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'Fox & Friends' — a Cut Above

Monday, 28 Jan 2008 08:51 AM

By Doug Wead

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If he doesn’t soon get his own magazine “S” and he doesn’t rule an empire to rival Oprah Winfrey sometime within the next 10 years, then there is surely no justice in the world, for Steve Doocy of the hit morning show "Fox and Friends" is hands down the most talented man on television. At least in my humble opinion.

"Fox and Friends" is the popular morning show of the Fox News Network and it has transformed a tired old local newscaster formula into one of its own personality and it is turning out to be pure gold.

The weatherman, that’s Doocy, sits stage left and the sports announcer, that’s Brian Kilmeade, sits right and a brainy, sexy blonde, Gretchen Carlson, perches in the middle. So far, a predictable, pedantic, parochial mix. But there the similarities to your local newscaster team end.

The personalities of the three Foxes have taken the formula to a higher level and all three have morphed into figures far more potent than their original assignment. They smirk, get a tear in the eye, poke, and seethe with cynicism all at the same time. And most different of all they refuse to take themselves seriously.

After they rough their guests up a bit, all in good humor, they are actually cordial and self-effacing.

Kilmeade sometimes plays the dumb jock but that is “dumb like a fox” as in George W. Bush is dumb too but got elected president twice. Kilmeade’s not afraid to say aloud what most viewers are thinking and ask what many of us want to know.

Occasionally he breaks into a frat boy grin to tip us off that his question was only for the benefit of moving the story along. But hey, we knew. It’s quite a shtick.

For several years, the blonde in the middle was E.D. Hill, alternatively sexy, brainy, and provocative, with a political orientation that was as independently hers as Bill O’Reilly’s is his.

She was a refreshing Methodist oasis in a universally Catholic network. But E.D. Hill has moved onto her own show and the slot is now ably filled by Gretchen Carlson, another blonde “super woman.” Carlson sometimes takes the lead on a story, sometimes referees fights between the two frat boys on either side and often coquettishly becomes the victim as Doocy and Kilmeade pile on.

Doocy, the weatherman, sits stage left and punctuates the show with a humor that is razor sharp, often totally spontaneous and sometimes so complex that it is triple, even quadruple entendre. Some of his last spins may be facial or hand gestures so the blind definitely miss something listening to this show. And no one since Johnny Carson has made better use of that dead pan, intimate look into the camera that makes the viewer feel Doocy is closer to them than his own colleagues on the set.

Sometimes the look says, “These guys don’t get it do they?” Sometimes it says, “Boring, don’t you agree? Time to move on.” Or more often, “Am I the only one who caught that or did you see it too?”

Four years ago, probably as part of a new contract, the trio at "Fox and Friends" began turning out books. Kilmeade’s tome, "The Games Do Count," won plenty of five star reviews.

It was an excellent book, with stories from heads of state to the all time greats in American sports. And he has already produced another, "It’s How You Play the Game," which may be even better.

Using a similar formula, E.D. Hill wrote "Going Places, How America’s Best and Brightest Got Started Down the Road to Life," a practical, inspiring account that includes first person input from presidents to sports stars to billionaire tycoons. Like Kilmeade’s books, Hill’s hit all the best-seller lists.

I watched this unfolding drama wondering what on earth Steve Doocy would write.

The release of each book was staggered, of course, so that each author could milk the sales without competition from their colleagues and Doocy’s turn was approaching.

Humor does not translate well to the page.

The best-selling books by humorists are ones with good titles and nothing more. In the 1960s Jack Douglas wrote one entitled "My Brother Was an Only Child."

It sold so well, it was immediately followed by an even better selling sequel, "Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver." But both books became best sellers to give away for a laugh at the title, not to actually read. It would all be too risky for Doocy, a crap shoot. And if Doocy’s first book didn’t sell his career as an author would be over before it started.

Perhaps, Doocy should write a brainy, well referenced history of weather disasters, I thought, from the San Francisco earthquake to the Indonesian Tsunami. It would be unexpected. Like the whinny, gosh and golly voice of Jim Nabors suddenly breaking into a glorious baritone solo.

In this case, the jokester writing a scholarly, intellectual account, the definitive book on weather history. But it would be very hard work. He would need a team of researchers, and while television personalities routinely need ghostwriters, Doocy is too anal to let a project like that run so far and so deep on its own.

Worst of all it would take a lot of time. And time is not something television allows. Doocy had a slot and when it was his time he had to fill it with a book.

Steve Doocy’s family mantra, as declared in E.D. Hill’s Going Places, is “There’s always a way to do something. Our job is to figure out how.” When Doocy announced his book on marriage I groaned aloud. Of course, it was a perfect fit, a no brainer in hindsight. Marriage books are so popular and such predictable sellers that some newspapers and magazines have toyed with the idea of exempting them from their best-seller lists altogether, something they already do with cookbooks or books publishes by religious imprints. And this is one important, serious subject that needs heavy doses of humor to grease the skids.

Steve Doocy’s "Mr. And Mrs. Happy Handbook: Everything I Know About Love And Marriage (With Corrections By Mrs. Doocy)" hit all the best-seller lists and lived up to the standards set by Kilmeade and Hill.

There are a number of good books pouring forth from the "Fox and Friends fountain," not the least of which have been written by their talented judicial analyst, the prolific Judge Andrew Napolitano but as of now, Doocy’s may have been their all time best seller.

Fox and Friends have filled the vacuum, going about as far as a cable morning show can go. Its potential viewing audience is limited by cable outlets so "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America" still command the greater audiences.

Both are great shows; I have been on the former three times this year and on the latter twice; they are the gold standard and still get the first shot at a big story.

Sly Stallone, for example, promoting his new movie, did his Matt Lauer segment first last week, but the trio at Fox knows and understands that and when they get their shot, usually the next day or so, their good humored antics always strip away something deeper than the public relations scripted version.

You dare not miss the "Fox and Friends" interview of the big story or you may miss another big story.

I have enjoyed my segments on this successful show, usually commenting on something to do with presidential history or presidential families or the political races, and I always get a slew of fun e-mails afterward. But I cannot help feeling each time that I am experiencing an exciting bit of television history that is passing, that cannot go on forever.

They have become television giants. Kilmeade has turned into a consummate interviewer, Carlson brooks no nonsense and often peels off an unexpected piece to an otherwise predictable daily news story and Doocy can slice to the bone as efficiently as Tom Russert and make his victim chuckle while doing so.

Human nature being what it is and the ego having the hunger that it has and television moving as fast as it is, this will not last forever, so we should all enjoy it while it does.

Someday we will all look back and talk about the chemistry they once had on "Fox and Friends" and bemoan the fact that no one is doing it that well any more but of course by then, no network will be able to afford all three of these giants on the same news show.

Doug Wead, presidential historian, is The New York Times best-selling author of "All the Presidents’ Children." He wrote biographies for both the Reagan and Bush campaigns and served as special assistant to the president in the Bush, senior White House. He has served as an adviser on evangelical matters to two presidents. http://dougwead.wordpress.com/.

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