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April 16, 2014

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Fifteen years on, Fox’s Shepard Smith is still holding a hot hand

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Fox News Channel

Shepard Smith was hired by Fox News Channel before the network even launched.

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Shepard Smith, shown on the Fox News Channel set.

Shepard Smith is a pretty good blackjack practitioner, so he recognizes quickly when the table is hot and when it is not.

Professionally, he’s been at the same table for 15 years.

Fox News Channel is the hottest table he’s played.

“From the beginning, we found that is was fun being part of an underdog situation, beating the odds, taking over this category of programming and making people turn to us more than anyone else,” Smith said during a phone conversation Monday afternoon. “That includes CNN, which owned news in America for decades.”

Metaphorically speaking, Smith and Fox News have drawn to a five-card 21. The network is celebrating its 15th anniversary by sending a few of its shows on a national tour of sorts, and Smith will be anchoring both of his long-running Fox News programs, “Studio B” and “The Fox Report With Shepard Smith,” on Tuesday from Pure at Caesars Palace.

The set at Pure will be closed to the public (I had earlier written that these were open-to-the-public sessions, which was wrong). “Studio B” will air live at noon. “The Fox Report” airs at 4 p.m.

Fox and Pure is not such an uncommon pairing. In the fall of 2006, Fox brought out Smith and Greta Van Susteren to broadcast from the club’s roof to celebrate Fox’s 10th anniversary, reporting the news of the day as the G-string dancer on the Bally’s “Jubilee!” marquee loomed in the background.

This year, Smith drew Fox’s lone Vegas card. “Fox & Friends” aired this week from Orlando, Fla.; “Your World With Neil Cavuto” is in Chicago on Oct. 3; and “The O’Reilly Factor” puts host Bill O’Reilly in Boston on Oct. 11.

Why is Smith continually sent to Las Vegas? He’s not certain -- and is in no hurry to investigate the reason.

“I haven’t asked why because I don’t want to give them an excuse not to send me back,” he said, laughing. “I love Las Vegas. It’s a great getaway, an escape from reality with nightlife and great shows and food. I always have a great time.”

About “four or five years ago,” Smith said, he and a group of 40 friends took to Vegas for a bachelor party.

“A few of us got very lucky,” he said. “A few of us got very lucky, we won big one night and as a result we ate great and had a terrific time. Now, we all know you don’t come out of Las Vegas as a winner every time, so we really enjoyed ourselves.”

Smith said that, even as Las Vegas tops most of the “bad” lists produced by many media and tourism outlets, the city’s reputation across the country is that of a resilient and appealing destination.

“I think in many ways what happens in Vegas reflects what has happened around the world,” he said. “We had overbuilt in a lot of ways, thinking this high-rolling thing would last forever. Then we hit a speed pub and Vegas popped a tire, but it can regroup and lean on its fundamentals: good entertainment value and something for everybody to enjoy.

“A city that is laid out as impeccably as that one, it will come back. I know a lot of people from the East Coast who have held off visiting Las Vegas in favor of places like Atlantic City are now again coming out to Vegas.”

Smith is the ideal anchor to celebrate Fox News Channel’s anniversary, as no on-air personality has been with the network longer. He was hired even before the Fox News launch in the fall of 1996.

“Back then, every columnist called us the fledgling Fox News Channel,” Smith said. “I thought it was part of our name -- the Fledgling Fox News Channel. … I found it kind of hard to believe, at the beginning, that we could become so big, but (Fox News Channel President) Roger Ailes is a very persuasive man. Mr. Ailes loves to win.”

Smith also recalled Ailes’ original edict to his staff: “Make sure it’s fair, make sure it’s balanced.”

Smith is asked if he honestly believes Fox News is, as it claims, fair and balanced.

“I feel comfortable we’ve done our level best to be that,” he said. “Our only goal is to inform, collect information, process it and put it into context and perspective. At the core, it’s a pretty simple thing to do.”

Smith is speaking of his own news-disseminating shows, not the right-tilted opinion broadcasts that have become a Fox hallmark.

“Let’s face it, Sean Hannity is a right-wing guy, and he is labeled as that,” Smith said. “It is understood, and I have no problem as long as you are honestly identified. If something is chocolate, don’t expect pineapple.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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