Veteran anchor tells TheWrap how tech is changing news, why politics is boring and explains his Ebola comments
When Fox News Channel made a rare primetime change last fall, one of the moving parts was veteran network star Shepard Smith.
Smith, who had anchored the dual hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. for over a decade, gave up his primetime spot for a new role: chief news anchor for the network. He also got a new studio that is the envy of many of his Fox News colleagues.
“Shepard Smith Reporting” debuted on the Fox News Deck last October; a studio that when this TheWrap reporter visited last week to interview Smith, felt like a quasi-news spaceship compared to more modern sets.
“I never wanted it,” Smith told TheWrap about whether as a local reporter in Florida, he ever dreamed of anchoring a cable news show on a set filled with monster screens, producers stationed behind him, and the best technology could offer. “I wanted to run after stories, I never even thought about this. I was a scrawny, stupid kid from Mississippi. … It never crossed my mind.”
The only studio at Fox News reserved for one program, Smith’s digs feature the “Monster,” an approximately 7-foot-by-38-foot screen comprised of 144 DLP rear projector cubes; in layman’s term — a gargantuan monitor that wraps all the way around and above the set, showing news images and Fox reporters.
The Deck also features a separate 11-foot-by-23-foot wall comprised of 27 LCD displays. And flanked behind Smith on-set are 10 producers resembling NASA’s mission control sitting at 55-inch mega computers. Smith’s producers are able to monitor social media for news, adjust the show’s rundown in real-time, and confirm details on breaking news as Smith anchors in real-time.
“In a normal studio you have producers telling you something in your ear,” Smith says. “Here, I have all of these different people gathering all different parts of the story and I can get it in real-time on the fly. I know who got it, I can look over and see the face of who got it, and I know them and what their track records are and they wouldn’t be in here if I didn’t trust them with everything.”
And on this day, that trust is key. Breaking news of shootings at Canada’s parliament building requires all hands on deck.
“It does faze you, but usually that’s when you joke a little bit more,” Smith says. “If you get bogged down in the emotions of things your judgment will get clouded. There are times when you can’t help it — Katrina for instance, there are people around you, and it’s real and people are dying; that’s different — in here, you just have to separate yourself from it. Sometimes the end of the day is heavy and everybody needs a drink.”
It sounds like he’ll need a drink to get through covering the upcoming political season.
“Oh man … politics. I like the news, I like it when it’s real and things are happening and we’re able to find out from people who were there about things that affect people’s lives. Politicians are boring.”
One thing is never boring: Shepard Smith. From a knack for ad-libbing on the fly to a penchant for making statements that go viral, Smith has carved out a stable niche for himself as a cable new anchor (and for September, his ratings at 3 p.m. were up 5 percent in viewers and up 8 percent in the 25-54 demo compared to last year at the same time).
Speaking of viral, two weeks ago, during the height of TV news’ Ebola hysteria, Smith leveled with his viewers to avoid buying into “hysterical voices on the radio and the television, or read the fear-provoking words online.”
“What I said was were there were voices of irrationality out there; that there were people screaming and writing things that aren’t true and creating panic,” Smith says. “I can see that there was this thing brewing that wasn’t real, that was scaring a lot of people unnecesarily. It’s part of our job to tell people when they need to worry about something, and maybe more importantly when they need to not worry about it. It was the fear that was hurting people. It was not Ebola.”
Twenty years into Fox New career, you might be surprised at Smith’s outlook: “Anchoring can be the most boring thing on Earth.”
“It’s great, and I love the job, I’m certainly not complaining about it but this is not where any reporter wants to be when news is breaking except all of a sudden [because of the Deck’s resources] we can really get our hands around something that’s bigger than we are.”