Fox News Takes on Late-Night Comedy With Right-Leaning Show
(Bloomberg) -- Fox News is entering the late-night talk-show wars.
The Rupert Murdoch-controlled network is moving its in-house political satirist, Greg Gutfeld, over to an 11 p.m. weeknights slot where he can go joke-to-joke with other late-night hosts, including ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, CBS’s Stephen Colbert and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, who start about a half-hour later.
The network, part of Murdoch’s Fox Corp., has been buying ad spots on those and other late-night programs to promote “Gutfeld!,” as the new show will be called. Fox News even placed a billboard across the street from the Los Angeles studio where Kimmel records his show, declaring, “Cancel culture just got cancelled!” The Gutfeld program premieres April 5.
Fox executives are hoping he can do for late-night TV what the channel did in news: create a conservative alternative to the other middle-of-the-road or liberal-leaning networks. It’s certainly worked for Fox News, which has been the most-viewed cable news channel for 19 years running. Gutfeld, in an interview, said he sees the same scenario playing out.
“They are covering the same turf. They are getting all their sustenance from the same buffet,” he said of his rivals. “That leaves a whole swath for me to pick apart.”
$500 Million Market
At stake is a slice of a late-night TV advertising market worth some $500 million a year, according to market researcher Kantar. But it’s about more than ad dollars for Fox News. For the first time in its history, the network is facing competition from even-more-conservative channels, Newsmax and One America News Network. Offering more unique programming may help it stand out.
Fox Corp., which sold the bulk of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co. two years ago, is trying to broaden its offerings beyond political news. Its $6-a-month Fox Nation video streaming service, for example, features true-crime stories, Bible studies and reruns of “Duck Dynasty,” the reality show about a Louisiana bird-hunting clan.
A satirical late-night chat show could potentially attract a younger audience to Fox News, particularly if Gutfeld can prove as adept at creating viral videos for social media as rivals such as Fallon, CBS’s James Corden and HBO’s John Oliver.
Gutfeld, a 14-year veteran at Fox News, had been drawing a strong audience with his last program, “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” which aired at 10 p.m. New York time on Saturdays. It averaged 2.56 million total viewers a night last year, according to Nielsen data. That put it ahead of all the other late-night hosts but Colbert, who averaged 2.61 million.
“The country is divided, almost in half,” said Steve Nason, research director at Parks Associates, a market-research firm. “There’s certainly a place for other perspectives.”
Gutfeld, 56, has taken an odd route to becoming a conservative provocateur. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where he majored in English at the University of California, Berkeley. He recalls campaigning for nuclear disarmament in high school and losing a debate on the topic his senior year.
At college, however, a schoolmate turned him on to conservative publications such as the American Spectator and National Review.
“I’d never seen them before and there’s actually funny stuff in there,” he recalled. “They’re well-written, witty pieces. And I thought, ‘I didn’t know this existed at all.’”
He worked as a magazine editor, for titles such as Men’s Health and later the U.K. version of Maxim, the men’s lifestyle magazine, and contributed to the Huffington Post. But he also made appearances on Fox News, which led to him being hired for “Red Eye,” a very late-night show, in 2007.
That satirical take on the day’s news ran at 3 a.m. weeknights. Gutfeld, who describes himself as a libertarian, often had liberal guests and sidekicks, as well as up-and-coming comedians such as Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler.
The new show will continue to feature longtime sidekicks such as Katherine Timpf, a comedian and Fox Nation host, and Tyrus, a professional wrestler whose real name is George Murdoch, no relation. Gutfeld is beefing up his writing staff with stand-up comedians to help with the requirements of daily production.
“I’ve always written my own stuff, so it’s going to be weird to adopt that prototypical setup of joke writers,” he said. He’ll rely more on taped segments to quicken the show and take some of the pressure off himself.
“That’s always been my flaw,” he said. “My pacing has always been too skittery and high-strung, but that’s also my brain.”
A rotating series of guests will sit in a campfire-like semicircle, including writers, politicians and even former CIA agents, according to Tom O’Connor, one of the producers. Skits will feature regular panelists Tom Shillue, playing Joe Biden, and Timpf as press secretary Jennifer Psaki.
Gutfeld is perhaps best known to the broader Fox News audience for his regular monologues on “The Five,” the network’s afternoon panel discussion show.
Among his recent targets have been Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview that was critical of Harry’s family (“There’s nothing I like more than royal-on-royal action. It’s like a story with two Cuomos!”), and what he considers mainstream media’s coddling of Biden (“Hey, did you hear Joe has a Peloton, I got two sources to go on record!”).
Then there’s the subject of alleged fraud in the November election, which he described in January as having had “more irregularities than at an Ex-Lax festival.”
Gutfeld stands by that statement, but also concedes Biden is the duly elected president.
“You can possess all of these thoughts at once,” he said. “There are irregularities, but Joe won.”
Gutfeld’s big target, other than rival media outlets, is the culture wars, and what he perceives as an overdose of political correctness. Topics he’s recently taken on include the backlash over Rachael Kirkconnell, a contestant on the ABC reality show “The Bachelor,” having attended an Old South-themed party.
“Kirkconnell is White, currently trying to marry the Black male star,” Gutfeld said recently in a monologue. “Making her a pretty lame racist.”
Conservative commentators such as Gutfeld can have a hard time as comedians because it requires poking fun at themselves and not being so sure about their beliefs, said Steve Kaplan, a comedy-writing coach and author of “The Hidden Tools of Comedy.”
“A comic will find comedy wherever it is and exploit it, because first and foremost they’re trying to get laughs,” Kaplan said. “They look at the world as absurd. Fox wants to enrage people, get them angry.”
Will Gutfeld make Donald Trump jokes?
“I’ve made my fair share of them,” the host said. “I have a feeling Trump will be back on the turf doing something. And when that happens, we’ll be there.”
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