Fox News is rolling out a lot of new programming these days. Laura Ingraham, Shannon Bream, Harris Faulkner and Dana Perino recently landed solo weekday shows. “Fox & Friends First” will add a second hour, beginning Monday.
Levin is not a political news anchor or commentator, and many of his interview subjects do not come from the world of politics, either. Sunday's guest happens to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but others include Judge Judy Sheindlin, Mark Cuban, Hulk Hogan, Tyler Perry and Martha Stewart.
In a time when Donald Trump is president, however, Levin's list of celebrity bookings looks like a roster of potential candidates for 2020. (Hey, you never know.) That's why the Sunday-night therapy session officially known as “Objectified” could be so significant. It could be an interesting hour with a popular entertainer — or a psychological profile of the next White House contender.
“Mark Cuban may well run for president,” said Levin, who already has interviewed the “Shark Tank” star and Dallas Mavericks owner for an upcoming episode. “How did all of that happen? Well, you can trace this back to Mark Cuban when he's 8 years old, and there are reasons for why he is who he is. And I think you get a much better understanding after watching an hour of this, when you hear him kind of connect the dots of his life, to say why he is now at a point where he may end up running for president.”
“Objectified” derives its name from the show's format. Interviewees select seven objects that represent chapters in their lives.
“When they have something that they can really connect to — that might be emotional, that might be moving — they tend to open up differently than if you just sit there and fire questions at 'em from the beginning,” Levin told me.
You might recall that the pilot episode of “Objectified” starred Trump, when he was president-elect, in November. (The first full season debuted on Sept. 17.) After the Trump episode aired, Variety television critic Sonia Saraiya wrote that “Objectified” is “the puff piece to end all puff pieces” and “a stellar example of the kind of television you can make if you have zero interest in journalistic standards.”
I asked whether Levin considers himself a journalist. Sean Hannity interviews newsmakers every night on Fox News but calls himself a talk-show host, not a journalist. I was curious how Levin would classify himself.
He answered before I could even finish the question.
“I am a journalist,” Levin said. “I've worked in news for decades. You know, I was an investigative reporter for CBS in L.A., for NBC in L.A., for decades. And TMZ is journalism. We employ the same skills at TMZ as you do. Stories have to be accurate. They have to be researched. They have to be fair.”
“Objectified,” however, “is not really journalism,” according to Levin. “This is a different kind of show. I don't view the show as a reporter trying to pull facts out of somebody. That's not the point of the show.”
John Finley, Fox News' senior vice president for development and production, said in a statement that the show “expands and diversifies our weekend programming, providing our audience with a more personal and in-depth look at some of the biggest names in news, sports and entertainment. Our goal is to find new and successful ideas that fit into a top-rated lineup, and we think the program presents the audience a fresh way to look at individuals with compelling stories they can't get anywhere else.”
The contention is that a show need not be journalistic to be newsworthy. Given the influence of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and “Saturday Night Live” on contemporary political discourse, it is hard to argue against it.