One Year in, Fox News Talker 'The Five' Has High Spirits, Profits

9:23 PM PST 07/10/2012 by Paul Bond

The durability of the last-minute replacement for Glenn Beck surprises even its hosts, they tell THR.

 

Glenn Beck who?

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of The Five, the ensemble show that took Beck’s coveted 5 p.m. time slot at the Fox News Channel. And there’s much to celebrate, starting with the fact the year-old show is profitable whereas Beck’s show no longer was. Shows on FNC tend to dominate their timeslots so thoroughly that they stick around for a very long time, so a mere one-year anniversary is a rare thing at FNC nowadays.

Therefore, the network has been playing it up big time with best-of clips, host appearances on other shows and other marketing gimmicks.

The hoopla is even a surprise to cast members, who say they approached The Five as if it were a temporary gig – something to fill airtime while network chairman Roger Ailes figured out how best to replace Beck, a controversial figure who was drawing a big audience but few advertisers.

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“There wasn’t any permanence about it,” recalls Greg Gutfeld, a regular panelist on The Five. “We thought of it as a summer replacement. The first couple of weeks were a tryout. That’s the neat thing about Fox -- they throw you into the deep end and see if you can swim.”

In one important demographic on July 2, The Five even bested top-rated The O’Reilly Factor to become the most-watched cable news program among viewers ages 25-54, and it also recently surpassed Beck’s audience, which was at about 1.6 million nightly when it ended its run on FNC. So far in July, The Five is attracting 1.8 million.

Audience, though, was never the issue with Beck. What doomed his show at FNC was a coordinated campaign to intimidate his advertisers, spearheaded by progressive groups Color of Change and Media Matters for America. Their methods for demonizing Beck, says FNC vp of client relations Roger Domal, were remarkably effective.

“We were pretty much down to the lower tier of direct-response advertisers and gold sellers over the last eight months of Beck’s tenure,” says Domal.

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Since The Five debuted, though, Domal and company have added 175 new advertisers to the timeslot and ad rates are “dramatically” higher than they were in the final days of Beck.

The Five is a show akin to an all-politics (mostly conservative) version of ABC’s The View, only “we’re smarter,” says Gutfeld. “I get nauseous when I watch The View. I find it fairly stupid.”

Insiders say Ailes created the The Five simply by writing down the words – inspired by the timeslot and the number of panelists he envisioned -- on a piece of paper a few weeks before Beck’s show was to end.

“When Glenn Beck left Fox and there was an open slot, I sent Mr. Ailes an email saying 'I’d kill for that slot.' He emailed back, saying, ‘yeah, you and 300 other people’,” recalls Eric Bolling, an anchor on Fox Business Network and also a regular on The Five.

“We tested the concept a few times and it seemed the right five people were sitting in those chairs. As the story goes, I think Ailes wrote it on a napkin one afternoon, and boy was he right.”

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The show’s other regulars are some combination (there are never more than five co-hosts on the show) of Dana Perino, Andrea Tantaros, Bob Beckel, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Juan Williams. Conservatives usually outnumber liberals four-to-one.

“I’m used to it,” says Beckel, who is most often the lone voice on the left. “Someone described The Five as a family Thanksgiving dinner where they bring out the crazy uncle, and that would be me.”

Despite heated exchanges on air, Beckel says the crew genuinely like each other. Bolling, in fact, saved Beckel’s life on two occasions by delivering the Heimlich maneuver, once at a party celebrating the early success of The Five when he began to choke on a shrimp.

“Think about that. A guy saves your life – twice – and, philosophically, the two of you are 180 degrees apart. I had to get over that one,” says Beckel.

Naturally, not everyone is a fan of The Five. One media executive who has appeared as a guest on the network, for example, says that each of the cast appear to be “playing a role” rather than engaging in honest debate.

“It's unwatchable," said the executive. "But Fox News is so popular you could put up pictures of snails at 5 p.m. and it would get good ratings."

Sour grapes, counters Beckel.

“People who do serious shows are jealous that we get to have a little fun. Whoever said that hasn’t got the guts to last three minutes on The Five.”

Email: paul.bond@thr.com

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