Mike Fleming

The New York Times this morning floats the inevitable trial balloon that if Glenn Beck exits Fox News Channel, he might attempt branding a cable channel or expanding a subscription video service via the web. Team Beck is labeling this report “a premature injection of speculation and nonsense.” His insiders stress that Beck has a Fox contract that runs until year’s end and isn’t negotiating anywhere else. Beck’s contract negotiation comes amid  somewhat declining ratings of his cablecast. Any launch of a Glenn Beck cable channel would be difficult — just ask Oprah Winfrey — but it would certainly be in keeping with Beck’s growing entrepreneurial appetite. Last year, we’d heard that an animated Family Guy-style primetime series about Beck tried to enlist Hollywood TV showrunners. It would revolve around the “world” of Glenn Beck and would have him doing his own voice, and maybe most of the voices in the sitcom. The idea was to establish him as a conservative answer to Seth MacFarlane. However, I heard that a problem was that showrunners who’d been approached about writing and producing the toon were resistant. “Lots of liberal comedy writers want nothing to do with Glenn Beck,” said one writer familiar with the proposed toon. “Writers who run animated shows are a liberal bunch, and Glenn Beck is the kind of guy they poke fun of.” When I called Team Beck about the venture, it was at first flatly denied. After more prodding over a few weeks, the response from Beck’s production banner Mercury Radio Arts was that there was in fact a distant associate out there discreetly shopping a show (they wouldn’t say whom), but without any official endorsement from Beck. But Team Beck didn’t dismiss the show, even one that was hawked under the auspices that he was involved. A good idea is a good idea, after all, and they were reserving judgment until seeing what package the producer came back with. We’re told now the cartoon never came together to anyone’s satisfaction, but it is an indication that nothing is out of bounds when it comes to building the Beck brand.

While it’s easy to pigeonhole Beck as purely political because of his on-air rhetoric, he asserted in a 2010 interview in Forbes that he was not political, and his business is entertainment: “I could give a flying crap about the political process,” he said. “We’re an entertainment company.” In a follow-up, Beck explained by the brand-minded Tyler Perry is his hero. Beck has already succeeded in a multitude of media venues: he’s got a highly rated radio show, has written several bestsellers, starred in a series of annual live show tours. Beck produced a one-night special film version of his book The Christmas Sweater, a quasi-autobiographical account of Beck’s troubled childhood told through a 12-year-old named Eddie. Beck played multiple roles in the film and shared what was described as his “most profound childhood memories, along with his philosophies on life, love and happiness”. Since 2005, Beck has toured American cities twice a year with one-man stage shows that mix stand-up comedy and inspirational speaking. This culminated in last August’s Restoring Honor rally Beck mobilized in D.C.

The recent speculation about Beck’s future entrepreneurial ventures intensified after word leaked that respected senior Fox News exec Joel Cheatwood may leave to join Beck’s Mercury Radio Arts to oversee the expansion of programming, online content, and other Glenn Beck-branded ventures. If Beck were to start his own cable channel, an animated show could be an attention-getting way to fill a programming slot. And, after being parodied on South Park and The Colbert Report and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live and The Onion, this could be Beck’s chance to fire back and maybe poke fun at himself, his chalkboard, and self-described “doom room” conspiracy theories.

Beck’s hands-on willingness in his brand building quest makes the launch of a cable channel intriguing. The question, though, is how much of Beck’s thunder comes from his Fox News platform, and how many of the faithful will care enough about ancillary ventures if that is gone?

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