Fox is to cable news what University of Alabama is to college football.
Players graduate. The team changes each year. But the system never changes. The culture never changes. The Crimson Tide keeps racking up championships year after year despite playing in the toughest conference in the country.
Fox just lost its Heisman winner in Megyn Kelly to NBC News.
She's a truly unique player who can perform at high levels at several skill positions. When 21st Century Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch offered $20 million or $25 million per year — the exact figure may never be confirmed — he did so because he felt she was the present and future star of the network.
But Fox can still win on the ratings front even after losing Kelly.
And it is likely to find a more-than-suitable replacement.
It can't be overstated enough that Kelly, 46, is a truly unique talent that didn't come from central casting.
Her story of corporate-lawyer-turned-national-news-anchor is not a foreign concept for Fox News. It seems the network keeps finding talent — sometimes from unlikely places — to fill periodic gaps or even gaping holes in its lineup in the same fashion Alabama's football program always recruits the right new players to allow it to keep winning college football championships.
When Kelly was entering her 30s, she was an unhappy attorney working 18-hour days with zero television experience.
In 2003 she decided to make a jump to on-air television, a risky proposition that for most people wouldn’t remotely work out.
Exiting her 30s, she was the hottest stock to buy in national cable news with the most upside.
Back in 2004, former chairman and CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes did something almost unheard of at any national outlet: He hired Kelly from obscurity with almost no experience reporting, let alone anchoring.
Say what you will about Ailes personally. But in terms of finding raw talent instead of recycling it as so many other television news executives do, there will never be another figure like him in terms of taking risks and almost all of those risks paying big dividends.
It was in 2013 that the network shook up an already hugely successful Fox News prime-time lineup to insert Kelly — an early-afternoon news anchor — into the pivotal 9 p.m. hour.
"The Kelly File" took off immediately and stayed at or near the top, finishing nearly every night in the top three of all cable news programs.
Forget what you may have read or heard from some conservative media figures and outlets that Kelly's ratings have been tanking or dropping as of late. The 2016 numbers are in, and she finished at No. 2, according to Nielsen Research.
Yes, there may have been a drop among supporters of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE. But Kelly made up for those viewers, ironically, by bringing in those from other places who may not have watched cable news before.
Kelly also anchored election night coverage and co-moderated big events like primary debates. In terms of value, she was a multimillion-dollar Swiss army knife that brought an array of skills to the network by being able to do so many different things at a high level.
Her departure to NBC News means her last show is on Friday. There are some who say this could spell big trouble for Fox in filling a gaping hole at 9 p.m. without much warning to prepare.
In terms of attempting to forecast how the network will perform post-Kelly, there is precedent here to go on in terms of how Fox handles this situation. And if the past is any indication, the network will be more than fine moving forward.
The first example of this kind of scenario came in 2011, when the highly controversial Glenn Beck had worn out his welcome at Fox after scaring away one-too-many advertisers from his highly rated 5 p.m. program.
Beck and the network parted ways relatively suddenly, leaving one of those gaping holes at 5 p.m.
But the network didn't look outward for a high-priced star to fill the void. Nor did it throw one of its current major hosts into the hour to stop the bleeding.
Instead, the network found five personalities, all from different backgrounds in terms of expertise — Eric Bolling, a former finance guy; Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary; Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former lawyer; Greg Gutfeld, a former Maxim editor; and Bob Beckel, a former Democratic strategist — to sit around a table and talk about whatever was hot in the news that day.
Not only did the program succeed due to chemistry that can't be taught, but it eclipsed Beck while bringing advertisers back into the fold for that hour. And it didn't cost Fox a dime, actually saving the network money by no longer having to pay Beck's high salary.
Fast forward to September 2016 and a similar situation: Greta Van Susteren reportedly decided to renegotiate her contract with 21st Century and Murdoch following the resignation of Ailes over sexual harassment allegations.
Talks broke down quickly, and Van Susteren and Fox parted ways suddenly days later.
Again, Fox turned to its bench, which happened to have a veteran newsman with 40-plus years experience in the form of former ABC anchor and White House corespondent Brit Hume.
The 73-year-old Hume, who hosted Fox's "Special Report" for 12 years,m jumped in seamlessly and improved Van Susteren's numbers by double digits. But he was only an interim replacement until Election Day.
Enter Tucker Carlson.
Carlson had been co-hosting "Fox & Friends Weekend" but quickly gained favor with fans during his fill-in appearances for Hume at 7 p.m. Now, almost two months after he took that spot full time, Carlson has enjoyed ratings sometimes better than almost any other program on the network, including Kelly's. Some of his debate segments often go viral the next day as well, only adding to the momentum he's enjoying.
Ailes’s shocking July resignation was supposed to spell big trouble for the network, Fox ended up having its best year ever: Not only did it beat its cable news competition again, but all competition in cable, including ESPN and TBS.
One could simply point to a "Trump bump,” but the impressive Nielsen numbers post-election, which have held steady when compared to pre-election, show the final ratings tally was about deep overall talent at the network as much as it was about just one person.
Beck leaves, and Fox finds five replacements off its bench.
Van Susteren leaves, and Fox taps a weekend morning show co-host to jump in and improve ratings considerably.
Ailes leaves, and the network continues to thrive.
And in losing Kelly, while unfortunate, Fox doesn't have to spend all of that money and can repurpose it elsewhere.
As far as that gaping hole at 9 p.m., the network could very well put a Trish Regan — currently a host on Fox Business Network — or Martha McCallum — currently a Fox News co-anchor mid-mornings in Kelly's old spot — or Sandra Smith — currently a Fox News co-host at noon — or Kimberly Guilfoyle of "The Five" in the spot without missing a beat, at least on the ratings front.
Like most successful systems and cultures, Fox has never been about one person — even if their name is Ailes or Van Susteren or Kelly.
Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
Updated: Jan. 5, 4:17 p.m.
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