Glenn Beck said goodbye to Fox News Channel on Thursday, airing his final show before going into business for himself. He told his fans that he was determined "to his last breath" to fix this country.
The colorful commentator will begin streaming a daily two-hour show for paying customers on his own Internet network, GBTV, in September.
His finale was vintage Beck, a continued monologue walking among his signature chalkboards. He took some shots at critics, promised fealty to his fans, came close to tears but didn't succumb and even poked some fun at his image.
"I'm the only host who is supposedly the most dangerous person in America because of my influence and the least influential person in America because my ratings are supposedly declining," he said.
Beck's conservative populism resonated almost immediately with Fox viewers when he started the day before Barack Obama's inauguration as president in January 2009, drawing audiences unseen before in a late afternoon time slot on cable news. At his peak in January 2010, Beck's show averaged 2.9 million viewers each day. He'd warn darkly of things going wrong in the world, sometimes spinning complex theories on his blackboard. Occasionally, he'd be moved to tears.
His popularity faded, although Beck still led his time slot. He was averaging 1.86 million viewers a day so far this year, down 23 percent from the same period in 2010, the Nielsen Co. said. An advertising boycott that began after Beck said Obama had a "deep-seated hatred for white people" led to more than 400 advertisers telling Fox they didn't want their commercials seen on his show.
Fox will air a John Stossel special on Friday and a week of Beck reruns before launching a summertime replacement series, "The Five." It will include a rotating crew of Fox personalities like Andrew Napolitano, Geraldo Rivera, Juan Williams, Monica Crowley and Eric Bolling debating issues of the day.
Beck's relationship with Fox soured over control issues in the final months, and both sides seemed happy his show was ending. Beck warmly thanked Fox News chief Roger Ailes on Thursday, saying he was the smartest man he'll ever work with.
But he seemed to urge critics not to underestimate him as he moves forward.
"You will pray for the time when I was only on the air for one hour a day," he said.
He chided frequent critic Jon Stewart of Comedy Central, who has done a wicked Beck impersonation on "The Daily Show." Beck showed a picture of Stewart's large writing staff and brought out his two writers as comparison.
He had a causal told-you-so: "Two years ago we said there were going to be problems in Greece. Nobody paid attention."
"We tried to teach you things to help," he said. "I'm a dad, too. I want my country to be around. What we have been trying to tell you lately, over the last year, is that you are the answer. We must have faith, hope and charity in our hearts."
Beck said he was going to Israel this summer "in search of courage."
He tried to explain why he was leaving Fox after 29 months, and showed a picture of Jack Paar, who unexpectedly left NBC's "Tonight" show after being on the air for six years. He said he wanted to be more than a commentator and that he was not running away from anything. "I'm running to something," he said.
"This show has become a movement," he said. "It's not a TV show and that's why it does not belong on television anymore. It belongs in your heart. It belongs in your neighborhood."
Beck later told an Internet audience on GBTV that he had hired a "community organizer" on Thursday to help pull together citizens who agree with his point of view.
As Fox and Beck headed for a divorce, Beck set up his own diversified business. He makes speeches, writes books and owns a website along with GBTV, which is run by a former Fox executive. He will sell access to GBTV for $9.95 a month, or $4.95 for those who only want to see his nightly show.