Fox News Channel last week signed a six-year contract extension with one of its stars-Bill O'Reilly-while competitor Cable News Network said goodbye to Moneyline
anchor Stuart Varney, who resigned.
O'Reilly's extension, which one source said will earn The O'Reilly Factor's host up to $5 million per year, wasn't a big surprise. His program is the highest-rated news show in cable, and he's widely credited with driving FNC past CNN in recent months in the primetime ratings war.
The timing of Varney's departure, which occurred during a stock market slide that prompted the biggest financial-news week of the year, did turn some heads.
"Clearly you want to have all of your big guns, particularly on a major news week," said Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman. "The timing could have been better, but you don't exactly plan these things out."
Varney's resignation last Wednesday came on the same day as a New York Daily News
report which said Varney was angered by AOL Time Warner Inc. vice chairman Ted Turner's recent use of the term "Jesus freaks" to describe Catholic Turner Broadcasting System Inc. employees observing Ash Wednesday. Turner later apologized for the remark.
CNN said that Moneyline
co-host Willow Bay will host the show solo for the time being. But one source said the network plans other significant changes for Moneyline, which could include bringing in new anchors, possibly from another network.
While one source confirmed that Varney was upset by Turner's remark, the source also noted that Varney knew CNN was planning changes for the show that could have affected his job.
"He may have seen the writing on the wall," the source said. Varney could not be reached for comment.
The shakeup at Moneyline
comes just one month after CNN cut 400 employees and eliminated most of its business-news programming.
Although Varney's departure occurred at a time when viewers are turning to financial news networks to keep an eye on the market turmoil, CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson insisted the show will remain strong without Varney on board.
"We have a substantial and excellent team of financial journalists at CNN who, at any time, can provide complete coverage on breaking news as they did on Monday," Robinson said.
CNN's business-news stable includes veterans Myron Kandel and Jan Hopkins, who filled in for Varney last Monday. The network also has former CNBC correspondents Allan Chernoff and Terry Keenan.
Varney's exit leaves Moneyline
without a full-time anchor in New York, the world's financial capital. CNN released a prepared statement last week that said Bay would begin anchoring Moneyline
from New York beginning the week of March 26.
But the statement said she'll anchor "more frequently out of New York," suggesting she won't permanently relocate from Los Angeles, where she is currently based.
One source said the network hopes to add new talent to the network soon, but that no changes are expected "in the immediate future."
Varney replaced former CNNfn president Lou Dobbs as Moneyline
anchor in 1999, when the CNN veteran resigned to launch Space.com. There were some reports last week that CNN was courting Dobbs to return to the program, but a network source vehemently denied that CNN was in talks with Dobbs, or even interested in bringing him back. For the most part, Moneyline
had lost its ratings lead over CNBC's Business Center, its head-to-head competitor, since Dobbs left. The exception was in November and December, when CNN's election and post-election coverage helped Moneyline
beat Business Center
by 24 percent in delivery during the February ratings period, pulling an average 301,000 households compared with 243,000 for Moneyline.
Meanwhile, FNC's The O'Reilly Factor
remains the highest-rated cable news show, with an average 1.4 Nielsen Media Research rating.
In addition to hosting The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly's new contract calls for him to helm a series of specials on the Fox broadcast network. The former Inside Edition
anchor will also make several appearances on FNC's Fox News Sunday
program, and he picked up an additional option to host a new radio show for Fox.