Sinclair Broadcasting is zeroing in on Sean Hannity’s team.
As its executive chairman David Smith prepares to launch a competitor to Fox News, he has met in the last few months with the executive producer of Hannity’s top-rated show on Fox, Porter Berry, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Berry is not the only person connected to Hannity who Smith has gone after. The Sinclair boss has also been wooing Sean Compton, a Tribune Media programming executive who is close friends with the Fox host.
Meanwhile, Smith has been meetingwith other potential future employees, including several current and former Fox News on- and off-air staff, such as Greta Van Susteren and Trump favorite Jeanine Pirro. But targeting the top producer linked to Fox News’ number one talent represents a major shot across the bow.
Fox News and Sinclair did not respond to requests for comment.
Smith has yet to settle firmly on his plans for a Fox News rival, which are contingent on Sinclair’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media being approved by the Federal Communications Commission, but he has been laying out a vision for a three-to-six hour primetime conservative cable news block.
There has been considerable speculation over which hosts Smith would nab to front his effort and, last fall, he held discussions with former Fox star Bill O’Reilly, though the talks were ultimately broken off. Hannity typically does not reveal details on his contract with Fox, including when it expires and whether it has any out clauses, but said on Twitter in 2016 that he was under contract for four more years, meaning it will expire in 2020.
Hannity and Berry declined comment for this story.
Berry, who is in his fifth year running Hannity’s show, and also serves as executive producer for the Fox News show, The Five, is known to be close with Hannity.
In a 2017 Bloomberg story on Hannity, Berry was quoted saying of him, “He’s like an older brother to me. I’ve worked at Fox News since 2004. He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with.”
Hannity was upset by the departure of programming executive Bill Shine from Fox News a year ago; if Berry were to jump, it would mark the departure of yet another close ally.
As Sinclair awaits word on its mega-merger with Tribune, it has remained heavily in the news. In March, the company, which regularly requires its nationwide network of local news stations to air conservative “must-run” commentaries, forced local anchors to read a promotional script that echoed lines from President Donald Trump bashing the media.
Smith has not settled on where his primetime news block will air, but one likely option is WGN America, a cable network which Sinclair would acquire as part of its deal with Tribune, and which reaches 80 million homes.
Sinclair has said it anticipates that the merger will close near the end of this year’s second quarter.