Bill Hemmer Prepares for New Spotlight at Fox News

Brian Steinberg

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Bill Hemmer has for years helped boost some of the best-known personnel on Fox News Channel. Now he’s about to get his own spotlight.

Hemmer on Monday will take over Fox News’ 3 p.m. slot. That’s the time period  previously anchored by Shepard Smith. The one that’s supposed to be the showcase for the network’s newsgathering operations. The one Smith left abruptly in October after sparring on-air with Tucker Carlson, one of the network’s primetime opinion hosts.

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Hemmer isn’t sweating it. He expects his new show, “Bill Hemmer Reports,” to focus on the stories of the day and not on the opinions expressed around him. “My feeling is, I let them do what they do and they allow me to do what I do,” says the 55-year-old of the network’s primetime lineup in what people who know him say is his usual unflappable tone. “I think I will leave the industry before I become an opinion maker. I don’t walk through the door every day with 100 ideas on how you change government. Some people do. I’m not built that way. Never really have been. I’m much more comfortable reading through the stories of the day and trying to figure out ‘Which direction do we need to pursue?’”

The anchor, who joined Fox News in 2005 after a long stint with CNN, praises Smith’s work and says the new hour will keep some of the hallmarks of its previous tenant. “I thought he was at the top of the game when it came to breaking news. Really solid. Descriptive. Vivid. Could go for a long time. The hour with regards to news isn’t going to change. We will still be doing that.”

Viewers shouldn’t’ expect Hemmer to make any grand pronouncements about the stories he covers. Some stories “can go on for weeks,” he says. Some people might argue, he says that the furor around President Trump “has been going on for three years. When you cover stories like that, they take time to reveal themselves,” says Hemmer. “My approach is: Whole picture. See how it comes to you over time.”

He is likely to face a variety of skeptics. “The Bill I worked with had a very strong journalism gene. He knew news. He embraced it,” says Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington Bureau chief who is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. But “I think anyone at Fox News is under a fair amount of scrutiny from media critics and from their own fans.” Indeed, while Smith’s no-nonsense news hour often beat its competitors in terms of viewership, its ratings were lower than what many other programs at Fox News secured.

Hemmer’s reporting will reach beyond the immediate Fox News crowd. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Fox affiliates can pick up Hemmer’s coverage from Washington of the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, and those stations can also livestream his coverage on digital and social media without breaking into regularly scheduled linear programming. Those sorts of strategies mean Hemmer’s work could prove instrumental to both Fox News, and its parent, Fox Coporation, which is betting heavily on its ability to use live news and sports to lure audiences to its media outlets.

One of his mandates is to be at the ready when important news of national import surfaces, and to lead a team dedicated to such moments.  He says breaking into the Fox News schedule will take place “on a story by story and case by case basis.”

During Hemmer’s 12 years co-anchoring “America’s Newsroom,” the mid-morning show that is the news side’s first appearance on the Fox News schedule, he has worked alongside. Megyn Kelly, Shannon Bream and Martha MacCallum. All have moved on to prominent anchor roles in the evening. MacCallum is the network’s 7 p.m. anchor; Bream the 11 p.m. host; and Kelly’s profile widened considerably after getting a primetime perch at Fox and then a broad deal at NBC News that eventually ended.

Hemmer says all he did was try to support whichever colleague worked alongside him. “Here’s the key to that: I’m the middle child. Classic middle child syndrome – I have to make sure that everyone is all right,” he says. He has one older sister, one older brother, and two younger sisters. “Big families teach you how to share. They teach you how to be somewhat ecumenical with one another.”

But he won’t take credit for any of his former news partners’ success. “They did it all on their own,” he says of MacCallum, Kelly and Bream. And, he says of Kelly, “Whatever Megyn’s next chapter will be, it will be something wonderful.”

Sandra Smith, who has co-anchored the morning show with Hemmer since 2017, called Hemmer “a fantastic partner.” She will be joined by Ed Henry on the A.M. program.

Hemmer attributes part of his success in the news business to ditching a job he had in it. When he was 26, Hemmer had what he calls “a mid-life crisis,” and decided to leave a position as a sports anchor he held at WCPO, a CBS affiliate in Cincinnati. He took his life’s savings – $15,000 in the bank – and decided to travel the world.

“I left a pretty good job. You’re a sports reporter. You’re flying on the team plane with the Cincinnati Bengals. You’re in the locker room at the Cincinnati Reds. It’s pretty good. But there was something pressing on me to try and take the time to go visit the places I had only been dreaming about,” Hemmer recalls. He was able to keep his hand in journalism by filing dispatches of his adventures to the station for which he had once worked as well as the local paper.

“I want you to understand, this was not youth hostels in Paris. This was China by rail. Vietnam by truck. It was Nepal and India by train and bus. It was the Middle East, eastern Europe and Russia, and it was before email and it was before ATMs, and before Instagram,” he says. “You were literally traveling with books and using maps to figure it out.” He credits the experience with helping him get a boost in the industry, as a future employer appreciated the overseas experience. He also says it “changed my life” and continues to give him insight when he travels for his job into how the world is quickly transforming.

The anchor wants his new show to thrive on big newsmaker interviews, and he says he has already landed some for his first few broadcasts (He declined to offer specifics). “I am convinced that the secret to making this interesting is you have to stay on the news and you have to find newsmakers who can bring it to you,” he says. “I think that you aim high, try to get one every day, and if you’re fortunate enough to get several a week, you’re ahead of the game. I would consider that a success.”

He already has plans to travel to Washington for the impeachment trial; to Miami for the Super Bowl; and to New Hampshire for a Democratic primary. Hemmer knows many big happenings in 2020 will require his presence. It’s the ones that have yet to unfold that could prove even more interesting.

“We know there will be certain events that will happen in 2020,” he says. “What we can’t say is what will happen in between those days, and therein lies the drama.”

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