The O’Reilly Factor is a program that has been praised in this space in the past. Put aside the usual ideological stuff or save it for the comments section; the kudos for the show lies in its strategy around the final rundown and consistent performance from its host and regular guests night-in and night-out. The same praise has been bestowed to the progressive John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) here as well under the same premise: Content, presentation, execution…what works and why it resonates so well.
So what makes The Factor tick outside of its 18-year host and his opening “Talking Points Memo” segment, which so often creates buzz? For starters, the regular supporting cast (Bernie Goldberg, Juan Williams, Mary Katherine Ham, Kirsten Powers, Charles Krauthammer, etc.) is solid, with opinions diverse and unfiltered. As noted here before, echo chambers don’t make for compelling television.
The decision to rotate the same internal resources is the right play, as it allows the audience to count on certain Fox personalities joining on specific nights each week. And as you may have noticed, truly compelling guests are at a premium in cable news. As is chemistry. O’Reilly and his producers understand this and stick with the same rotation. And it works…as the show finishes as either the #1 or #2 show in cable news/on Fox every night as it enters its 18th year on the air. With all the programs we’ve seen come and go, that’s no small feat.
One other feature that is unique to cable news is the dry-humored “Watters World.” Hosted by 36-year-old Jesse Watters, the people-on-the-street-or-beach-are-disturbingly-misinformed-or-completely-clueless weekly package has quickly become one of the highlights of the show. The Trinity grad — through years of at-bats — plays the role of an understated inquisitor with strangers quite well. In the end, he knows his role is to not dominate any discussion and knows the interviewees are ultimately the stars of the segment.
But yesterday at a press conference for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (who hasn’t been immune to criticism in this space), Watters became the poor man’s version of a Benjy Bronk stunt on the Howard Stern Show. Watters used the presser to ask the mayor questions like why he won’t appear on The Factor or why he won’t respond the interview requests by the program (which apparently his office has). But the whole thing rang hollow and felt more awkward than amusing. Some ideas work, some don’t. Whatever this was supposed to accomplish fell into the latter category.
An O’Reilly Factor of the past would have gone ahead this kind of stunt with little regret. But it’s a different show now. The host has relatively mellowed and conducts more respectful, insightful and depending on the topic, relatively relaxed discussions (there are still exceptions, of course). In the process, he’s earned the kind of gravitas that is rewarded by landing interviews with sitting presidents, politicos of all stripes, big-time media personalities, and Hollywood stars who disagree with most of his political views.
Know this: No other host in cable news is invited on as many shows on the major networks — late night from Kimmel to Fallon to Letterman, mornings from GMA to The View — more than O’Reilly. There’s a reason Jon Stewart has forged an unofficial (and mutually beneficial) partnership with him. Simply put, he always has something interesting to say regardless of whether you agree or not, and knows how to make simple arguments that are easy for the viewer to absorb. Most importantly, he always rates. You don’t keep getting asked back if you don’t.
As for Watters, his career has moved beyond producing and just appearing weekly in primetime. He occasionally fills in on The Five as a co-host and is currently in the Outnumbered guy rotation. Both roles entail doing the lighter stuff, no doubt…but also require providing serious opinions on serious topics as well. All of that said, keep doing Watters World by all means…but crashing a press conference to ask a sitting mayor why he won’t appear on your cable news show is ill-advised and pointless at this juncture of his career. Time to graduate. If you must do a segment like this, send an intern next time instead.
No program is without its missteps. You would just think given the formula that has made The O’Reilly Factor the success it is today that it would know it’s much better than the nonsense we witnessed yesterday.
And that’s the memo.
Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV
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