Shepard Smith Talks New Gig as Fox News' 'Quarterback'
Promising no holograms, the chief news anchor previews a more social approach to his broadcast and maintains a division from his network's commentary: "I've always been proud of our firewall."
In what has become something of a tradition for Fox News Channel, the network announced good news for one its biggest names just a day before he's due for medical leave.
Chief news anchor Shepard Smith, upped to managing editor of the new breaking news division on the eve of shoulder surgery, will return to the network this fall with a much bigger role -- per a multiyear deal negotiated by agent Larry Kramer. With a new desk and a revamped afternoon hour, he'll be interrupting regularly scheduled programming throughout the day and evening with breaking stories.
"We've been talking about this for years," Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter of the big change. "The equipment didn't really exist, and we didn't have a platform for it. [Fox News chairman and CEO] Roger [Ailes] came to me with the idea five months ago. We have to stop pretending that people aren't tweeting things, that they don't know the news when it's happening. So why can't we lift the veil? Our producers and researchers are going to be brought into the fold. We'll be presenting information in real time as it's being confirmed. It will look different and be different. Our set is going to be a working newsroom."
As is so often the case with tech talk, the new studio -- it will incorporate news feeds, interactive screens, digital media newsgathering and social media -- is not entirely easy to describe.
"Roger describes it as me as quarterback calling an audible," explains Smith, noting that he'll be making many coverage choices on air. "The producing of the news will happen from the set. There's a massive touch screen, and it will make for a better experience for the viewer."
And it will not be tech for tech's sake. The new software will keep tweets from "crackpots" finding their way onto the screen, and Smith says, "We'll leave holograms to the competition."
The increased screen time will play out differently from day to day. And while some breaking news events will require Smith to take up much of the primetime block, as he did in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, smaller stories or new developments in ongoing big stories will see him interrupting the evening's commentary-heavy lineup less frequently. (He cited Secretary of State John Kerry's Thursday trip to Geneva to talk about Syria as a good example of story worth breaking in for.)
"I'll only be there as long as the news is big," says Smith. "I'm not here to be an air hog."
Smith's vacating of the 7 p.m. hour leaves room for the long-speculated primetime adjustments that will have to be made to accommodate the addition of Megyn Kelly. And while Smith's new role will find him cutting into that hour, whenever it may be, he says he hasn't been briefed. "I can't wait for her to get back, and whatever her exact role will be, I don't know yet," he says.
As for the lines between commentary and news, with Smith moving more into hours toplined by pundits Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, the news anchor says his time on camera will always be noticeably different from the opinion shows and all about the news.
"We're going to take care of the news and they're going to take care of programming," he says. "I've always been proud of our firewall. It's what Roger wants to do."
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