Jon Stewart has plenty of targets, but the one constant is Fox News. The regularity with which he skewers the cable news channel -- for something Sean Hannity said or a "Fox & Friends" segment gone wrong -- borders on an obsession. Roger Ailes once said Fox News was "the only reason (Stewart's) a success." Stewart might not disagree with that entirely.
But there is one Fox show Stewart said he's obsessed with -- and in a good way. "A positive kind of obsession. It's not like heroin," as he described it. It's "The Five."
Fox News' 5 p.m. five-person panel show, which airs its 1,000th episode Wednesday, is an anomaly on the network for that reason (Howard Stern is also a fan). It debuted in 2011 with some big cable news shoes to fill, taking the slot left by Glenn Beck. Beck drew more than 2 million viewers when his show aired, but he also drew controversy, including a 2009 advertisers boycott over Beck's commentary on race. "The Five" has managed to draw a similarly sized audience without the backlash.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the show averages 2.1 million viewers, and beats popular shows like "NCIS" and "Spongebob Squarepants." While 5 p.m. isn't peak TV viewing time -- people are still at work, coming home from work or taking the kids to soccer practice -- more people watch "The Five" than primetime shows on CNN and MSNBC. It's even beaten"The O'Reilly Factor," the No. 1 cable news show, on at least 23 occasions.
The show benefits from its ensemble format, and it's succeeded where other panel shows like CNN's reboot of "Crossfire" (canceled in 2014 a little more than a year after it was resurrected) and MSNBC's "The Cycle" (with nearly a 10th of "The Five's" viewers) couldn't. Rather than an opinionated anchor telling viewers what to think or combative guests arguing on a split screen, it's more like how political discussions work in the real world: people sitting around a table talking (and sometimes disagreeing) about the news.
Dana Perino worked in the Bush administration and self-censors any words rated anything other than PG, while Greg Gutfeld delivers comedic conservative monologues, and Bob Beckel, a member of the Jimmy Carter administration and Walter Mondale's campaign director, is the liberal. Although the panel tends to lean right, it's not as if a guest from say, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" or "The Cycle" would feel out of place.
"The Five" plays like a conversation among friends who viewers invite into their living rooms -- something seen more often in morning shows, local news, and on "The View" than on cable news. It's more relaxed than the network's prime-time opinion shows, but more serious and less prone to becoming viral anti-Fox fodder than "Fox & Friends."
And yes, more popular than Spongebob.