Amount of Sleep Deprivation ≠ % Chances of Landing Flagship Morning Show

Mediate’s Joe Concha pens an article about why Ainsley Earhardt deserved the Fox and Friends Morning Show gig. Obviously, I disagree otherwise there’d be no point in writing…

But first we must pause to note the completely gratuitous, non-sequitur, bordering on obsessive, shot taken at Gabe Sherman by Concha…

In the end — and this is just a guess since conjuring up Casper sources who don’t actually exist in the building just ain’t my thing

Now back to the story at hand…

First of all, this isn’t about Earhardt and her suitability for FNC’s morning show. I think FNC made the only choice it could have made, given the structure of the show, the rapport with the hosts, and its history of who has occupied the middle seat. There was no better suited internal candidate available than Earhardt. If not her, FNC would have needed to go outside to find someone better.

No, this is about Concha’s reasoning why she got the gig…

But here’s why Earhardt’s promotion deserves a column: She would later attend the University of South Carolina, where she was inducted into four honor societies, graduating with a broadcast journalism degree in 1999. Earhardt would go on to work at local news stations in Columbia, SC and San Antonio before being hired by Fox News in 2007. And those nine years weren’t what one would call easy, glamorous or necessarily fun, as Fox assigned her primarily to do what are called overnight cut-ins… a shift that really takes its toll on both body and spirit.

Having first done for overnights/early mornings in college (radio), Time Warner (NY-1) and FNC a long time ago in hosting, producing and news writing roles, respectively, it can be safely said working overnights means a schedule of doing cut-ins each hour on the half hour starting in the 10:00 PM hour, which consists of presenting a 1-minute news/breaking news update to keep the content fresh after the network goes to tape (repeats of prior programming) from live programming. And if big news does break, it’s you and a skeleton crew left to handle matters until the regular, much larger staff starts comes in at 4:00 AM.

But the toll-body-spirit part comes with being idle for 59 minutes, only to have to turn yourself back on for one minute each hour. Know this: It would almost be better to be on the air during the entire 8-hour shift than waiting around, periodically coordinating with a producer or writer, tweaking scripts, and reading up on whatever you’re covering because during the down times, the urge to sleep can be, at times, overwhelming. And once that shift is done, it’s time to go home and attempt to rest during the day, which is usually an exercise in futility if getting a clean 6-7 hours is the goal (maxing out at 4 was almost always the case). It’s especially tough when one is in a relationship with someone working standard hours and wants to grab dinner out once in awhile after their version of work. And try motivating a lifeless body to get to a gym…

This is basically what Earhardt endured for the better part of the past nine years: A thankless shift and no real sign of the big reward she’s been aiming for all along: A shot at hosting Fox & Friends on weekdays permanently. Earhardt would fill in on F&F Weekend, sure. And she was rewarded the one-hour Fox & Friends First (5:00 AM EST) a few years ago along with Childers. But here’s the thing about being on-air and moving up the ladder to better timeslots, more exposure, more money: It’s always a race against time, against aging… particularly for women. On one hand, the average programming exec wants someone (preferably attractive regardless of channel or network, local or national) with poise, experience, energy and presence who brings chemistry to the set. On the other hand, it takes time to build a brand and establish the right contacts and trust internally. And if you’re stuck behind what is your channel or network’s version of a Today Show version of Katie Couric (in their own eyes), you’re basically screwed.

Look, I did graveyard…not in the media…but I did it. For 7 years. I know what that does to your life. So I’m not minimizing in any way what Earhardt went through.

But it really has nothing at all to do with her suitability for a promotion of this level. Indeed, usually when you’ve been doing that shift on TV for that long it means one of two things:

1) You aren’t viewed too favorably by your superiors but you aren’t bad enough to fire outright.

2) You like it there.

Cable news overnights is not ABC’s World News Now. One is a place for those consigned to the equivalent of TV news limbo, the other has a reputation for being a breeding ground for up and coming talent for over 20 years. Guess which is which.

You can get fired easily for screwing up during an overnight breaking news event in cable news. This has happened. There’s at least one talent working at one network who got summarily dismissed with a “do not admit” sign posted at security at another network for having a bad breaking news overnight.

