The First Thing That Roger Ailes’ Successor at Fox News Must Do

Future of No. 1 cable news network is up for grabs once longtime boss leaves in wake of sex harassment suit

With Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes in talks to leave the network amid accusations of sexual harassment by former host Gretchen Carlson, attention will soon turn to who might replace him.

An obvious choice, at least on an interim basis, would be Bill Shine, the network’s executive vice president of programming, who already oversees the No. 1 rated primetime lineup in cable news.

Other names that have surfaced among insiders and in news reports include CBS News President David Rhodes and Fox News executive Jay Wallace. Rhodes has signed a contract that would presumably keep him at CBS until at least 2019.

Fox News and 21st Century Fox did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment.

Whoever succeeds Ailes will face an urgent priority right away: Maintaining the network’s current talent roster. Bill O’Reilly, host of the top-rated “O’Reilly Factor” who’s deeply loyal to Ailes, could potentially walk if his longtime mentor is pushed out. O’Reilly has already made noises about retiring or cutting back, although it’s not clear if that talk was inspired by Ailes’ predicament.

Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren, two other Fox News hosts, could also bail if Ailes leaves the network, according to an insider familiar with the situation, which would leave the network scrambling for replacements.

So the immediate pressure would be on Ailes’ successor to keep Fox talent happy, and keep those programs atop the ratings.

But Ailes nevertheless left a formula in place that could endure for years.

“Fox News is a pretty well-oiled machine,” said TV historian Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University.

“The whole thing that Fox News is has been invented, developed and has been cruising along in first place for 15 years,” Thompson said. “I don’t think Ailes’ continuing presence there is imperative for Fox News to keep doing what they’ve been doing.”

In fact, a change might be in order, as Fox News “appears to be not a terribly healthy place,” Thompson added, at least based on Carlson’s suit.

“I could see someone being hired from the outside,” Thompson said. “If they’re going to sever themselves from Roger Ailes and he’s going to be out of the picture, then I could certainly see the public relations advantage of making that a break that actually says something.”