I thought it was smart when Fox News promoted Megyn Kelly, an anchor with the singular ability to generate juicy cable news moments that appeal to the left and the right, to an evening slot. Ratings-wise, that seems to have been a good call for the network. But one of the things that makes Fox such a strong channel, purely from a business perspective, is its ability to develop new talent and new concepts. And the show the network dreamed up to replace Kelly’s in daytime has a flair of evil genius: In “Outnumbered,” a panel of women will debate news and pop culture with a token man.
Amanda Marcotte is absolutely right that “Outnumbered” lets Fox News double down (or maybe quadruple down) on its secondary purpose of showing off the women the network hires to read and debate the news. But the brilliance of the idea is more than skin deep.
In conception, “Outnumbered” is such an audacious act of trolling that I almost have to admire it. The setup is essentially a parody of what conservatives often accuse feminists of wanting to do to men: overwhelm them and shout them down as a sort of rhetorical reparations for years in a subordinate position. But because the man in question will rotate every week, rather than being part of the main cast, he will not have the same status as the women on the panel so the audience’s sympathies can remain with those core personalities. The ladies of Fox News will not have to risk appearing to be argumentative harpies by beating up on a man their viewers will actually be invested in.
The challenge for “Outnumbered,” though, is that the show’s ability to bring heat relies on the idea that men and women are actually in some sort of profound opposition to each other. By design, the man who shows up to be the minority opinion has to start and end the segment on a different page from the women who are there to argue with him. Given how much conservative opposition to feminism relies on the idea that men and women were in happy agreement until Gloria Steinem rode forth on a pale horse to spread dissension across the land, this is a bit of a change-up for Fox News.
But I am confident it will manage. This is the network that has turned the Benghazi attacks into the news cycle equivalent of renewable energy, the channel that sends Bill O’Reilly out to interview President Obama with the sole intention of generating clips that will feed its scandal-oriented coverage for weeks to come. If any bookers can find extreme guests who will make their hosts look eminently reasonable, it is the ones who work for Fox. I might suggest looking for men who get hysterical about minor grievances, who advocate for a return to a mode of courtship that involves clubs and caves, or who have made a hash of their efforts to be feminist allies. Maybe “Outnumbered” can make a regular of Roy Den Hollander, the New York anti-ladies’ night crusader, or get Hugo Schwyzer, the notorious college professor who, in between breakdowns, made a minor career as a self-proclaimed feminist writer, even as he stomped all over the women whose lives and issues he claimed to care so much about.
The debates between men and women that happen on “Outnumbered” may have little to do with the big issues of the day in American gender politics. But I would bet that the show will still be fabulously entertaining television.