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Fox News Beck and O'Reilly bringing their tour to Tampa Bay area

You would expect them to be bitter rivals: the buzzed-about upstart vs. the established star.

But Fox News Channel pundits Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have instead joined forces on a short speaking tour they're calling Bold and Fresh. It's an outing that comes to Tampa on Friday, and could easily be renamed the Tour de Force.

Even to some fans, they may seem like an odd combination; Beck's jittery, apocalyptic emotionalism, contrasted by O'Reilly's smooth, aggressive certitude. But some media experts say there's a very sound business reason why they're appearing together these days:

They complement each other.

"They're hitting the same theme, but in different ways," said Dan Amundson, research director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. "One is hitting you with a more emotional hook, another is more cerebral. They build a more complete message than either would alone."

O'Reilly has been a leading voice at Fox News since its inception and is still its highest-rated personality, drawing an average 3.7 million viewers each night so far this month, according to the Nielsen Co.

But if O'Reilly is the established star, Beck is his ambitious understudy. He's a rising force with his own widely listened-to radio show, bestselling books and a year-old 5 p.m. Fox News show that has attracted an average 2.8 million viewers each night so far this month.

In many ways, O'Reilly seems the face of Fox News' past success, interpreting news events from a conservative perspective while presenting an opinionated show that looks and feels like an amped-up news report. His days spent anchoring the tabloid news show Inside Edition are a clear influence.

But Beck may be vying for status as the face of Fox News' future. He's an energetic showman who speaks about what's on his mind, often without regard to the news of the day. And he spreads his brand across a wide array of successful platforms in a display of media multitasking that seems perfect for our age.

"Beck seems poised to inherit both Rush (Limbaugh's) radio mantle and O'Reilly's TV throne," said Alexander Zaitchik, a freelance journalist who has been living in Tampa while writing a biography of Beck due out in May called Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.

While some have expected rivalry between Beck and O'Reilly, Zaitchik said the real competition may be between Beck and Sean Hannity, whose Fox News show is drawing just 16,000 more viewers at 9 p.m. this month than Beck's program, according to Nielsen.

Both men launched national radio shows during the same week as the Sept. 11 attacks and speak to the same generation of conservatives, Zaitchik said. Beck's showmanship and grand vision, though, may have eclipsed Hannity's more conventional approach since he announced a 100-year plan to oppose progressives back in November at the Villages retirement community.

"It's all about finding the biggest stage; Beck has that in his blood, like only a DJ can," said the author.

There may not be a better moment for either man to face the public. A recent Harris poll conducted among 2,276 adults in December found Beck to be America's second favorite television personality, behind Oprah Winfrey. O'Reilly, who rose as high as third in 2006, landed in 10th place this year.

And a survey by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday found more Americans trusted Fox News than any other news outlet. Critics said the results, affected by the fact that 74 percent of those identified as Republican trusted the right-leaning network, may show that people prefer news that conforms to their beliefs.

Beck and O'Reilly, who talk up their friendship on camera, differ on more than style. O'Reilly has said he likes some things about some Democrats, telling the crowd at a Bold and Fresh stop in New York, "I don't have anything against Barack Obama. … I think he's a smart guy who doesn't understand you," according to Newsday. He also declined to call the president racist, even after Beck and Limbaugh had lobbed the charge.

But Beck makes no such allowances, creating films and programs asserting that Obama has surrounded himself with people determined to turn America into a "socialist utopia." He is a man who claims not to a be journalist, but creates documentary-style films to make his points.

"He's totally building a cult of personality, very much like an evangelical minister," said Amundson of Beck, who is a Mormon who often talks about his religious experiences. "Supporters see him as a guy who is speaking the truth, giving word to the way they see the world emotionally."

Besides earning money (tickets in Tampa were priced at $45 and $120), the joint tour may help Beck and O'Reilly attract each other's audiences, forming a more solidified block of programming just as the news business transitions toward an even sharper blend of fact and opinion.

"This is kind of a pivotal moment, said Amundson. "I'm not sure where Glenn Beck's future is. But as traditional journalism loses clout, new media formats will rise with new values."

>> Sold out, but airing at theaters

Bill O'Reilly, top, and Glenn Beck will bring their Bold and Fresh tour to the University of South Florida's Sun Dome on Friday for two sold-out shows at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Several area theaters will show a live broadcast of their next tour stop on Saturday at 8 p.m., including the Citrus Stadium Park Mall 20 in Tampa, the Woodland Square 20 in Oldsmar and the Regency 20 in Brandon. Call the theaters for ticket prices.

Fox News Beck and O'Reilly bringing their tour to Tampa Bay area 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 10:23pm]
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