On Tuesday, Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld (Gutfeld!) got higher ratings than both one-note liberal hosts Stephen Colbert (The Late Show, CBS) and Jimmy Fallon (The Tonight Show, NBC). Gutfeld drew 2.1 million viewers to Colbert’s 1.9 million and Fallon’s 1.2 million. Even better, Gutfeld won in the coveted 25-54 age range with 434,000 viewers, beating out Colbert’s 423,000 and Fallon’s 354,000.
What must CBS and NBC be feeling to have their mighty networks beaten by Fox News, the frequent butt of their attempts at humor, and a comic right-wing pundit with a staff maybe 20 times smaller than their own?
Gutfeld’s triumph is deserved not because he’s more conservative than the other two, but because he’s much funnier. Colbert and Fallon used to be, before they became embarrassing Democratic shills. They don’t tell jokes, they tell wokes. They don’t earn laughter from the audience, they get clapter — a Pavlovian response signifying audience agreement with their political point. A few genuine chuckles are more rewarding than five full minutes of clapter. And Gutfeld works for every single one.
The (more or less) politically centrist Johnny Carson averaged about nine million viewers a night during his heyday, before the era of demassified media. That splintering of mass media ultimately led to, as Robert Tracinski explored in 2017 at the Federalist: Why Late Night Hosts Like Jimmy Kimmel Are Suddenly So Political.
This is also my theory about the big entertainment awards shows like the Oscars and the Emmys. If the big, broad, general audience you used to have is gone, and deep down you think it’s never coming back, then why not make a harder bid for the loyalty of the smaller audience you’ve got left? In a time when the entertainment industry is (or thinks it is) a one-party state with no dissenters, you had better echo that politics back to your base.
What were once cultural institutions with a broad, bipartisan audience are becoming niche players with a narrow fan base. They no longer view partisan politics as a dangerous move that will shrink their audience. Instead, they’re using partisan politics as a lure to secure the loyalty of their audience, or what is left of it. Not that it’s going to work over the long term, because people who want to have their biases confirmed will just watch the five-minute YouTube clip Chris Cillizza links to the next day.
h/t Ed Driscoll