- Glenn Beck's online TV network merging with TheBlaze.com
- Beck says people don't remember who he was before his Fox News days
- "Cowardice is a human problem," he says
- Beck on Mitt Romney if he wins: "I'll hold his feet to the fire"
Hugely successful and often controversial, Glenn Beck is a man full of complexities.
He points the finger in his new book "Cowards" but calls for "Restoring Love" in his upcoming rally. He jokes about being "Unelectable" on his comedy tour, but his new studio in Dallas includes a replica Oval Office for his mock presidential addresses.
Now, the media mogul is dropping his name from the online TV network based on his personal brand. GBTV will be merged with TheBlaze.com, the Beck-owned but independently operated news and opinion website. The entire network will be called TheBlaze.
"I didn't like the name GBTV from the very beginning for a couple of reasons," Beck said in an exclusive interview with CNN.com. "One, it's a little egocentric, and two, it's television, which doesn't describe necessarily what we do."
Beck and Chris Balfe, president and COO of Mercury Radio Arts (Beck's company), said they planned to change the name once the online streaming network was more established but the early success of GBTV precipitated an earlier name change.
The latest estimate is that GBTV has more than 300,000 subscribers. While the numbers are strong, that is still a significant reduction from Beck's nightly audience when he worked at Fox News and talked to millions on the traditional media outlet.
"We are out of the comfort zone for a lot of Americans," said Beck of GBTV.
The online network that airs Beck's program also has shows such as "Real News," a news roundtable show; "The B.S. of A," a comedy show; "Liberty Treehouse," a children's program; and "Independence USA," a reality show. Much more programming is on the way, and it will soon become a 24/7 channel.
TheBlaze.com launched in August 2010 and now claims more than 7 million unique visitors a month. Already before the merger, the Beck empire was increasingly falling under the "Blaze" moniker, including a print magazine.
"From a management perspective, what we're doing is bringing together what are the all-stars from both groups into one team," said Balfe.
That all-star team includes some unlikely executives who have joined the Beck team. There's Betsy Morgan, formerly CEO of The Huffington Post and before that an executive at CBS News. There's Joel Cheatwood, formerly a senior vice president at CNN and Fox News. Also Kraig Kitchin, formerly founder of Premiere Radio Networks, and Carolyn Polke, who was a consultant at Accenture.
Another notable part of TheBlaze.com is its clear non-Beckness. "If you just look at the comments section, there are people who read the Blaze all the time but hate my guts," said Beck.
But it's more than that -- one of the most memorable and talked about series of articles on TheBlaze.com was a meticulous debunking of the James O'Keefe NPR videos , which claimed to show an NPR executive denigrating the Tea Party, that ran on an Andrew Breitbart-associated website. The series garnered strong praise from places such as long-time Beck nemesis Media Matters.
"Hopefully some of them will discover TheBlaze TV, will discover Glenn's show, and decide that they want to watch," said Balfe. "Others will discover other things on TheBlaze TV which they might like more."
If people were surprised by the takedown of the O'Keefe video, Beck says it's because they don't remember who he was before his Fox News days.
"I think that's people forgetting who I was and what I was saying when I was on CNN before Barack Obama," said Beck, who was a Headline News host from 2006 to 2008.
"I was one of the hardest-hitting conservatives on George W. Bush. Republicans didn't like me on George W. Bush. Republicans still don't like me on many things. If any Republican thinks I've been hard on Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or any of these guys, wait until Mitt Romney gets into office. I'll hold his feet to the fire just as much."
Of course, it may be the Fox News days that people remember, when he'd assign labels such as fascist, communist and radical to those, mostly on the left, with whom he disagreed, often with the tone of impending doom (and chalkboards). Beck agrees that the polarization and ratcheted-up rhetoric is bad for the country, but was he part of the problem in the first place?
"Nobody ever, ever gives me credit for the times I've said on the air 'the president is right on this, did this right' or 'the media is unfair by trying to say this about the president,' or 'the right is unfair.' I bet I do that at least once a month."
But what about calling Barack Obama a "coward" in his new book?
"Sometimes the truth hurts," said Beck. "And if you'd read the book 'Cowards,' you'd see President Obama is not the only one, and it's certainly not a Republican and Democrat book. It is a human problem. Cowardice is a human problem."
While Beck isn't outwardly supporting either of the two major candidates in the 2012 election, he does have a prediction.
"If things would remain stable, I would say we are looking at a loss for the president around the size of, if not greater than, Jimmy Carter," he said. "Americans are tired. They are tired of the finger-pointing. They are tired of the excuses. They're tired of it on both sides."
Beck is someone who constantly talks about truth.
TheBlaze.com's tagline is "the truth has no agenda" while GBTV currently uses "the truth lives here." Explaining his ideology, Beck described it as "people should be free, people should be unencumbered by regulation as much as possible, that big government always goes corrupt and the truth shall always set you free."
It's this philosophy that seeps into his plans for the independence of the new, merged TheBlaze TV: "We have to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may."
Trust comes into play in another area of the Beck empire, arguably where he has his most power and is at his most contentious: radio. Last week it was announced that Beck signed a new five-year deal with Premiere Networks, reportedly estimated at $100 million. Is he worth it? And what is it about the show that makes it worth one the biggest contracts on radio ever?
"The strength of the show is the listeners, and the bond I have with the listeners," said Beck. "They are some of the smartest, unforgiving people. They mean what they say and say what they mean. ... The biggest thing we have going for us is we've always tried to shoot straight with the audience, we've always tried to hold ourselves to our own standards, and part of those standards is we don't waste anyone's time."
With GBTV gone and TheBlaze TV taking over, Beck isn't done.
The change is one part of a new plan, which he's dropped some hints about recently, to focus on inserting conservatism into the mainstream cultural landscape.
"A country is made not by policy alone, but by its music, its entertainment shows, all of it," said Beck.
That plan may get mainstream acceptance like GBTV has. Recently, talent agent Ari Emanuel, certainly not a fan of Beck's politics, praised the network as a "model" for the media. It could also face mainstream derision as some of Beck's radio proclamations do, but it likely will get an audience talking.
"Change is not bad," said Beck. "We are on the threshold of something I think is as powerful as the Industrial Revolution was, except this one will happen in a very short period of time. ... Whether we're the ones to [revolutionize media] or we're just the ones who happen to be the first on the scene, I don't know. But we're moving forward because the media revolution has begun."
It's another complexity in the Beck world. While the message is about "restoring" conservative values of the past, the delivery model is revolution, and the future.