How Greg Gutfeld Turned Fox News Channel Into A Late-Night Ratings Juggernaut (2024)

Monday, May 2, marked an era-defining milestone for CNN, as new boss Chris Licht formally took the reins at the news network and now attempts a reboot after months of scandal and chaos. With the imprimatur of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Licht is expected to usher in changes that include, among other things, tilting the editorial pendulum at CNN away from opinion-heavy resistance programming. He won’t be able to change everything, though.

Like the way CNN is all but guaranteed to remain a favorite punching bag for Fox News Channel’s late-night host Greg Gutfeld, whose 11 pm show “Gutfeld!” has been a ratings powerhouse since its launch a little over a year ago now. Monday, by the way, was an important day for Gutfeld as well, marking the debut of a newer, expanded studio for his show — the second-most-watched late-night program in all of broadcast and cable.

Gutfeld, who also pulls double-duty as a panelist on Fox’s “The Five,” is as aware as anyone that Licht began his reign on Monday. Because there are times when the Fox News veteran has posted such strong ratings over the past year that his still young late-night show has actually drawn more eyeballs than CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Which is where Licht worked as showrunner, before decamping to CNN.

During a broadcast of “The Five” last week, following CNN’s announcement that its new corporate parent is pulling the plug on the CNN+ streaming service, Gutfeld could barely contain his glee, lobbing one broadside after another at the network. And at Chris Wallace in particular, the erstwhile Fox News host who left his anchor’s chair at Fox for a job with the network’s chief cable news enemy.

“The Democratic bench is thinner than Chris Wallace’s demo reel from CNN+,” Gutfeld quipped at one point during that broadcast, in typical Gutfeldian fashion. Edgy and irreverent, with snark that often coincides with a favorite theme on the right: That the media are a bunch of joyless scolds.

Late-night winner

In fact, you could argue that at least some of Gutfeld’s success (an average of almost 2 million viewers in April alone, topping Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon) is best understood within the context of missteps and ratings decline at CNN. To say nothing of the ideological like-mindedness across most of the late-night landscape.

To the extent that CNN’s most high-profile anchors like Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper have a base of loyal viewers, for example, you’d assume it’s because their viewership appreciate the kind of journalism delivered by hosts like those. Even so, one of the oddities about CNN+ was the fact that it sought money from subscribers in exchange for giving them something entirely different from those hosts — a parenting show from Cooper, and a book club from Tapper.

At Fox, meanwhile, the top brass saw an opportunity inherent in “The Five” (the most-watched show on cable news) and decided to turn two of its panelists into force multipliers for the network. Giving viewers even more of what they already liked from “The Five’s” Jesse Watters (who now hosts his own 7 pm ET primetime show on Fox) and Gutfeld — who insisted to me that his late-night Fox show gets better ratings than established rivals including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” because audiences are tired of being lectured.

“People don’t go to entertainment for homework,” Gutfeld told me. “You don’t pay for homework. And it feels like there’s been this modern kind of woke culture where everything is being informed with a lesson you have to learn — it’s like, I don’t need to be lectured. I didn’t come here to be told how this is oppression and I have to, like, learn about these things. I came to be entertained.”

“Gutfeld!” marked its one-year anniversary earlier this month, on April 5. That same week, the show had its most-watched week to-date, with almost 2.2 million viewers — outpacing even Colbert’s show on two days out of that 7-day period.

“If you’ve been watching my stuff,” Gutfeld continued to me, in a recent phone interview following his show’s 1-year mark, “I spend a lot of time talking about media. Because I know the internal flaws of it.

“I know what’s wrong with things. Because I was in there and knew who I was working with. I know the assumptions that reporters and editors have, and how they try to please their peers.”

“We’re on your side”

That’s a reference to Gutfeld’s past life as a writer and editor at magazines like “Men’s Health” before moving into broadcast at Fox.

“The Gutfeld show became successful, because it came at exactly the right time.” he said. “People have had it with being told that every institution in your life is somehow oppressor vs. oppressed.

“The thing we did was we said we’re no different than you are. We’re looking at this stuff with a jaundiced eye. We get it. We’re on your side. So, I think it’s a combination of we’re entertainment, and we’re not homework.”

In addition to a new studio for his show, “Gutfeld!” on Monday also welcomed back a live in-studio audience. And shortly before delivering the night’s monologue, built around an uprising over Apple’s AAPL return-to-office push, Gutfeld used the first few seconds of his show to kill two birds with one stone:

He joked about the new studio and his audience’s return, while also taking another jab at CNN’s Wallace.

“We’re in a brand new studio — although I did find one of Chris Wallace’s old toupees in my dressing room,” Gutfeld deadpanned.

The monologue about the iPhone maker that he then launched into, meanwhile, is a neat encapsulation of why, over the course of his show’s first year, he’s drawn ratings that outpace CNN and MSNBC together in the same time slot. Gutfeld’s rant, specifically, was inspired by the dissemination of an open letter from Apple workers claiming that Apple CEO Tim Cook’s mandate of a hybrid return-to-office policy is effectively racist — that the push will make Apple “younger, whiter and male-dominated.”

Gutfeld: “We’re the people having fun”

It’s the kind of story tailor-made to be put through the “Gutfeld!” wringer.

“I’m not a cut-and-dried conservative,” Gutfeld told me. “I’m not a cut-and-dried Republican — I’m not even a cut-and-dried libertarian. I don’t even know what I am.

“My show is deliberately surreal and absurd, because I’m absurd. I call it the Dean Wormer effect. Dean Wormer was the bad guy in “Animal House” and was always kind of the hood ornament of what a Republican was, and everybody else has fun, right? … My goal was always to flip that. So that we’re the people having fun, and the left, Democrats, are the scolds. You see that now, with even Bill Maher saying, my god, my side is humorless and the other side is having fun.”

How Greg Gutfeld Turned Fox News Channel Into A Late-Night Ratings Juggernaut (2024)


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