January 15, 2014

Last year, Fox News weekday afternoon program “The Five” ranked third among cable-news programs. To those who’ve watched the program, that’s hardly a surprise. The interactions among roundtable members are perfectly chemical, the result of a mix-and-match operation guided by Fox News chief Roger Ailes. As discussed in Gabriel Sherman’s just-released biography of Ailes, the boss had some specific ideas in mind for the cast:

“He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do an ensemble concept,'” a close friend said. “He said, ‘I wanted a Falstaff, and that’s Bob Beckel. I need a leading man, and it’s Eric Bolling. I need a serious lead and that’s Dana Perino. I need a court jester and it’s Greg [Gutfeld], and I need the leg. That’s Andrea Tantaros.”

No way could Ailes have foreseen what close watchers would find in that mix. Last night, the “Daily Show” took what may long be remembered as the most in-depth-ever examination of “The Five.” Host Jon Stewart introduced the segment by breaking down the ideological profiles of the main characters: “In 2011, Fox News premiered a novel new show, ‘The Five.’ It was a panel show at 5 o’clock with five pundits whose opinions ranged from Wall Street conservative [Bolling] to 50-year-old frat-boy conservative [Gutfeld] to George W. Bush conservative [Perino] to conservative [Tantaros] to Fox liberal [Beckel].”

After introducing the show and its conceit, Stewart handed the baton to Samantha Bee, who delivered a stunning theatrical performance revealing that the story of “The Five” was a tale of love between Gutfeld and Perino. Bee fleshed out the argument with her own dramatic exploits interspliced with clips from “The Five.” Here’s her “nut graph,” if you will: Gutfeld is a bad boy, and Perino is a proper woman wary of saying even the word “sex” on air. Yet: “Greg and Dana were total opposites. They never should have been seated together. But once they were, [sound of explosion] electric!”

We won’t spoil the narrative that Bee unspools, other than to say that the dynamics she addresses are what makes “The Five” a compelling program. The jumble of personal subplots and fondness among panelists keep people tuned in, which helps account for the ratings. Yet no one tunes in quite as carefully as the “Daily Show,” as Bee’s skit demonstrates.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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