While FNC prizes loyalty, there’s loyalty and then there’s loyalty. One type of loyalty is pitching in under tough conditions (i.e. Thomas Roberts, working still as a free lancer, filling in when Olbermann got suspended when no one else wanted to do it…basically landed him a full time gig at MSNBC). Anchoring overnights that long is not that kind of loyalty. It’s commendable from a “willing to take the pain” point of view. But it’s not the kind of thing that gets network execs thinking “We have a future morning show host”. It takes more than that. A lot more.

And, honestly, if you want to look at it purely from Concha’s “paying your dues” standpoint, Patti Ann Browne deserves a promotion more. That she hasn’t gotten a regular weekday daytime gig by now remains one of the biggest mysteries (and mistakes) in FNC’s history…provided it wasn’t her choice.

But here’s likely (and hopefully) more the reason behind the Earhardt decision: Fox brass appreciated her sacrifices that came with doing overnight cut-ins and a 5:00 AM show. She paid her dues for nearly a decade. She showed in fill-in opportunities she can perform the job and do it well. It was simply her turn. Fairness, loyalty and pragmatism actually won the day.

No they didn’t. Her sacrifices didn’t hurt her chances. But they were not the difference maker. Other factors were far more important like on set chemistry with Kilmeade and Doocy, personality, and…yes, we can’t ignore the elephant…looks. It’s a visual and audio medium after all. All the loyalty and sacrifice in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans if those other factors aren’t there.

Reward by loyalty is the exception and not the rule now. This business is just too cutthroat and brutal to tolerate sentimentality based on loyalty anymore. You could make an impressive list of talent, national and local, who were loyal, paid their dues, and still wound up getting shafted by their bosses. Granted, at FNC loyalty is a bigger deal than at other networks. But not to the point that you’re going to be handed the keys to the network’s flaghship morning show based on your loyalty.

Earhardt paid her dues. But so have plenty of people at FNC. It takes more than that to land on Fox and Friends permanently. Earhardt didn’t “earn” her spot based on dues and loyalty. They just didn’t do anything to jeopardize her consideration. Which was all that was required.

___________________________

This part I need to highlight separately because it raises all kinds of questions…

A thankless shift and no real sign of the big reward she’s been aiming for all along: A shot at hosting Fox & Friends on weekdays permanently.

“the big reward she’s been aiming for all along”?????????????

How does Concha know that? There are two possibilities…

1) He doesn’t know that. He’s just guessing but phrased it badly so it looks definitive when it’s nothing more than idle speculation. And it’s something he should correct because it will cause negative fallout to Earhardt left up that way as it ascribes a level of intent and sense of entitlement to her that doesn’t play well publicly.

2) He does know that. But that means he was told that, either by Earhardt herself or by “sources close to Earhardt” which still leads back to Earhardt. It also means he burned his source if it was Earhardt…hell he burned her even if his source wasn’t her.

If I were to guess, I’m going with Option #1. FNC has a history of talent looking to take over on Fox and Friends and that history didn’t play out well for the instigator. That alone makes the idea that she was angling publicly for the gig before Hasselbeck left unlikely.

12 Responses to “Amount of Sleep Deprivation ≠ % Chances of Landing Flagship Morning Show”

  1. There were many instances when Ainsley did the overnight shift, then also did headlines on F&F. There were times like on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago, Ainsley did the Times Square interviews, went back in for the overnight shift and ended up working the first half-hour of F&F when Clayton overslept. Ainsley has dropped everything at a moment’s notice to go on assignments. You’re right in that she didn’t get the job because of hard work and loyalty, she got it because she’s good at what she does. But it’s nice to see those qualities be rewarded.

  2. So, the upshot here is that one doesn’t need much in the way of skills and talent to get that middle seat on F&F, just the right looks and the longevity?

  3. You’re right in that she didn’t get the job because of hard work and loyalty, she got it because she’s good at what she does. But it’s nice to see those qualities be rewarded.

    As I said, I thought she was the best qualified candidate internally.

    So, the upshot here is that one doesn’t need much in the way of skills and talent to get that middle seat on F&F, just the right looks and the longevity?

    That’s your interpretation. I wrote no such thing.

  4. There were many instances when Ainsley did the overnight shift, then also did headlines on F&F. There were times like on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago, Ainsley did the Times Square interviews, went back in for the overnight shift and ended up working the first half-hour of F&F when Clayton overslept. Ainsley has dropped everything at a moment’s notice to go on assignments.

