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When The Five premiered eight years ago today, it was supposed to be a summer replacement show meant to hold the 5 p.m. hour on a temporary basis as Fox News figured out how to replace Glenn Beck, who had formerly held the time slot.
The program was launched by the network’s late founder Roger Ailes, and featured a revolving door of FNC talent, including Dana Perino, Bob Beckel, Eric Bolling, Juan Williams, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greg Gutfeld and Andrea Tantaros.
Perino is still on the program, and recalls the exact moment she got the news that a panel show would be given a trial run in the 5 p.m. hour, and she would be a part of it.
“I had just returned from Africa, where I had just been on a trip for the Broadcasting Board of Governors under President Obama,” Perino told TVNewser by phone earlier this week. “My husband and I had lived in DC at the time, but I had been coming up [to New York] with increasing frequency to do other shows.”
Despite that experience on shows like Hannity and Megyn Kelly‘s 1-3 p.m. program, Perino wasn’t sure she wanted to be involved with a six-week show airing in the summer, which isn’t the most pleasant of times in New York (weather-wise).
However, her husband was successfully able to persuade her to do the show, and the rest is history. The Five became a permanent part of the Fox News lineup on October 3, 2011.
The Five is the most-watched program in the 5 p.m. hour on all of cable TV this year to-date, averaging 2.5 million viewers and 377,000 in the A25-54 demo. The show has also become one of the most time-shifted on the network, and one of the few cable news programs that’s been delivering year-over-year audience growth as of late.
We spoke with two of the original hosts, Perino and Gutfeld, about how The Five has evolved over the eight years and remained successful despite controversial personnel changes.
This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity, from two separate interviews.
TVNewser: At what point did you realize the show was a hit? When did things click?
Gutfeld: I think when they started calling us up about our salaries! That’s when I knew the show’s going well, because they wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t think we were going to be around.
It’s one of those feelings you get: I think there was just a natural chemistry and I felt that it was kind of palpable. You could see it and you could feel it. I know maybe within the first month, it’s not just a summer replacement.
Dana, your husband thought it would be a hit four weeks in. Did you believe that as well?
Perino: No, I didn’t. And I understand better now how management works, in terms of figuring out television. You can have a sense that something’s going to work, but you need to give it a little time to make sure. Four weeks in was a little too soon, but it all worked out. We started July 11, 2011, and Peter and I moved into our apartment Nov. 1.
Every show seems to have growing pains, whether it’s in terms of chemistry, overall production, etc. Do you recall any early issues or kinks you had to work out that eventually made the show better?
Perino: A lot of the elements of the show are still the same. We learned pretty early on to avoid crosstalk at the table. If we are all talking over each other and interrupting each other, then no one listening on the radio or watching at home can hear a thing that we’re saying.
Learning not to step on each other has been important. Also, you get a feel for things. Like you know if Greg Gutfeld has just thought of some hilarious analogy that he wants to make. It’s a feeling at the table, and you’ll want to give him that opportunity because it’s going to make the audience either laugh or say, “Wow, that’s a great point. That was on my mind, but I couldn’t put it into words like he did.” I do think that crosstalk is really important.
Gutfeld: I’m trying to remember the first couple of weeks. I know that I didn’t say very much. My job was just to do a monologue. I thought my role specifically was to be like the court jester that came in towards the end of the show and do like a 90-second thing; but that ended up evolving into me being more of a regular panelist. I wasn’t just the class clown. Personally, that is what evolved for me.
In terms of the show, I think we deliberately look at all the things in the world that you could talk about. I wouldn’t call us a political talk show. We felt like we could talk about anything. I think that might have been an evolution away from doing all politics, to doing the kind of stuff you might see in daytime TV but with our spin, our intelligence and our humor.
You have had notable personnel changes over the years. There was the exit of Eric Bolling which was controversial, Bob Beckel, Kimberly Guilfoyle… Have there ever been concerns about the show bouncing back amid these changes over the past eight years?
