Fox News launched The Five in 2011 as a summer placeholder program while the network was figuring out the permanent 5 p.m. replacement for Glenn Beck. Fast-forward a decade, and the roundtable news talk show has become a highly-rated mainstay of the the network’s lineup.
The Five has been flying up the cable news rankings since the summer. It was the third-most-watched show on cable news in July, moved ahead of Hannity and into second place in August, held onto second place in September, and would make history in October as the No. 1 show on all of cable news, hauling in an average of 3.1 million total viewers in the 5 p.m. ET hour.
The Five had never finished a calendar month as the most-watched show on cable news prior to Oct. 2021.
We asked Fox News vp of weekend primetime and The Five Megan Albano for her thoughts on the show’s milestone ascent to No. 1, navigating talent exits, knowing when to tell the co-hosts to pull back a bit, as well as who could become the permanent replacement for Juan Williams, the show’s most-recent liberal co-host who left the program right before Memorial Day.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TVNewser: The Five has moved up the cable news ranks as 2021 has continued, culminating in a first place finish this past month. Why is this happening and what are you guys doing to keep the momentum going?
Albano: The best part about this, I think, is that we haven’t changed our formula. The Five is such a staple show, and I think why it’s been so successful recently is because we’re a reflection of our viewers and the country, and we’ve stayed true to that. We cover the topics that people want to hear, and what they’re concerned about, whether it’s the prices of goods at the grocery store, or vaccine mandates, or school issues. But we also still have fun, and I think that’s always important about The Five. There could be a heated debate going on between two or three of the panelists, but then somebody will go in quickly and interject a joke and bring it back to calm and a fun and happy place. I think that at a time for our viewers where everything seems to be chaotic, and there’s a lot of concerns, we still bring that fun element to it. I always like to say, “You don’t want steak for your appetizer, entrée and dessert. You want some sweets, here and there.” We really try to do that. There are obviously exceptions. Yesterday, we did the entire show on Election Day. But we really try to go into every show making sure there’s a range of topics, and that the audience is entertained and informed.
There are times when the conversation and debate can spiral out of control, with the liberal co-host often being the primary target. How do you know when to keep the conversation going, and when to pull back?
To answer the latter question first, I think the hosts have a good way of self-regulating. They know when the point has been made. They know when maybe it’s gone a little too far, and they step back, also. I think, though, that sometimes the conversations are just very good, and the people that we have on The Five are top-notch. They bring something new every day, whether it’s a new fact, or a new perspective, a point of view that you haven’t heard; you want that to breathe, and you want your audience to be able to hear what they have to say. There are a lot of times in the control room where we may say, “oh, gosh, we really need to go.” There are only five segments of the show with five people, they don’t have that much talk time, when it really comes down to it. But it’s just the feeling that you have, “this conversation is important to people at home, and the hosts are really into it right now, and so let’s just let it go.” The hosts’ conversation and what they’re talking about at the table, if they are passionate about it, it only makes for a better show.
It really goes from day to day, and segment to segment. Obviously, we never want it to get so heated where they’re talking over each other and then the audience can’t hear what anyone’s saying. When it gets to that point, that’s when the control may step in and say, “hey guys, no one’s opinion can be heard right now, no one’s voice can be heard because you guys are talking over each other.” But for the most part, when it’s two of the hosts going at it, you can always count on Greg [Gutfeld] or Jesse [Watters] to step in or whoever and say something that will break the ice. Especially for all of these hosts who have worked together for so many years, they know each other really well personally, and they are friends, and in the commercial breaks, there is no contentiousness. It is quite amazing how when the segment ends, that debate and that tension ends, and they just move on to the next topic.
The 5 p.m. timeslot isn’t easy. You’re going up against local news, and people are commuting home from work. (Although maybe not as much as they once were.) Why do you think The Five still performs well in what seems to be a tough hour?
I think that we do so well in this hour, specifically, because it is a good break in people’s day. Whether or not they just finished their workday, or they are commuting, or you think about the west coast, it’s 2 p.m. Maybe they’re going out to get their kids from school, it’s something that you can just put on, and it’s easy for them. They sit there, they watch people talking, they know they’re going to get a range of opinions, and they know they’re going to have fun. Obviously, we cover all the important stories, but there is some levity to the show, while covering these serious topics, and I think that people it’s a safe space for viewers and they have come to know the talent so well. They’re invested in the hosts and their personal lives. I think back to Dana [Perino] lost [her dog] Jasper and all the positive reactions she received. Over the years, our viewers have become family to us, and I think that they feel like they’re part of the show, and they’re sitting at the table with our hosts. So, I think it’s become appointment viewing, and they just enjoy it, whether they’re sitting at a table with their family watching it or sitting on the couch. Or it’s the conversation that they’re having with their spouses or their kids or their friends, it’s just a reflection of their lives. I think that has always been why the show has been so successful, but even more so recently, when there’s so much going on in the world.
You have had notable personnel changes over the years. In addition to Juan Williams most recently, there was the controversial exit of Eric Bolling, Bob Beckel, Kimberly Guilfoyle. You’ve been with The Five for a while, have there ever been concerns about the show bouncing back amid these changes over the past 10 years?
When we first launched, there was a rotation of the cast as well. I think that what we’ve learned is that The Five concept at its core is very strong. We’ve always known that you can put a variety of people in, and as long as the chemistry is right, and they all respect each other, we’re going to have a successful product at the end of the day. We’ve always seen this, going back to the early stages, whether someone was on vacation, or whether it was a holiday and people were off, or someone did leave the show. We never saw a hit in our ratings. It’s never really been a concern because The Five brand itself is so strong.
Juan left the show at the end of May. Will you settle on his permanent replacement (or replacements) anytime soon, or do you plan to continue with the rotating guest-panelist format for the foreseeable future?
As of now, we’re going to continue to keep a rotation. We are fortunate to have very strong contributors – Harold Ford Jr., Jessica Tarlov, Geraldo Rivera and Richard Fowler, who have been rotating in that seat for the last couple of months. I think that we’re just going to continue doing it because, obviously, it’s working for us. Don’t fix what’s not broken!