    I think I need to be clear here about cable news overnights. They are limbo and they are not traditionally viewed as part of the path to stardom in cable news. FNC does do things a bit differently because of Fox and Friends First and the reading of headlines as you noted. But nobody, not even FNC, sets up overnights as part of its talent nurturing pool. You have to demonstrate something more than overnight proficiency and longevity to move the needle. Ainsley obviously did.

    I’m less certain about your comment about she “has dropped everyting at a moment’s notice to go on assignments”. It may be true that she has gone on last second assignments…but the “dropped everything” part…eh…that’s part and parcel of a lot of people on cable news. Having a regular life that doesn’t get disrupted is not something you attain by entering the profession. So I guess I don’t view it as much of a net positive…though it is true that because she was afforded those opportunities, that said something. Not everyone gets them.

  5. We’re in total sync on the point I DM’d a friend on Twitter several hours ago before reading your column.

    “I thought Joe Concha overplayed his hand when he made a big deal out of Ainsley being on graveyard shift for 9 years. Seems to me like praising a new player for the NY Mets for being in the minors for 9 yrs.”

    I also read (but haven’t confirmed) that sometimes Ainsley would also get pulled off overnight news updates when FNC was covering major breaking news in favor of other anchors.

    Finally, I tend to agree with your comment, “I think FNC made the only choice it could have made, given the structure of the show, the rapport with the hosts, and its history of who has occupied the middle seat. There was no better suited internal candidate available than Earhardt.”

    I’m sure the Fox News executives are hoping that she has outgrown her tendency for snafus like saying “Hitler did good things.”

  6. I also read (but haven’t confirmed) that sometimes Ainsley would also get pulled off overnight news updates when FNC was covering major breaking news in favor of other anchors.

    Are you saying that she was taken off the air because of her tendency to have brain freezes when off script?

    I’m sure the Fox News executives are hoping that she has outgrown her tendency for snafus like saying “Hitler did good things.”

    Big bet to make with a high profile show.

  7. “Are you saying that she was taken off the air because of her tendency to have brain freezes when off script?”

    That was not stated by the person who I quoted. A more likely inference was that she didn’t stack up — possibly because of a perceived ‘comparative’ lack of gravitas.

    A better question is did this really happen. I do not watch cable news (any channel) that time of day. But the person I quoted watches all the time.

    Hopefully this answers your question Tamar.

  8. Fair enough, Michael. It’s been observed by some watchers that she both has brain freezes when forced off script and lacks a certain gravitas, as well as any interest in the world around her.

    Nobody expects on-air newsreaders and hosts to know every bit of minutiae regarding every news story out there, but to at least not appear totally lost when put on the spot with breaking news or other sudden occurrences.

    Not knowing how to pronounce fairly common things such as “Zurich” nor that First Amendment issues aren’t put up for public voting are usually indicative of someone who belongs on overnights forever.

  9. Spud is as meticulous in laying out his arguments as it comes and always enjoy pretty much every post. I won’t into a game of baseline tennis here, but happy to answer Spud final question: He’s correct… as noted in the column, I’m simply guessing/deducing based on what I see, but didn’t speak to Ainsley or anyone directly for confirmation.

    That said, if AE is doing overnights and some fill-in F&F Weekend work for six years and F&F First for the last few, I gotta think the end goal is morning host. Fits her personality and couldn’t really see her as a straight anchor like McCallum or Lee.

    Have a good weekend – Joe

  10. So, who gets Ainsley’s permanent F&F First spot?

  11. Either Lea Gabrielle or Abby Huntsman. I’m hoping for Lea.

  12. By all accounts Ainsley has a lovely personality and is liked by all her colleagues. She is also a very attractive woman who seems to cause certain adult males to drool over her just like teenage girls do over One Direction.

    Her work ethic seems to be preparing for interviews by reading and learning by rote without necessarily understanding; a tactic which works most of the time but it’s possibly why she struggles on occasion. Think Tamar’s last comment is a spot on summation.

    She was replaced by Alysin Camerota as a weekend host when it was realised that having three new and relatively inexperienced anchors wasn’t working out. At least on the weekday show Steve and Brian are skilled enough to be able to obscure her lack of ability in certain areas.

    It’s going to be interesting watching this experiment play out. Ainsley will always have some sort of on-air role at Fox as long as she keeps her looks and figure but am just not sure that this is the right fit for her.

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