Fox Bets on Humor and Conflict as It Enters a New Era
O'Reilly exit caps primetime shakeup at cable network, spurs focus on new generation of viewers
He was there when Fox News was born 21 years ago. For 15 years, he dominated the 8 p.m. time slot. Now, in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal that scared away advertisers, Fox News is “Killing Bill O’Reilly,” so to speak — or his show, anyway. The move is the crescendo to what has already been a year of musical anchor chairs at the cable network. Just a few months ago, it was Greta Van Susteren at 7 p.m., Bill O’Reilly at 8 p.m., and Megyn Kelly at 9 p.m. Roger Ailes was still the head honcho, and Tucker Carlson was an irregular contributor to the “Fox & Friends” weekend jayvee team.
Harken back to those old days in your mind. To set the scene, it was a time when progressives couldn’t decide if they would call Bill Clinton something classy like “first gentleman” or something fun like “first dude.” Back then people still thought Nate Silver could use math to see the future, and the term Brexit made progressives laugh instead of cry.
The other cable news networks should be hiding-in-a-bathroom-stall-level scared because the bully that already takes their lunch money just hit a growth spurt.
That was when Roger Ailes made his exit. Van Susteren, Kelly and O’Reilly then left one by one. What do those three anchors have in common? They were all replaced by Tucker Carlson who went from curvy-couch B-team to the face of the most dominant cable news network on television so fast that meteors now hyperbolically describe their own speed as “Carlsonic.”
Fox announced yesterday that the next iteration of their primetime lineup will be Martha MacCallum at 7 p.m., Tucker Carlson at 8 p.m., and multi-host-formatted “The Five” at 9 p.m. “The Five” will look different because co-host Eric Bolling will get his own show at 5 p.m. and be replaced on the panel by Jessie Watters.
One thing is certain: With Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, and Jessie Watters on board, primetime at Fox News is about to deploy a lot more humor. And it should. Progressives handed off creative control to comedians years ago, and conservatives have been the butt of their jokes ever since. Carlson, Gutfeld, and Watters use humor to expose progressive hypocrisy and shine a satirical light on modern liberal thought (or lack thereof). On Fox News in the evening, it’ll be the liberals’ turn to be mocked. It’ll be like “The Daily Show,” only with reason, logic and good arguments. The liberal media will scream from the opinion pages that none of these people are funny, but the high ratings will beg to differ.
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With the new lineup, Fox News isn’t just adding funny to its primetime; it’s also adding that magical television elixir — conflict.
Tucker Carlson has built an entire new format for the network out of conflict. He uses his show to be the eviscerator of progressive nonsense, the executioner of imbecility, and the grim reaper of BS. Carlson books the purveyors of progressive ideology, from hapless college students to high-ranking Democratic politicians, and then hits them with tough questions, demands evidence, and provides on-the-spot satire. He’s like a human stress-relief ball for Fox News viewers who see the glaring absurdity in progressive arguments and having been dying for someone who can expose it to the world. That’s why so many of his interviews go viral.
Here’s the true brilliance of Tucker Carlson in summation:
He asks a question that cuts straight to the marrow of his guest’s illogic. While they struggle to answer, he furrows his brow as though he’s genuinely concerned by the inanity of their answer. He tosses a couple of quick real-time fact checks at them as they resort to untruths. He opens his eyes extra-wide to accentuate their most ridiculous points. Then, as their nonsense builds to a crescendo — that moment when other anchors might get angry — he laughs. He laughs, millions of viewers laugh, the progressive becomes indignant. He laughs more, millions of viewers laugh more, and so on.
He treats absurd reasoning exactly how it should be treated — with a hearty guffaw. It’s therapeutic for millions of conservatives who don’t understand why anyone ever stopped laughing at ideas, theories, and philosophies that are the magic beans of the political realm — except that they don’t grow into beanstalks. They grow into bloated bureaucracies that exist for nothing more than magic-bean proliferation.
“The Five,” Fox’s most popular afternoon show, will move into Carlson’s old spot. This multi-host format show looks just like much of America. It has one liberal who is fully committed to all Democratic talking points. Then, it has somebody to represent every topping on the Republican pizza. For establishment-minded Republicans — the types who might have believed that Jeb could fix it — there’s Dana Perino. For the more classic conservative, there’s Kimberly Guilfoyle, for the more libertarian crowd and lovers of the epic similes of yore, there’s Greg Gutfeld. Finally, for the millennial conservative (these are not mythical creatures, for I saw a blurry photo of one), there’s new addition Jesse Watters.
Fox’s new primetime lineup is younger and edgier, with more big time personalities than ever before. The other cable news networks should be hiding-in-a-bathroom-stall scared because the bully that already takes their lunch money just hit a growth spurt.
Eddie Zipperer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College and a regular LifeZette contributor.