Cable news provides ample comedic fodder for “The Daily Show,” and CNN has become increasingly intent on handing over sizable junks of its lineup to reality-oriented series. Comedy, however, has thus far been largely limited to the unintentional variety – at least, in the eight years since Fox News Channel took a flyer on “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” a satirical program from “24” co-creator Joel Surnow. Undaunted, Fox has waded back in with “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” whose one-hour premiere seemed more determined to be odd and vaguely surreal than funny or satirical.
Known for his quick and acerbic wit on Fox series like “Red Eye” and “The Five,” Gutfeld represented a logical choice for Fox News CEO Roger Ailes to take another stab at trying something a bit different in primetime. After the opening monologue, however – delivered from behind a desk, without an audience – the principal concern was what the host could possibly do to wring an entire hour (OK, about 42 minutes sans commercials) out of such slim material. In this case, a half-hour really would have been a boon to all concerned.
In the first poor decision, the series turned other Fox talent into props (there’s a reason most news people aren’t actors), with Gutfeld crashing the secret “host lounge.” That was followed by an extended rumination about what truly qualifies as evil, with Gutfeld seeking to make the point that the left demonizes conservatives when the term ought to be limited to inarguable examples, like the terrorist group ISIS burning a woman who refused to be raped.
“Torching a girl is a true war on women, unless you see it as the next renewable fuel,” Gutfeld said, demonstrating the difficulty in seeking to wring humor — or even pithy wordplay — from the grimness of current events.
Yet that opening might have in hindsight been the hour’s most successful sequence, compared to taped and shtick-y bits that included receiving interview tips from Colin Quinn; Gutfeld blacking out during an interview with Tucker Carlson; Gutfeld interviewing himself; and a man-on-the-street segment where, for once, those interviewed actually came up with the right answers, much to the chagrin of the correspondent. (Somehow, those responses never turn up during Jesse Watters’ “The O’Reilly Factor” fillers.)
Gutfeld did have some fun joking about the unwieldy size of the growing Republican roster of presidential contenders, but by the time he added Seattle’s Space Needle to the list, it was pretty clear identifying the show’s merits amounted to finding another kind of needle in the proverbial haystack.
Part of the genius of Fox News is that its branding – presenting itself as a truth-telling antidote to the bias of the “mainstream media” – essentially inoculates it from criticism. Those who would diminish or second-guess the network, in the eyes of staunch supporters, must therefore be motivated by partisan bile.
Moreover, Gutfeld clearly preached to the conservative choir by putting the threat from climate change on a par with men’s sandals, debating an animated wall that served as his “liberal panel” and closing with a not-so-veiled shot at what constitutes “edgy” fare on Comedy Central.
As noted, all the news channels have sought to avoid some of the vagaries associated with news cycles – and reel in some younger viewers – by offering original series. It’s just that so far, the chuckles elsewhere have been limited to, say, the more bizarre moments conjured by CNN’s Don Lemon.
Gutfeld likely has a bright future at Fox, even if this hour (which, with apologies to Surnow’s earlier series, felt twice that long) goes the way of the dinosaur. At least in this vehicle, though, the “Red Eye” and “The Five” host just didn’t look ready for primetime.