"The Five" has long been an outlier in cable news, both in ratings and occasional controversy.
The daytime show was initially an experiment, but it developed a loyal following.
Longtime hosts Jesse Watters and Dana Perino spoke with Insider on its 10th anniversary.
Stretched almost beyond recognition, head-to-toe portraits of Fox News hosts Dana Perino and Jesse Watters tower above newly returned tourists and office workers outside of the network's Sixth Avenue headquarters in Manhattan.
More than a dozen floors above, Watters and Perino sat down in a conference room to discuss the 10th anniversary of their show, "The Five," an unusually lighthearted and slightly raucous panel show with - you guessed it - five hosts.
The longtime co-hosts have some of the most loyal fans across cable news and conservative media, despite their show airing at 5 p.m. "The Five" has been the most watched cable news program in its hour since it launched 10 years ago in both overall ratings and the highly coveted 25 to 54 age cohort, averaging over 2.6 million total viewers in the second quarter of 2021, according to Nielsen ratings.
Watters and Perino spoke to Insider about the show's evolution over the past decade and how they view their responsibilities as cable news hosts in a polarized country.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Insider's Jake Lahut: If you could go back to 10 years ago when you were starting the show, what's one thing you would tell yourself about what would happen over the next decade? Both for the show and just you personally.
Dana Perino: I think that for me, I was a [Fox News] contributor, but that was only one part of several things that I did in my day. So I had my own public relations business called Dana Perino Communications. I was Senate confirmed as a Barack Obama appointee on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which was actually a lot more work than you think, because you oversee Voice of America and all those things. And I loved that from the foreign policy standpoint, because I was just coming out of the White House [as the press secretary for former President George W. Bush].
And my favorite thing to do every day, out of all of those things, was if Fox called and ask if I could do a hit on somebody's show.
When "The Five" started, it was just supposed to be five weeks, temporary show. That's what they said, you know, come from July 11th to Labor Day, and they thought that they would launch whatever show is going to replace Glenn Beck at 5 p.m.
So I thought - when you asked me that question, like, what would I wish that I had known - in a way I wish I had known that I would be able to do this as a career and not have all of these pivots, because I was pretty reserved and reluctant to rock any boats, or be funny, or get myself possibly canceled.
Jesse Watters: So I came on four years ago and had never been a co-host or an anchor. I came from the street [the "Watters World" recurring segment from Bill O'Reilly's show]. So this was pretty fresh, but what I've learned - and it's almost, like, just this last year by having nothing else to do because of COVID - I've started really developing sources. And I hadn't done that before. So now, if we're doing a topic, I have like three or four or five people I can just call who are experts in that field, an energy guy, a foreign policy guy, maybe an immigration person, and I can text or hop on the phone and say, what's the deal. And they can give me great background. And then I can present my commentary with a little bit more on the ground, factual information that no one else really has.
Lahut: So in broad strokes, how do you view the role of humor on the show? The rest of cable news can be very doom and gloom, a little ominous, often a bit angry.
Perino: I just had to figure out a way to express my own opinion, because for 20 years, my career had been speaking on behalf of somebody else, which I was very comfortable doing. But there was a shield there. Right? It just took a while for me to get comfortable with that. But I think that being at that table where everyone had a lot of mutual respect for each other's backgrounds, and then adding that lightness where we didn't take ourselves that seriously, the issue seriously and our job seriously. But we were able to have fun.
The show was set up as if you were having dinner with your family, and I grew up having robust discussions with my family at the dinner table. And that's not all doom and gloom when you're with your family. I think that's one of the reasons we have fans - and Jessie's met a few of them, believe it or not, in Washington Square Park, who said I've watched every day since I was 13-years-old, and it's been on for 10 years. And you have people now where it's intergenerational. Like there was this great family that we talked to a few years ago where every day at five o'clock, they would get on either Skype or FaceTime with their grandmother and they would watch the show together.
Lahut: Has it been more difficult to do Biden segments on the show compared to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?
Watters: Well, it hasn't been trickier for us, maybe for the producers who have to set the rundown of the show. Everything in the last four years was Trump-centric. It was based on his personality and then the clashes that he was generating through the media and the Democrats, so it was just always a battle there. But now, Joe Biden doesn't make news. He sometimes purposely doesn't make news. That's by design.
So we're covering politics in a way where there isn't really a strong presence of the commander-in-chief, which is very different even from Obama.
Perino: It's very strange to have worked at a place where you have the bully pulpit and not use it. However, I think it has been much more difficult for our competition right now than it is for us. We can talk about anything. We could talk about literally anything. We could talk about this box of Chlorox wipes in front of us, and we would have an entire five minute segment about the wipes, and we would make it hilarious.
Lahut: While you're on that, Dana, I was wondering how you think Jen Psaki is doing as White House press secretary, having been in the job yourself?
Perino: I think she represents her boss very well. And I think she also comes to the job with an incredible amount of experience that I didn't have because she was a spokesperson at the State Department, and she did briefings every day. And if you are able to nail down foreign policy then - well, for me at the briefing, I would say 85% of my questions were foreign policy up until the financial crisis, for her it's been the opposite - but she already has the foreign policy background and she sparred with reporters. There's a guy named Matt Lee for the AP, and he used to give her the hardest time.
But I admire her for doing a briefing every day, and she gets out there. And I think there's some frustration because they're very comfortable not making news, but I do think she does a pretty good job.
Lahut: Jesse, I'm wondering where your politics come from and how you think you've evolved ideologically over the years. I wrote a story yesterday on what you said about how "we won this land on the battlefield" from Native Americans. Obviously indigenous people were upset about that, and that it wasn't a fair fight, and maybe that wasn't the way to describe it -
Watters: Not all fights are fair. That's tough.
