“Fox & Friends” has long been the most-watched cable-news program in the morning slot, but it’s one particular set of eyeballs that has brought the program to new relevance in the current news cycle.
President Donald Trump, who used to have a recurring segment on the program, is now an avid viewer, and what hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade say each morning has the potential to start a White House tweet-storm. In the case of certain Kilmeade remarks, the president’s reaction isn’t always a happy one.
But the hosts can’t just focus on one audience member. They have to also play to the broader viewership. As part of Variety’s look at the transformation of morning programs, Doocy and Earhardt spoke about the show right after a broadcast in a cafe located inside Fox Corp. headquarters in New York, while Kilmeade spoke several hours later after finishing some radio duties. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity. Below, the trio discuss how the Fox News Channel mainstay has evolved over time, and consider the comfort provided by the show’s signature piece of furniture.
Variety: Morning shows used to be valued for their ability to ease viewers into the day. If you look across the board, there’s no more easing, just due to the news cycle. ‘Fox & Friends’ had long been known for having a relaxed, folksier demeanor. How has the tone of the show changed to accommodate such an influx of big news stories each morning?
Steve Doocy: I think it depends on the day. The show in the beginning was – remember the news wheel, ‘Give us 15 minutes, we’ll give you the world?” The show, which ran from 7 to 9, was a news wheel. Every 15 minutes, you’d repeat. They figured no one was watching, so you have to do everything you can to get people to watch. This was in 96, in the beginning. It was like that for about a year, year and a half. Then they decided to make it more personality-based and lighter. We did that with some success – until September 11. And that just changed everything. We didn’t run a commercial for a couple of weeks. It was just non-stop really serious news, and so many people will come up to me, and I’m sure Ainsley gets the same thing: ‘I started watching your channel on September 11. And I never stopped.’…
Ainsley Earhardt: I will say the news has gotten more serious after 9/11. We are covering terrorism and we are covering wars and Washington right now is a lot more serious. We don’t’ have those opportunities as much as we used to to maybe throw in some fun segments, but you go with the flow, you go with the news cycle. That’s why we were hired. We are hired to cover what;’s news and what’s right now.
Brian Kilmeade: In the Trump era, there are three major stories every day. It used to be one big story every three days.
Variety: There can be times when guests get very worked up over politics. I’ve seen Newt Gingirch call Nancy Pelolsi ‘stupid’ and Dan Bongino go off on The Washington Post over a headline about the former ISIS leader. Do you think the viewer wants a civil show or is looking for more rock-em sock-em conversation?
Doocy: I always thought that it was a tender time of the day. You’re just waking up. You want it nice and easy. But what we have noticed is that whenever we do segments that are louder, at a hotter temperature – you know what? It kind of works. I think if we did three, four hours of that, it would wear people out. So we have a little of this and a little of that. It’s like a variety show.
Variety: Didn’t you correct Kid Rock a few months ago on air?
Doocy: Yes, I did. In Nashville. He went over the line and we just, you know…
Variety: Do you have a barometer in your head saying, ‘That’s as far as this can go’?
Earhardt: We are the last line of defense.
Doocy: If something is inappropriate, we have to fix it as quickly as we can
Earhardt: It’s our show. It’s our job to do that…We are human beings, You don’t have to say something about someone that’s crossing the line.
Kilmeade: Yeah, I feel if some people are making inappropriate remarks, that’s one thing, but it rarely happens. If you’re passionate about something, you don’t need me to tell you not to be passionate or to check your passion….We book Newt Gingirch or Dan Bongino because we want to know what they are thinking. They are passionate. We do have debates, but I think most people are civil.
Variety: How much more work or other work are you doing in a multimedia world?
Earhardt: We started Fox Nation, and we all have a role. It’s a wonderful way to reach our viewers. And the streaming service allows for longer formats, which allows us to be ourselves. Steve has written cookbooks and so he’s able to have a cooking show on there…Brian is doing a segment about how America was made, bridges and buildings that are significant. For me, my faith is important to me. I have this Bible study.
Variety: And you do an online program after the TV show wraps.
Doocy: Now it goes straight to Fox Nation
Kilmeade: I’m doing a lot more…I’m able to take some of the topics that stood up over the three-hour show and bring it to the radio show, or fill in for someone or be a guest for Dana [‘Perino], or be on ‘The Five’ or be the guy on ‘Outnumbered.’…To me, it’s fun. It’s enjoyable
Variety: Ratings have increased in the current news cycle. Have you given any thought to what might happen if there’s a change in the White House?
Doocy: Well, ever since 9./11, ‘Fox & Friends’ has been the number-one show. That means we were number one with George Bush We were number one with two terms of Barack Obama. And we’ve been number one with this guy. I think it’s less about the White House and more about the actual program.
Kilmeade: Well, I get that question so many times. ‘Clinton isn’t in the White House. How would your ratings go?’
Variety: Everyone knows President Trump watches the show. Does it add any pressure to your job knowing that he’s watching and might comment or cheer or call you out?
Earhardt: It doesn’t for me. Whenever I have to speak in front of an audience, I look out and see the crowd and it can be daunting. It can be overwhelming, a little nerve wracking. But when I’m in front of those cameras, all I see are those cameras and I’m having a conversation with my close friends…. We have done stories where Brian will say, ‘I disagree.’ I might say I see both sides. Steve might say I agree or vice-versa. We try to cover all sides. We just try to be ourselves. We are honest with our feelings.
Kilmeade: It really doesn’t. I feel zero pressure….It doesn’t shape how we feel or what I say. If you’ve noticed or you’ve Googled me, there are a couple of things I’ve said that kind of tick him off, but I have to be honest…If I feel positively about every policy of his, what credibility do I have? If I feel positively about every policy he has, that means none of it matters…I think I am doing my job.
Variety: Is the curvy couch actually comfortable?
Doocy: My problem is I don’t know how to put my feet. I can’t put them flat so I will put one foot on top of the other.
Earhardt: Since my legs are not as long, it works for me.
Kilmeade: I will pay to get better foam in my section of the couch. I believe Pete Hegseth sits there on weekends. He has me beat by about 30 pounds. By the time he’s done, there’s a crater.