Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

This really could be the end for Bill O'Reilly at Fox News

Hard as it was to imagine even a couple of weeks ago given his juggernaut ratings, this really could be the end for Bill O'Reilly as a primetime host on Fox News.

That's what it feels like after a night of talking to longtime sources.

The top-rated show host on cable news is not out yet, but his career at Fox is hanging in the balance with a decision expected from 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, by the end of the week. A board meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

As he was ending his show on April 11, O'Reilly told viewers he was leaving for a pre-planned vacation and would be back on-air April 24. That is no longer a certainty.

Some are reporting that exit talks have already begun between O'Reilly's representatives and Fox. I have not been able to independently confirm that. But I have also been told that depends on how you define "talks."

If you mean a formal negotiation of terms of separation among lawyers, the answer is no. If you mean some of the parties involved are now mentioning the possibility of separation, then the answer is yes.

Either way, the controversial 67-year-old host is damaged goods despite his audience of more than 3 million viewers a night.

In an April 8 column titled “The shrinking of Bill O’Reilly,” I wrote:

I have long admired Bill O'Reilly as a TV performer. I once wrote that he was to the cable news genre what Johnny Carson was to late night — so at ease and skilled in the format that he looked as if he invented it. He's still the ratings king.

But when it comes to O'Reilly, the man, questions raised about his reporting career and the millions he and Fox have paid in settlements with women who have accused him of sexual harassment have reached a tipping point and then some for me.

Now when I come across him on screen, the only thing that comes to mind is the sick, sexist and predatory culture that is eating like a cancer at Fox News. The 67-year-old O'Reilly, who once told me how much he hated hypocrisy during an appearance on his show, has become one of the media's most disgusting hypocrites in my eyes. It would be sad if this is how he ended his groundbreaking career.

The O’Reilly I saw on that last show, was clearly rattled by the wave of denunciation he is facing following a New York Times story detailing payments of $13 million that he and Fox paid to women who had filed lawsuits against him. He was shockingly off his game that night.

Four of the settlements chronicled by the Times were for sexual harassment. Another charge is currently being investigated by the same law firm that investigated charges of sexual harassment against Fox News founder Roger Ailes. That investigation abruptly ended Ailes’ career at Fox in August. This is starting to feel like the final days of that ugly soap opera.

O’Reilly was one of the most vocal defenders of Ailes during those final days, going on TV to depict his longtime boss as victim of slanderous claims. Fox News settled with Gretchen Carlson, one of the women who alleged sexual harassment by Ailes, for $20 million.

If O’Reilly leaves, Fox News will have undergone one of the most tumultuous years in the history of any TV outlet.

Since Ailes’ departure in August, Greta Van Susteren left and then Megyn Kelly. That’s half of what was the night-time lineup 10 months ago. If O’Reilly is out, the only survivor of its top-rated lineup will be Sean Hannity. By any media standard, that’s astonishing turnover.

I wonder if the channel will move Hannity to 8 p.m., hoping he can be the new primetime tent pole.

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