For the past four years, Donald Trump has been the gift that continued to give late-night comics, as his unorthodox presidential administration and stream of tweets fueled their nightly monologues.
As of this week, Fox News is looking for the same sort of dividend from President Joe Biden as he embarks on the late night comedy game with “Gutfeld!” hosted by satirist Greg Gutfeld, who has long courted the popular conservative cable network’s “The Five”.
The new show will look like what Gutfeld, 56, has been doing since 2015 on his own weekly Saturday night program, “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” delivering irreverent comments and sketches that alter liberals, Hollywood celebrities, cancel the show. culture and mainstream media (i.e. network competition).
It is the latest in a series of Fox News programs to consolidate its audience after the Trump years, when viewing levels reached record levels. The network saw a sharp decline after the 2020 election. But in recent weeks it has regained its lead over CNN and Fox News, according to Nielsen data.
Fox News has come under fire for adding more conservative-leaning talk shows and opinion pieces to its programming. Hosts in the network have come under scrutiny for supporting Trump and the misinformation claims surrounding the 2020 election that many believe helped fuel the murderous Jan.6 insurgency attempt on the U.S. Capitol.
The efforts of news networks to be less dependent on disruptive coverage and the resulting fluctuations in audiences are not new. In search of reliable audiences, CNN made its entry into series lineup in 2012, and has been a staple of its weekend lineups ever since. Several years earlier, the network also attempted a comedy news show with comedian DL Hughley, which ran for five months.
Fox News Media chief executive Suzanne Scott said in an email that her network is looking to appear on date shows such as “Gutfeld!” to fend off the threat of streaming services that distract viewers from live TV.
“There is more competition than ever for broadcasters and cable companies,” Scott said. “This is an opportunity for our linear platform to give more airtime to a great talent with whom the audience is deeply connected.”
“Gutfeld! will resume the 11 pm ET slot, airing the “Fox News @ Night With Shannon Bream” news program an hour later on both coasts.
Gutfeld is well known to Fox News viewers of “The Five,” a happy hour-like hangout where co-hosts debate the issues of the day that have become one of the hottest shows in the news by cable.
Longtime viewers see his panelists as family, and Gutfeld’s role is the little brother who always has a cutting point at hand. He describes himself as a “noisy, obnoxious creature,” whose rants about the program were compiled into a bestselling book in 2018.
“It makes things look easy, but it really comes from a work ethic and daily discipline,” Scott said.
Gutfeld was never a stand-up comic. He grew up in San Mateo, California, where he grew up in Mad magazine and the offbeat comedy of the late night TV parody “Fernwood 2Night”. Once, when her local newsstand was out of Mad, her mother brought home a copy of National Lampoon instead.
“She didn’t know there were topless girls in it,” he said.
It also contained satirical pieces by PJ O’Rourke, John Hughes and Michael O’Donahue, which helped shape his sensibility.
“It opened doors to things I didn’t understand,” he said.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Gutfeld eventually traveled to New York for a career in magazines, directing titles such as Prevention, Stuff, and Men’s Health.
Gutfeld developed a reputation as an iconoclast in the publishing industry when he hired three dwarf actors to disrupt an industry conference. He was also an early blogger for the Huffington Post, where he criticized founder Arianna Huffington for not paying her writers.
Gutfeld landed at Fox News in 2007 and became a panelist on a ramshackle overnight roundtable program called “Red Eye.” He moved to “The Five” in 2011 and became a fan favorite enough at Fox News to land his own Saturday night show four years later.
Unlike most other cable news commentators, Gutfeld will laugh at himself even hitting a target. On a recent show, he described Biden’s first national speech as “short, but dark like me after spring break.”
Gutfeld has a cast of regulars who will riff with him every day, including columnist Katherine Timpf, former professional wrestler George “Tyrus” Murdoch and comedians Joe DeVito and Joe Machi. The program will be recorded to a live audience at Fox News Studios in midtown Manhattan once security protocols against the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.
The operation has a handful of comedy writers, much leaner than the typical late-night program, which has 12-14 staff. But that didn’t stop Fox News from trying to nab the late-night establishment. The network purchased a billboard for the new program in front of the El Capitan Entertainment Center in Hollywood, where ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” bands.
So far, the competition is not worried. Daniel Kellison, a former executive producer of the show and a friend of Kimmel, doubts the display in your face will get into the host’s skin.
“Until this show does something, I don’t think he’ll mind it,” he said. (Gutfeld joked on “The Five” that he himself would have degraded the billboard if he had known where he was going.)
Another late network producer, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, expects “Gutfeld!” to “sound like” The Five “with a few jokes”, instead of such cool productions as “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” or “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon”.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience available for a host with Gutfeld’s point of view. According to Nielsen, it drew 1.8 million viewers in its Saturday 10 p.m. ET time slot this year, like what the late-night shows air during the week.
S. Robert Lichter, professor of communications at George Mason University and author of “Politics is a Joke: How Late Night Comedians Remake Politics”, believes there is an opening for a right-wing host who does not seek to please his fellow Hollywood peers.
“There are a lot of conservatives out there who don’t watch late night monologues because they oppose the ideological tilt,” Lichter said. “Republicans love to make fun of Liberals, and they have no one to do it for them on TV. It should be a natural match.”
Gutfeld, who identifies as a libertarian, said people on both sides of the political aisle would suffer his abuse. When asked if this included a beleaguered Republican (and until last week a frequent Fox News guest), Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is the subject of a Justice Department investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he replied, “Of course.”
But in true Fox News style, he couldn’t resist a shot from the mainstream press.
“What is telling is how this question is never asked of liberal hosts late at night,” Gutfeld said. “Suddenly, the media is interested in balance, when a different perspective enters the arena, a balance they rarely seek when looking at conventional late-night parrots.”
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