Greg Gutfeld goes after late night laughs for Fox News
For the last four years, Donald Trump was the gift that kept on giving to late-night TV comics, as his unorthodox presidential administration and stream of tweets fed their monologues nightly.
Starting tonight, Fox News is looking for the same kind of dividends from President Biden as it moves into the late night comedy game with “Gutfeld!” hosted by satirist Greg Gutfeld, who has long held court on the conservative-leaning cable network’s popular panel show “The Five.”
The new show will resemble what Gutfeld, 56, has done since 2015 on his own weekly Saturday night program, “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” delivering irreverent commentary and sketches that tweak liberals, Hollywood celebrities, cancel culture and the mainstream media (i.e., the network’s competition).
It’s the latest in a series of programming moves by Fox News to shore up its audience after the Trump years, where viewing levels hit record highs. The network saw a steep falloff after the 2020 election. But it has in recent weeks retaken its lead over CNN and MSNBC , according to Nielsen data.
Fox News has drawn criticism for adding more conservative-leaning talk shows and opinion programming to its lineup. The network’s hosts have come under scrutiny for supporting Trump and disinformation claims surrounding the 2020 election that many believe helped fuel the deadly insurrection attempt Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
Efforts by news networks to be less dependent on breaking coverage and the ratings fluctuations that come with it isn’t new. Looking for reliable ratings, CNN made its push into series programming in 2013, and it has been a staple of its weekend lineups ever since. Several years earlier, the network also attempted a comedy news show with comic D.L. Hughley, which lasted for five months.
Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott said in an email that her network is looking to appointment shows such as “Gutfeld!” to fend off the threat of streaming services that are siphoning viewers away from live TV.
“There is more competition than ever for broadcast and cable outlets,” Scott said. “This is an opportunity for our linear platform to give more airtime to a great talent who the audience deeply connects with.”
“Gutfeld!” will take over the 11 p.m. Eastern and 8 p.m. Pacific slot, pushing the straight news program “Fox News @ Night With Shannon Bream” an hour later on both coasts.
Gutfeld is well known to Fox News viewers from “The Five,” — a happy hour-like hangout where the cohosts debate the issues of the day that has become one of the most popular programs in cable news.
Longtime viewers see its panelists as family members, and Gutfeld’s role is the kid brother who always has a cutting remark at the ready. He describes himself as a “loud, obnoxious creature,” whose rants on the program were compiled in a bestselling book in 2018.
“He makes it look easy, but that really comes from a work ethic and daily discipline,” Scott said.
Gutfeld has never been a stand-up comic. He grew up in San Mateo, where he was raised on Mad magazine and the offbeat comedy of the late-night TV parody “Fernwood 2Night.” Once, when his local newsstand was out of Mad, his mother brought home a copy of National Lampoon instead.
“She didn’t realize there were topless girls in it,” he said.
It also contained satirical pieces from P.J. O’Rourke, John Hughes and Michael O’Donahue, which helped shape his sensibility.
“It was opening doors to things I didn’t understand,” he said.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Gutfeld eventually made his way to New York for a career in magazines, leading such titles as Prevention, Stuff and Men’s Health.
Gutfeld developed a reputation as an iconoclast in the publishing business when he hired three dwarf actors to disrupt an industry conference. He was also an early blogger for the Huffington Post, where he posted criticism of 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 enough of a Fox News fan favorite to land his own Saturday night show four years later.
Unlike most other cable news commentators, Gutfeld will make fun of himself even as he lands a punch on a target. On a recent show, he described Biden’s first national address as “short, but dark like me after spring break.”
Gutfeld has a troupe of regulars who will riff with him daily, including columnist Katherine Timpf, former pro wrestler George “Tyrus” Murdoch and stand-up comedians Joe DeVito and Joe Machi. The program will tape in front of a live audience at Fox News studios in midtown Manhattan once COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols have been lifted.
The operation has a handful of comedy writers, a lot leaner than the typical late-night program, which has a staff of 12 to 14. But that has not stopped Fox News from trying to needle the late night establishment. The network bought a billboard for the new program across the street from the El Capitan Entertainment Center in Hollywood, where ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” tapes.
So far, the competition isn’t worried. Daniel Kellison, a former executive producer of the show and a Kimmel pal, doubts the in-your-face display will get under the host’s skin.
“Until that show actually does something, I don’t think he’ll be bothered by it,” he said. (Gutfeld joked on “The Five” that he would have defaced the billboard himself if he had known where it was going up.)
Another network late-show producer, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, expects “Gutfeld!” to “look like ‘The Five’ with some jokes,’ instead of such slick productions as “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” or “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
But that does not mean there is not an available audience for a host with Gutfeld’s point of view. He was drawing 1.8 million viewers in his Saturday 10 p.m. Eastern time slot this year, according to Nielsen, similar to what broadcast late-night shows are delivering during the week.
S. Robert Lichter, a professor of communication at George Mason University and author of “Politics Is a Joke: How Late Night Comedians Are Remaking Politics,” believes there is an opening for a right-leaning host not looking to please their like-minded Hollywood peers.
“There are a lot of conservatives out there who are not watching late-night monologues because they object to the ideological tilt,” Lichter said. “Republicans love to make fun of liberals, and they don’t have anybody to do it for them on TV. This should be a natural match.”
Gutfeld, who identifies as a libertarian, said people on both sides of the political aisle will be getting his abuse. When asked if that includes beleaguered Republican Congressman (and until last week a frequent Fox News guest) Matt Gaetz of Florida, who is under investigation by the Department of Justice for alleged sex trafficking, he said, “Of course.”
But in true Fox News style, he could not resist a shot at the mainstream press.
“What’s telling is how that question is never posed to the liberal hosts in late night,” Gutfeld said. “Suddenly, the media is interested in balance, when a different perspective enters the arena — a balance they rarely seek when watching the conventional parrots of late night.”
Where: Fox News
When: 8 p.m. Monday through Friday
Rating: Not rated
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