Bill O'Reilly and syndication: A match made in desperation

Be the first to comment

Because we all know podcasting just isn't big enough for Papa Bear.

Let me begin with a suggestion for Bill O’Reilly: Call ABC and book yourself on the next season of "Dancing with the Stars." "Papa Bear" kicking up his heels with a dancer half his age could be just what the disgraced blowhard needs to redeem himself following the many accusations of sexual harassment, all of which he denies. And just think of the ratings for ABC’s aging dance competition!

Okay, I’m kidding. Mostly. And I will admit to feeling personally satisfied when O’Reilly got the boot from Fox News, even with his golden parachute of a reported $25 million. (I was a guest on "The O’Reilly Factor" back in 2002, and while he didn’t pressure me to sleep with him, the man could not have been ruder.) With advertisers boycotting the show, and Fox News’ reputation already in tatters following the departure of Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes amid similar allegations, there was no other choice. He had to go, and it had to happen now.

Which leaves us with two pressing questions. How will Fox News fare without its top-rated contributor, a name synonymous with the network since its inception? And what will O’Reilly do next?

I would not be too concerned for Fox News. Tucker Carlson already saved the day once, fitting in flawlessly to the 9 p.m. weeknight hour after Megyn Kelly’s departure in January. Now he will probably do the same at 8 p.m., leading into relocated panel show "The Five," co-anchored by Kimberly Guilfoyle, Dana Perino, Bob Beckel, Greg Gutfeld, Jesse Watters and Juan Williams. And Fox still has Sean Hannity, who is every bit as relevant as Bill O’Reilly was—maybe more given his close ties to President Donald J. Trump. After a few weeks, I don’t think anyone will even notice O’Reilly is missing.

But to anyone who thinks O’Reilly’s career is over: Think again. While I certainly do not condone his alleged behavior, we live in a world where transgressions are quickly forgiven—particularly for someone with an audience. And let’s remember that O’Reilly lost none of his in the waning days of his show.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right. Bill O’Reilly should launch a show in first-run syndication.

Cause let’s be honest. After 20 years whipping the right wing into a frenzy on his own program, there’s no chance for O’Reilly to pull off a Kelly-style reinvention by joining a "Today" or even a "Meet the Press"-style show. Bill is Bill, and the odds of some other mainstream network taking a chance on his toxic brand right now are slim to none.

And despite his promise to expand his long-running podcast, we all know that medium is too small to contain his ambition.

Does anyone remember the last time something new and noteworthy clicked in syndication? I can’t, and I think O’Reilly would bring an entirely new dimension to a medium drenched with unremarkable talk, game, court and newsmagazine series, In short, O’Reilly and syndication could really use each each other right now.

Of course, any distributor signing O’Reilly for a new series is assuming some risk. First is his Fox News salary, which no syndicator is about to match. Second is the lack of available time periods in syndication, which is always a challenge for any new series. Unlike Fox News, where "The "O’Reilly Factor" at 8 p.m. ET was confirmed across the country, each individual market offers different available time periods in syndication. With 17 original strips, at present, past the full decade mark and about half of those (including "Wheel of Fortune," "Judge Judy" and "Entertainment Tonight") past 20 years, finding a high profile time period will not be easy. And 8 p.m. is not available outside of an independent station because that is when primetime begins. But if I were a distributor selling a new series with O’Reilly, my target would be late night.

And finding advertisers could be tough—for now.

But presumably O’Reilly will take some time to enjoy his $25 million payout and let the unpleasantness pass from memory. If I was his PR rep, I would book him for a sit-down on one of the primetime newsmagazines when the time is right. Diane Sawyer might do the trick. Better yet, let’s pull Barbara Walters out of retirement.

Since most of the late-night talk shows already rely heavily on the political climate for subject matter, I think Bill O’Reilly doing what he does best would be a strong alternative. And for station groups acquiring new programming and advertisers looking for new alternatives in syndication, O’Reilly could offer a built-in audience.

While the return of O’Reilly at present may been inconceivable, I just don’t think viewers are done with him. At least not yet.