Perino: We have benefited over the years from having many different voices, but even with all of these changes our 5 p.m. hour has remained No. 1 in the timeslot I believe every day since it began. The structure of the show and the allegiance of our fans–not just to Fox News Channel, but to The Five specifically—ensures that our fans are willing to go through changes with us. It’s also one thing I have come to expect, it’s that change is inevitable, and you have to roll with it.
Gutfeld: Never. The ratings are as strong now as they ever have been, and we have an incredibly dedicated audience. They show up, and I think that’s as long as the show maintains its authenticity. I think that’s what’s missing on the other networks. We are what we are. Even when we’ve had these changes–when you look at someone like Jesse [Watters], what you see is what you get. He’s a self-deprecating guy, and that is incredibly necessary on the show; for people to make fun of each other. There’s always been a strong element of playful teasing.
When anyone asks me the secret to The Five, I give them the secret, which is that people tease each other. However, it’s almost never replicated on any other show. I think people in television take themselves too seriously to allow for you to make fun of them. When I did [former Fox News overnight show] Red Eye, all we did was make fun of each other because none of us were in TV. I was a magazine editor and it was obvious we didn’t know what we were doing.
Everyone at The Five came from something else. Dana [Perino] was at the White House, Jesse was a producer, he wasn’t in front of the camera, he was behind. Juan [Williams], a journalist.
So, I think at The Five, we don’t see ourselves as anything special. We’re not the stereotypical anchorman type. But that allows us to constantly make fun of each other. If Dana and I hadn’t hit it off by insulting each other in the first three months, it wouldn’t have been a real show.
Are there any kinds of stories you’re doing these days that you never would have thought about doing eight years ago?
Perino: Let’s look at this from my perspective: I was the White House press secretary, and all of a sudden we’re talking about cultural issues and things that I had never given my personal opinion on ever before. I really could at The Five. At the table, I would say Greg Gutfeld, and then the support that I got from producers and management, especially Suzanne Scott, who had been in charge of talent before she was promoted to CEO. They gave me a little bit of time to get comfortable with my own voice, and if they hadn’t been able to do that, I wouldn’t be doing any of the other things that I’m doing now. There wouldn’t be The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino. I wouldn’t have the segment with Tucker [Carlson] every other Wednesday night. I really credit them for allowing me to figure out how I could express myself and being comfortable with that because for a long time, I was so cautious because I didn’t know if the show was going to work. Was I going to have to go back and have a PR business? And so, I really thank them for that because it changed my life.
The 5 p.m. timeslot is tough. You’re going up against local news. People are commuting home from work. Why do you think The Five still performs well amid such a challenging timeslot?
Perino: I believe that we’re the most-DVRed show in all of Fox News, and that’s been consistent for a long time. If you notice, at the end of our show for many years we say: “Don’t forget to set your DVRs. Never miss an episode of The Five. Special Report is up next.” I think our viewers are concerned that if they miss an episode of The Five, they’re not going to be able to catch up because the show builds on the previous show. Something we might talk about on Monday, we’ll continue to talk about through the week leading up til Friday, and we might just have to reference it.
For the first time in my professional career, I don’t have strong longing to do anything else. I really love what I do.
Gutfeld: It has a lot to do with the network. When I look at other networks, I see them as “a network,” and I see Fox as “a relationship.” Fox is a relationship between the viewers and its shows.
They can count on us being there at 5 o’clock, and we can count on them tuning in and watching. If we have a bad show or if they get angry or if they don’t like what someone says, they’ll still show up the next day.
When I was growing up I probably that with early [David] Letterman. It didn’t matter what he did, I just had to watch. Even when there are changes on the show, it’s still strong. It competes with prime time shows, it beats prime time shows, but at 5 o’clock.
Our competition is people in their cars trying to get home as well as good weather. If we were a couple hours later, who knows?