenn BeckGlenn Beck and Oprah Winfrey may not seem to have much in common. One is an afternoon TV host whose own personal struggles inform shows that are laughter-and-tears-filled spectacles meant to educate and empower the average folks watching at home, and the other is Oprah.

There is, however, one thing they share: an enthusiasm for promoting novels to their audiences, who faithfully respond by sending the hosts' selections up the Amazon chart. But while Oprah's taste runs to middle- and highbrow epics and tales of personal and family drama, Beck focuses on political thrillers. Both frequently invite authors onto their shows for substantive chats, something rare in a TV universe that usually treats literacy with condescension and contempt.

Beck's role as the thriller publisher's best TV friend, as noted in this New York Times report, has led to some far-flung speculation about Beck's future in afternoon television. See if you can follow the logic, as posited by Mediabistro's TV Newser blog: The Times calls Beck "the new Oprah" in terms of his ability to promote a certain kind of novel on TV. Meanwhile, rumblings in Winfrey's camp suggest that she's getting ready to announce the end of her daytime broadcast show, perhaps to resurface only on her own cable network.

Oprah WinfreyTo whom will syndicators turn in order to fill their afternoons? Why not another populist multimedia hyphenate who also likes books? True, Beck still has years to go on his Fox News contract, but Oprah won't be leaving before 2011, so the timing could work.

Plus, if Fox News hires newly-liberated CNN refugee Lou Dobbs (as is widely expected), where's it going to put him? Is there room at Fox News in the afternoons for two conspiracy-theory-spouting, immigrant-bashing opinion-show hosts? Why wouldn't the ambitious Beck (who has already conquered cable, radio, Broadway, magazine racks, and bookstores) take his ball and run to the potentially larger mainstream audience offered by the syndicators? Sure, he may be the most popular pundit on cable news, with a daily audience of 2.7 million, but an Oprah-sized audience would be two and a half times as large.

(Okay, the Dobbs-related speculation was ours, not TV Newser's, but still, the Beck-taking-over-from-Oprah theory is complicated and byzantine enough to require one of Beck's famous chalkboard diagrams to explain it.)

That said, it's not likely the syndicators would want Beck. They tend to like non-confrontational, non-controversial personalities as hosts, people who don't raise their voices, espouse opinions that may alienate half the audience or burst suddenly into tears. (Talk show guests may do those things, but not hosts.)

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Beck, the self-described "rodeo clown," isn't afraid to say and do things that are more provocative than insightful, such as his remarks in July that President Obama is a "racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people," but syndicators and local stations would fear having to be responsible for such a loose cannon.

After all, that remark has led to an advertiser boycott, with some 80 former sponsors agreeing never again to advertise on Beck's Fox News show. Beck's boss Rupert Murdoch may be willing to put up with that kind of rhetoric and its adverse effect on his channel's revenue, but anywhere else in TV, that sort of self-sabotage would get a host fired.

It's worth noting that Beck has already tried hosting a show on a (purportedly) non-ideological network -- and failed. Before the like-minded viewers at Fox News made him into an instant TV star this year, he worked at CNN's Headline News, where he was not preaching to the choir, and where his primetime show was a ratings cellar-dweller.

True, he could broaden his appeal to the mass audience of daytime syndication by toning down and censoring himself, but that would alienate his base. He hasn't sold them out before, and he probably wouldn't do so, even for a juicy syndication deal.

Still, no need for Beck fans to emulate the host by applying Vicks Vaporub and shedding a well-timed tear. Even if sponsors spurn him and syndicators tell him thanks but no thanks, he'll still have millions of devoted fans and a comfortable perch on talk radio and at Fox News. And he'll still help thriller authors sell books. "He's our Oprah," novelist and frequent guest Brad Thor told the Times. "God love him, we're very fortunate."

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