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‘Fox News Sunday’ News

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Chris Wallace gave Fox affiliates something to chew on when he addressed them at lunch during last week’s affiliates convention in Las Vegas: If they build him a level playing field, the viewers, they will come to “Fox News Sunday.” (Forgive the movie-ism in that last clause, but The Insider could not resist the word play.) The gospel being spread by Mr. Wallace was that his Sunday newsmaker show, the only regularly scheduled news program on Fox Broadcasting, benefits from news or news-friendly lead-ins.

Mr. Wallace told The Insider before making his luncheon speech and pitch: “We do very well in markets where the local news is a strong presence” and the lead-in is news, rather than infomercials or the fuzzy, furry and feathery menagerie presided over by “Petkeeping’s” Marc Morrone.

Case in point: Washington, whence “Fox News Sunday” originates and where all Sunday newsmaker show power pools.

“It’s a crucial market, because the opinion-makers you want to get on the show are concerned that the other politicians and columnists are watching. They want to know that [their comments are] getting out. If it has an impact when they say something, they are more likely to come on your show,” Mr. Wallace said.

“Fox News Sunday,” which finishes a decided fourth in the four-way broadcast newsmaker show stakes nationally, has routinely finished third, ahead of ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” in D.C. for some time and last November tied with CBS’s “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer” in the capital, where Fox-owned WTTG-TV last year added an hour of local news lead-in.

Not that Mr. Wallace, the son of “60 Minutes” icon Mike Wallace and veteran of ABC and NBC news who in December 2003 took over “Fox News Sunday” from founding moderator Tony Snow, gives all the credit to a lead-in.

“I think there are a few things that make our show different,” he said, citing the chemistry built up on the panel of regulars: NPR’s Mara Liasson, Fox News’ Washington Managing Editor Brit Hume and designated liberal Juan Williams, “who give you a wonderful right-left counterpoint”; and The Standard’s Bill Kristol, who is “just an enormously influential player in Washington” and who arguably turned the tide against Harriet Miers, whose crash-and-burn nomination to the Supreme Court led to President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito.

Mr. Wallace also is proud of the “Power Player of the Week” segment he believes gives viewers “a real feel for who makes the town work after the politician of the moment is gone.”

And last but not least he said: “These are very host-driven shows, so to a certain degree it’s who you want to watch interviewing newsmakers; and I like to think I’m a pretty good interviewer and can hold my own against any of the competition on Sundays.”

He’s looking forward to this political year, which will culminate with mid-term elections and start in earnest Tuesday, with President Bush’s State of the Union speech.

“It’s sort of Bush 2.1,” he said. “It’s an effort to restart an administration with three years left that didn’t go anywhere this last year.”

He thinks it also signals a “higher profile for Fox News on the network.”

Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, ordered up separate State of the Union coverage from 9 p.m. through the Democratic response for Fox Broadcasting. While Brit Hume anchors Fox News Channel’s coverage on cable, Shepard Smith and Mr. Wallace will do the anchoring and analyzing, respectively, for Fox Broadcasting viewers from 9 p.m. through the Democrats’ response.

The Fox affiliates were clearly impressed with Mr. Wallace’s speech-a reaction many of them phoned home as soon as they’d finished lunch.

Mr. Wallace is not kidding himself that they’ll race home and rearrange their Sunday-morning lineups.

He told The Insider: “We’ve upgraded the show. We’ve gotten a higher visibility. We get quoted routinely and as much as, if not more than, any of our competitors.”

What he didn’t say to The Insider was: What more do the affiliates want?