© Janos Kummer/Getty Images
Tucker Carlson speaks during the Mathias Corvinus Collegium Feszt in Hungary in August 2021. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

Lesser-known cable channels are itching to build a new brand around him. Industry experts think he could make a mint in podcasting.

But Tucker Carlson — who was fired by Fox News last week at the height of his popularity and influence in right-wing punditry — has aspirations of moving into a larger role that doesn’t limit him to a single medium, according to people familiar with his thinking. And he is willing to walk away from some of the millions that Fox is contractually obligated to pay him, if that would give him the flexibility to have a prominent voice in the 2024 election cycle.

Most ambitiously, Carlson wants to moderate his own GOP candidate forum, outside of the usual strictures of the Republican National Committee debate system. The idea, which he has discussed with Donald Trump, the front-runner for the party nomination, would test his vaunted sway over conservative politics. And it would take a jab at his former employer — Fox is hosting the first official primary debate, which Trump has threatened not to attend — if he can manage to make his grandest plan happen.

Ultimately, Carlson is scrambling to try to avoid the fate of other once-towering former Fox News personalities, who in exile from the network have found lucrative gigs but nothing like their former positions of influence.

“If I’m sitting in his seat right now, I’m plotting really my own media company, how I want to build it,” said Joel Cheatwood, a former Fox News and CNN executive who helped found theblaze.com with Glenn Beck after his forced departure from Fox News in 2011. “Whether you like him or not, there are very few individual brands out there that you can almost guarantee an incredibly significant following from day one.”

Carlson’s Fox contract reportedly runs through the end of 2024, which would limit his options, though a source close to Carlson said he might accept less money than he is owed to be able to get back into the media game before then. Hollywood lawyer Bryan Freedman, who is representing Carlson, did not respond to a message asking about his contractual status.

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Among the smaller broadcasters that have approached Carlson are the faith-based Trinity Broadcasting Network and the far-right One America News Network. OAN’s founder and chief executive, Robert Herring Sr., fulsomely praised Carlson as having “the largest and most passionate audience in cable news,” adding that the company has “made our interest clear.”

A stronger pitch has come from Newsmax, the conservative media company that has seen a prime-time ratings surge this past week at the same time Fox was losing viewers from Carlson’s old time slot.

Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy approached Carlson and his associates with a wide-ranging proposal that, in the words of one person familiar with the pitch, would involve “rebranding Newsmax under Tucker’s name.” Carlson and his advisers are intrigued by the idea of his own media company, and taking over an existing one would be easier than building from the ground up — though any possible deal would boil down to unresolved questions of money and editorial control.

And Cheatwood speculated that Carlson would diminish his own brand by signing on with a smaller media company. “I just don’t think he needs it,” he added. “He’s just so much bigger than they are.”

Many in conservative corners of the digital media world have assumed that Carlson — a polarizing personality whose disparaging comments about immigrants, defense of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and dabbling in paranoid white-nationalist theories during his years on Fox would make him toxic for mainstream media companies — will strike out with his own podcast or streaming show.

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“He could do very well and find an audience immediately, and he could earn a good living and never have to leave his home studio,” said Ken LaCorte, a former digital-side executive for Fox News.

In 2020, Carlson’s team explored the idea of launching a podcast as a “joint venture of sorts” with his then-employers at Fox, according to a text message exchange made public in a recent defamation lawsuit against the network. And since his firing, his team has fielded inquiries from potential podcast partners.

But Carlson doesn’t want to just be a podcaster, people in his circle say. He wants to produce documentaries and host live events as well.

Twitter has also emerged as an area of intrigue for Carlson. That’s where he went to issue his first public comments after his dismissal, and his team was impressed by the number of views amassed by the video, according to people familiar with their thinking.

Carlson has not had any recent conversations with Twitter or its political-provocateur new owner, Elon Musk; but shortly before he left Fox, he had a briefing from Twitter tech staff about new features for subscriptions and other ways for content creators to make money from the platform.

Beck praised the Twitter video, in which Carlson claimed that television news shuts off legitimate debate. “You see what he’s setting up here? He’s setting up a different kind of show, a show where he takes big issues and he debates them,” Beck said last week on his own show. “That’s where he’s headed.” (Beck, who pivoted to digital video after being forced out of Fox, has already offered Carlson a job.)

Carlson and his team have discussed the possibility of moderating a candidate forum outside of the traditional protocols surrounding the GOP primary debate system, according to two people familiar with the considerations. These people said the setup — as well as Carlson’s availability to take on that kind of role, given the noncompete constraints of his contract with Fox — remain unclear. But Carlson has personally expressed enthusiasm about the idea, according to people familiar with his comments. At least one major candidate — Trump — has told Carlson he’s interested, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

The former Fox host’s interest in a debate is said to stem in part from its potential to loosen the Republican National Committee’s grip on the process, as well as to challenge the role traditionally played by the major television networks. “He could go straight to the candidates, stream it live, invite the networks but maintain control over the process,” said one person familiar with the discussions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships.

Carlson has been approached in recent days by candidates as well as Republican fundraisers about appearing on the campaign trail but is interested in maintaining a more independent posture, according to people with knowledge of his views. A role moderating a debate or delivering analysis about the contest is seen as a way to influence the process without becoming an arm of a particular campaign.

But the main holdup in Carlson’s post-Fox future is his contract status, which could limit his options until his deal with the network runs out. “Fame is a depreciating asset, and Tucker in nine months of relative radio silence would not be nearly as powerful as Tucker is now,” LaCorte said.

“Tucker’s too gifted a writer and host not to put those talents to use every day,” said Vince Coglianese, a friend of Carlson who serves as editorial director for the publication he co-founded, the Daily Caller. “I don’t know what format he’ll end up in, but I’m confident he’ll be a massive success — which will be good for the country. Anything that breaks the corporate stranglehold on our debates is a huge win.”

While Carlson gave no specifics into his plans in the video he posted on Twitter, he ended it with three words that suggested he’s not planning to recede from the spotlight: “See you soon.”