Glenn Beck’s future, and Fox News Channel’s without him

Joe Pompeo & Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

It was supposed to be a quaint summer evening outdoors with the family. Green grass. Golden sunset. Picnic baskets. Old Hitchcock movie under the stars.

But to hear Glenn Beck tell it, the scene at Manhattan's Bryant Park Monday evening was more like a lynching. No sooner had the talk show host sat down with his wife, daughter and her boyfriend on a red-white-and-blue blanket than an angry mob of Republican-hating New Yorkers, according to Beck, began showering them with aspersions and vitriol. There was laughter, dirty looks, finger pointing, photo-taking, texting--even some spilled wine from an unruly bunch of 20-somethings sitting behind them. (One member of the group disputed Beck's account.)

"I get it. I'm Glenn Beck. It's New York City. I'm used to getting comments. It comes with the territory," said Beck, recalling the incident Tuesday in one of his trademark teary tirades on Fox News. "But not the territory for my children, for my wife. You would think that there would be some common decency, especially among the culturally superior in New York."

The charged culture-war encounter was fitting fodder for the last days of Beck's Fox News career, which draws to a close Thursday. After the the final credits roll on the Fox franchise Beck has anchored since January 2009, the conservative commentator will officially be able to create some distance between himself and the political, cultural and media cognoscenti of the city where he's lived and worked as an outsider for the past five-and-a-half years.

Beck, who sold his fortified Connecticut mansion in April, will soon be moving out of the New York City area. (Even though he plans to hold on to his swank apartment in Manhattan.)

He won't be wasting any time launching into his new venture, either--a subscription-based Internet network where his high-octane brand of conservative talk will take the form of a daily web show under the banner of his production company, Mercury Radio Arts. He makes the transition as fellow TV news personalities, such as Katie Couric, Keith Olbermann and Anderson Cooper, also find their personal brands outgrowing the networks that honed them.

"I will walk over from the Fox studio after my last broadcast, close the door, and go over to the first GBTV broadcast," Beck says in a promo for the new show. "I'm not gonna do my post-Fox interview with some reporter."

Indeed, Beck declined to be interviewed for this article. But judging by a comment he offered The Cutline through a spokesman, he seems more than happy to be turning his back on the News Corp.-owned network that helped transform him into an icon for tea party conservatives the nation over.

"GBTV is the future and I couldn't be more excited to get started," said Beck. "It seems like everything we have been doing at Mercury for the past few years has been leading to the launch of GBTV. As I keep telling my staff, GBTV is a verb--we don't want couch potatoes, we want active engagement from our viewers and will provide them with shows that encourage just that."

Fox News, likewise, is happy to be rid of him. As much as Beck was eager to try something new and entrepreneurial, Fox News brass had grown increasingly uncomfortable with his outsize personality and frequently incendiary remarks, such as the controversy that erupted over Beck's claim that Obama is a racist who hates "white culture."

Beck's relationship with Fox seemed to fray with each successive rant as his views became increasingly dark and apocalyptic. His warning that the revolution in Egypt could become "contagious," "sweep the Middle East" then "begin to destabilize Europe and the rest of the world," for instance, even irked some prominent conservatives. Dozens of his advertisers have pulled out since 2009.

Beck's ratings, meanwhile, while they drastically improved Fox News Channel's 5 p.m. hour, began to slip last summer, and have continued to slide as "hard" news, such as the Arab Spring, dominated the news cycle. Through June, "Glenn Beck" has averaged 1,855,000 total viewers, down 23 percent year-over-year, according to Nielsen estimates, and 438,000 among the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, down 32 percent. (Beck's demographic in the pre-prime time 5 p.m. slot was still good enough for third among all cable news shows, behind top-rated Fox News compatriots Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, and fourth overall.)

The ratings, of course, will be a moot point as of Friday, when Fox will air a John Stossel special entitled, "What's Great About America," in place of Beck. The network will run encore presentations of "Glenn Beck" next week.

After that? "We will announce our plans shortly," a Fox News spokeswoman told The Cutline. (Fox executives have said they'd be thrilled if whoever takes over draws an audience even close to Beck's since that would mean they would have an easier time selling the slot.)

As for the new GBTV show, it doesn't launch until Sept. 12. But Thursday's post-finale production is being billed as its maiden broadcast. It will be a "live question and answer session" starting at 6:30 with GBTV's inaugural correspondent, Raj Nair, Beck says in the promo. Other pre-launch features are scheduled for the summer as well, including a chat between conservative writer S.E. Cupp and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Eventually, Beck wants to build GBTV--access to which will cost subscribers $10 a month--into a wide-ranging online television network.

"If you're a fan of Jon Stewart, you're going to find something on GBTV that you're going to enjoy," he told the New York Times earlier this month. "If you're a fan of '24,' you're going to find something on GBTV that you're going to enjoy."

In the meantime, Beck has plenty of other projects to keep busy with, including a new e-commerce website, a rally in Israel sometime this August (which GBTV will carry live), and his news and opinion website, The Blaze. Nor will his financials take a major hit from the break-up with Fox. His nearly $3 million salary at the network made up only a sliver of the $40 million he took in off of book sales, speaking appearances and his Mercury Radio assets between May 2010 and May 2011.

As for his pending move, Beck's rep was mum on how soon he'd be shipping out or where he'd be landing. But the latest signs point to Westlake, Texas, where Beck has reportedly leased a $4 million home from a Swarovski crystal heiress and a major league baseball player. Mercury Radio will remain headquartered in New York and Beck will launch the show there.

He might think twice before going to another public movie night, though.

Back in Bryant Park, as the Hitchcock film ("The 39 Steps") was ending, Beck and his wife got up and started to walk away from the assembled masses. Their departure was met with jeers and applause from the crowd.

"I wanted to point out that that's what people do at the end of a movie," he said. "But maybe that's just me."