Photo: Jonathan O'Sullivan
Photo: Jonathan O'Sullivan

INTERVIEW: Bill Hemmer “invigorated” to take over Shep Smith’s 3 p.m. slot on Fox News January 20

Originally posted Friday, January 17, 2020 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Over ten-plus years on Fox News’ mid-morning program “America’s Newsroom,” Bill Hemmer has seen many of his female co-hosts move on to their own solo shows: Megyn Kelly, Martha McCallum and Shannon Bream

Now it’s his turn: on Monday, he takes over Shepard Smith’s 3 p.m. one-hour solo newscast after co hosting for three hours a day from 9 to noon. 

“It’s a new year,” said Hemmer, 55, in an interview last week. “It’s a good new challenge. I can’t wait. It’s just one hour so I want to make every minute matter.”

He then added: “I feel as invigorated toward the business as I did 25 years ago. I’m as jacked up as I was when I was 30 years old and moved to Atlanta for CNN.”

Smith, one of Fox News’ original anchors in 1996, quit last fall without warning. His reputation had been as a journalist willing to portray Pre. Donald Trump in a way that offended many of Fox’s pro-Trump viewers. 

Hemmer had nothing but good things to say about Smith, who was well respected within his new team there.

“I think Shepard is one of the best breaking news anchors not just in cable news but anywhere,” said Hemmer. 
Smith would often be critiqued or mocked by the Fox News evening opinion hosts. He prided himself on being a newsman first and foremost. 

"I wonder," he told a Time magazine reporter in 2018, "if I stopped delivering the facts, what would go in its place in this place that is most watched, most listened, most viewed, most trusted? I don't know."

Trade publications are now saying Smith is being courted by CNN and MSNBC. 

In comparison, Hemmer, with a solid reputation as a reporter and host, doesn’t draw anywhere near the level of attention or ire from critics as other Fox News personalities.

Frank Sesno, a former CNN correspondent and now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said he thinks Hemmer will be capable of taking over Smith’s spot with professionalism and grace. 

“Real journalism is more important than it’s ever been because of the divisive nature of politics and increased polarization of media and civil discourse,” Sesno said. “Fox News has an out-sized influence in that space given its affinity to the president. Bill will have a lot of pressure on him from Fox management, from Fox viewers and Fox personalities. I wish him all the luck in the world.”

When Hemmer was announced as Smith’s replacement, Fox News president Jay Wallace’s press release quote cited Hemmer’s “ability to cut to the heart of the story while humanizing major events... As we start gearing up for the 2020 election, we are thrilled to have him lead our news division through what will sure to be an eventful year.”

Photo: CR: CNN. A publicity shot of Bill Hemmer with Daryn Kagan from 1998.

For a time, the Cincinnati native was a rising star at CNN. He came to CNN Center in 1995 and hosted the mid-morning show for several years with Daryn Kagan, who still stays in touch with him. 

“We shared the same values: work hard, be good, be nice and say yes,” Kagan said.

In 2000, Hemmer covered the extended George Bush/Al Gore Florida recount in Tallahassee. 

Hemmer told Kagan at the time that he figured his trip down to Tallahassee would be brief. It wasn’t. It lasted 37 days. 

He was there so long, he had to buy more clothing and picked up the nickname “The Chad Lad,” as controversy over each vote turned into constant references to “hanging chads” on disputed punched card ballots.

Kagan said at that point, she knew he was moving up at CNN and after 9/11, he left for New York and didn’t come back to Atlanta. 

For a time, he did mornings for CNN but after he lost that job in 2005, CNN offered him a senior White House correspondent in D.C. But he wanted to stay in New York and turned it down. He landed at arch-rival Fox News just a few weeks later. 

Hemmer said he knew Fox News had turned the corner five years earlier during the recount. After the state certified the final results in favor of Bush, he recalled hearing this massive roar across the courtyard. He had one of the CNN producers check to see what was going on. It was where Fox News was reporting and a mass of people were there cheering. “The longer the story went on, the more viewers turned to Fox,” he recalled. “That’s when the transition happened for viewership.”

So when Fox News offered him the noon anchor position, he had no qualms taking it.

“I was tired looking at the ratings and seeing CNN get whipped every day,” he said. “I saw the future was here.” 

Kagan is excited to see her former co-anchor shine on his own show at Fox 15 years later. 

 “I’ve always been an unabashed supporter of his as a person and a journalist,” she said. “He was and is a natural choice to take over for Shep. I think Shep is phenomenal. Bill will be the same.”

She said Hemmer has always liked to do work on the road and hopes he has more opportunities with his new duties.

Indeed, while Hemmer will host his first show from Smith’s former studio on Monday at 3 p.m., he will be traveling to D.C. Tuesday to help with coverage of the Trump Senate impeachment hearings.  

 “There is also the Iowa caucuses and the State of the Union coming up,” Hemmer said. “We’re going to really hit the ground running.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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