Why Elisabeth Hasselbeck Is Fox News’ Jimmy Fallon

"It's a really smart hire," a news exec at another network tells TheWrap

Last Updated: July 24, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

It might help to think of Elisabeth Hasselbeck as Fox News' Jimmy Fallon.

Just as Fallon is taking over NBC's "Tonight Show" while Jay Leno is still very much No. 1 in late night, Fox News is bringing in Hasselbeck to tweak "Fox & Friends" at a time when the show has about three times the viewers of its closest cable competitor.

The outgoing "View" cohost adds a face that's simultaneously fresh and familiar to a network known for its ratings dominance — and not messing with its lineup.

Also read: Elisabeth Hasselbeck on 'View' Exit: It's Been 'Nothing Short of Extraordinary'

"It's a really smart hire," a high-ranking news executive at another network told TheWrap. "Fox doesn't make many hires, if you look at their lineup over the last decade. She's good. She's really good. They don't have anyone like her, and they jumped. I was impressed."

What makes Hasselbeck different? "She's younger, she's fresh… She's a different voice and she's very clear and bold."

Hasselbeck arrives at "Fox & Friends" on the heels of CNN's attempt to remake mornings with "New Day."

Also read: Elisabeth Hasselbeck Exiting 'The View' for Fox News

"New Day" has made progress, improving 46 percent on average in its first three weeks, compared to CNN's morning lineup the year before. But it still averaged only 305,000 viewers to Fox News' 1.07 million over that three-week period. MSNBC's "Morning Joe" averaged 346,000.

Asked if Fox may have hired Hasselbeck partly in response to CNN's gains, the news executive replied: "Oh stop, no. 'New Day' has not made any mark. It's different. Give it a little time. We'll see."

Fox News barely acknowledges its competitors, and routinely declines to comment for stories like this one. Producers for MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and CNN's "New Day" also declined to comment.

Also read: CNN 'New Day's' Bold Morning Move: News, Chemistry and No Kitchen

In the 25-54 demo most important to news show advertisers, the race is tighter than it is in total viewers. Fox averaged 253,000 viewers in the demo in the three weeks after the "New Day" debut, compared to 108,000 for CNN and 107,000 for "Morning Joe."

Fox and MSNBC didn't have their best June: Fox was down 2 percent in total viewers from the three weeks, and down 18 percent in total viewers. "Morning Joe" was down 5 percent in total viewers and 20 percent in the demo. Besides its 46 percent gain in total viewers, CNN was up 14 percent in the demo.

But CNN also had more room to improve: It was coming off a very rough second quarter of 2012.

Also read: CNN's 'New Day' Review: Serious News, Wacky Animals – and Nancy Grace

Rather than sticking with the status quo — and enjoying its ratings domination of its rivals — Fox is making some of its biggest moves in years. They include not just hiring Hasselbeck, moving afternoon anchor Megyn Kelly into a new primetime show, and hiring CNN's Howard Kurtz to cover media.

Hasselbeck will replace Gretchen Carlson on "Fox & Friends," who is moving to her own show in the afternoon.

The Hasselbeck move is like the one NBC is making with Fallon in that Fox, like "The Tonight Show," is making it while the show's on top.

Also read: Cable News Ratings — CNN, HLN Grow in Q2 While Fox Remains Dominant

NBC has noted Jimmy Kimmel's improvements among younger viewers for ABC, and is bringing in Fallon in an attempt to head Kimmel off before he can hook young viewers for decades.

Leno is expected to leave NBC — for good, this time. But Carlson is getting promoted: She'll lead her own show, instead of sharing a couch with with "Fox & Friends" cohorts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade.

The only network not changing its early lineup is MSNBC's reliable "Morning Joe," where Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have welcomed viewers for six years.

Also read: Jimmy Fallon Replacing Jay Leno on NBC's 'Tonight Show'

"'Morning Joe' finds the political zeitgeist every morning," MSNBC president Phil Griffin told TheWrap. "The show sets the agenda for what people are talking about throughout the day. I couldn't be happier with it."

On "The View," Hasselbeck was known for sharp disagreements with her co-hosts, and was the sole conservative among liberals. That probably won't be an issue with Doocy and Kilmeade.

But maybe Hasselbeck will surprise everyone. In a 2007 "Hannity & Colmes" appearance, she explained her politics by saying she doesn't define herself as a conservative.

"You know, I've always been — you know, I consider myself a contemplative conservative. And my parents were independent. I never knew who they voted for," she said, later adding: "I don't define myself as conservative personally. I seriously don't. I would hope that people wouldn't do that to any of us here at the panel."

We'll soon find out.