Regardless of whether you like, deify, dislike, or despise Tucker Carlson, his departure from Fox News will be the biggest TV news of the year.
Monday morning, Fox News Media made the stunning announcement that they and Tucker Carlson mutually agreed to part ways. Carlson’s abrupt departure comes just one week after Fox News agreed to pay more than $787 million to Dominion Voting Systems over the network’s promotion of Donald Trump’s false 2020 election conspiracies. The settlement allowed Fox News to avoid a defamation trial.
Carlson is also at the center of a lawsuit from former booking producer, Abby Grossberg, who accused the controversial host’s show of having a toxic workplace culture. Even though Carlson’s name was listed throughout both lawsuits, his departure from Fox News still came as a shocking development. With Carlson out, the network stated they will replace his prime time show with Fox News Tonight, featuring a rotating cast of Fox News personalities until a permanent successor is named.
While Fox News has several in-house candidates to replace Carlson, the process of filling arguably the most prime real estate on cable news won’t be easy. And among the candidates to fill the current void on Fox News could be a few personalities with sports media connections.
Clay Travis, Will Cain and yes, even Stephen A. Smith. Maybe not the most likely candidates to take over the 8pm show on a permanent basis, but if Fox News chooses to slide Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham into the prime-time role, there will still be a void that Travis, Cain or Smith could potentially fill.
Travis, a Fox employee, appeared as a guest on what turned out to be Carlson’s final show on Friday, and he was on the network again Monday morning. During the open of his conservative radio show with co-host Buck Sexton Monday afternoon, Travis said there were no rumblings of Fox News considering a split with Carlson during his recent appearances on the network.
Travis is more often a guest on Fox News than a fill-in host, but he already has experience taking over for conservative heroes, as Rush Limbaugh’s successor, and is certainly capable of hosting a daily cable news show. It could also be good cross-promotion for OutKick, which he sold to Fox nearly two years ago. But to get a daily show on the network, Travis would probably have to lean even farther to the right on political issues than he currently does.
Former ESPN Radio host and First Take contributor Will Cain seems like a more likely candidate considering he’s frequently tabbed as a fill-in host on Fox News. Unlike Travis, who initially built most of his following with sports coverage, Cain is a lifelong conservative who earned his media stripes in politics before joining ESPN in 2015. Cain, however, has not grown the loyal following that Travis built, since moving from ESPN to Fox News in 2020.
Which brings us to Cain’s former debate partner on ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. Smith. One year ago, Smith would have seemed like the most unlikely candidate to take on a Fox News show in the wake of Carlson’s abrupt departure. But if you listen to his Know Mercy podcast, which is not affiliated with ESPN, it very much seems like he’s aspiring to do something with his career that sports can’t offer. Is that running for office, succeeding Jimmy Kimmel or hosting a cable news show?
Smith has appeared on Fox News many times with Sean Hannity and Jesse Watters, among others. Interestingly, last week, Smith stated he’s willing to speak with anyone, claiming he would even interview the KKK, but would refuse an invite onto Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Less than one week later, it’s a moot point now that Carlson is out at Fox News. But considering Smith has stated his interest in cable news several times over the years, could ESPN’s foremost personality be a potential successor for Carlson?
Realistically, replacing Carlson probably isn’t in Smith’s future. It would alienate too much of the audience built by Carlson and Bill O’Reilly before him. But Smith’s interest in cable news is real. Last year, Smith touted appearing on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC “150 times” in 2009 after he was let go by ESPN. Smith also said he nearly landed his own show on CNN in 2015.
During a recent interview with Mediaite, Smith was asked about the possibility of hosting a cable news show in the future. “I’m very happy at ESPN. When I was talking late night, I was talking late night like succeeding Jimmy Kimmel someday,” Smith answered. But regarding a possible cable news show, Smith added, “If an opportunity like that presented itself, I couldn’t summarily dismiss it.”
With Carlson departing Fox News and Don Lemon exiting CNN on Monday, there are real opportunities that could present itself to the 55-year-old Smith, who seems like a talent in search of a platform larger than ESPN. Smith’s ESPN contract runs into 2025.
One sports personality who would seem off the table for a Fox News gig, however, is Charles Barkley. Barkley was just announced as a weekly prime-time host on CNN starting in the fall, and signed a decade-long contract extension worth upwards of $200 million with Warner Bros. Discovery last year, which would seemingly include a massive buyout.