Lahut: What I want to know is, how much of what you come on the air with are things you believe, and how much is hyperbole or trying to have an entertaining show day in and day out?
Watters: It's not an hour-long history discussion on the US-Indian wars. If it was a long discussion on that, perhaps, you know, there's more nuance if you have the time. I have about a minute and 30 seconds to make a point.
It wasn't even the main point, but the history of the world is a clash of civilizations. That was the history of this continent. Even the South American continent, the Europeans came, settlers clashed with the indigenous people. It was not a fair fight for a host of reasons, as we all know. And, you know, that's history.
Lahut: But in terms of like where your conservatism comes from, was that from growing up? You went to Trinity College, right?
Watters: I did. I wasn't politically active at all in college until junior year. I listened to [Rush] Limbaugh and then I became a Rush baby.
Lahut: Interesting. Where were you finding Limbaugh? Was this like driving around or in the dining hall or something?
Watters: No, I was drunk in my dorm room and I was watching C-SPAN - or I had fallen asleep, and C-SPAN was on. I had seen the senators pontificating about a bill and it sounded like they were expressing the same views as the founders, the Republican senators. Limited government, low taxes, personal responsibility. And I said, well, that makes sense, and that's what I believe. And then from then on, I kind of ascribed to that political thought.
Lahut: There have been times when you said something on the show and far-right message boards really lit up. I'm not sure if you heard of the meme "cruises the boards," or "Jesse cruises the boards" in QAnon circles. They think you monitor stuff like 4chan, 8chan, whatever deep corners of Reddit where people talk about that kind of stuff.
Watters: I've never been on Reddit. I've only heard of 4chan, I don't even know what that is.
Lahut: Does it matter what you really believe if someone out there on the extreme side goes, 'Aha! There it is, I see some representation on this major channel'?
Watters: This is the first time I've heard of this.
Lahut: You didn't hear anything last summer at all when you said the George Floyd murder was "a premeditated hit"? They seemed excited someone was finally talking about this.
Watters: No, I didn't know I was cruising the boards [laughs].
Lahut: Do you think you have some sort of a responsibility - regardless of intent - over what you say when millions of people watch this stuff, and clips circulate, and people can act on various stuff if they're feeling empowered?
Perino: That's a ridiculous responsibility to put on somebody who is asked to come on a show and think through a topic and to communicate about it. And I learned long ago that I can't be responsible for what anybody else says, whether it was in the administration or my friend, my family.
Like, I get a choice of what I get to say every day, and I think the reason that "The Five" works so well is that everyone is their authentic selves. If they're not, you could smell it from a mile away, and then they never last on the show. So what we say is what we believe. Maybe we find a creative way to say it or an entertaining way to say it. I don't know of anybody who has been on that actually doesn't say what they believe.
Lahut: A lot of segments on the show lately have been about Critical Race Theory and cancel culture. You're both successful, higher income people who live in New York City and happen to be conservative. Do you think being in New York affects how prevalent you see these issues as being? Or do you think this is a serious problem in almost every community nationwide dealing with a crisis of free speech?
Perino: I think that you could look to Randi Weingarten, who is the head of the [American Federation of' Teachers Union, who I would've assumed that when you are making that a fundraising plea for a legal defense fund to defend teachers all across the country on critical race theory, she took it - if she thought it was something fringe, she used just made it completely mainstream. And that was her decision.
Watters: Well, I just watch the video of some of the largest school districts in the country have parents who are not politically activated, become politically activated, and come into these meetings and are pretty emotional about what they're seeing is reverse racism being taught to their children. So I don't see it as a fringe issue. I see it as a growing threat to our education system and our young generation.
Lahut: But what do you think about some of these laws that are being passed in Republican state legislatures? If I understand the consensus on your show correctly, you guys think everything should be taught. Is that a fair description?
Watters: You have history class where you learn about the founding. You learn about slavery, the Civil War, all the way up to World War II, and that's history. And I want history taught. Because without that, we don't, we don't have any understanding of where we came from, but that's not what they're trying to do. They're trying to add another piece of the curriculum apart from history class, another class, another course, that's just focused on skin color. And I don't want to judge people on how tall they are, what country they came from, how short they are, what they look like. I don't want to judge people by their physical appearance.
I think we should be defined by our brains and by our hearts and our character. And, and to, and to push that on an age group that's so tender and raw, and is just trying to feel their way through puberty - and then is even happening at younger than that fifth grade, fourth grade, I think - I think it's almost like psychological warfare and it's incredibly hurtful and divisive, especially at a time when these kids have already lost a year remote learning. They're already almost a year behind, and you want to pump their brains full of very, very hateful racial propaganda. And the parents agree with me. All parents agree with me. I think I speak for all parents [laughs].
And of all races, too. Black and Hispanic parents are also making their voices heard. They don't want this.
Lahut: And that's in the clips, and a lot of this comes down to teachers' discretion. Yet the Florida laws are doing something that a lot of free speech advocates would normally be afraid of, which is the government coming in and strictly limiting what can and cannot be mentioned in a class.
Perino: But if you believe in a Republic as we have, and a Federalist system, you might say that the states make decisions about schools. You have parents who have never even heard of who their school boards are, who are now deeply engrained in it. But the state legislatures, from my perspective - I'm not speaking for the whole table - but if the states want to try to take that on, I think that's the more appropriate place. I don't think Congress should try to do that. I don't think that is a federal decision. I think that a lot of these decisions are best made by local community.
Lahut: Big picture, what do you think about the notion that we can't even agree on a basic set of facts anymore? There are people out there who blame cable news for how divided the country is. Is there something "The Five" can do that runs counter to this?
Perino: I think we're all pretty intelligent people that can agree on facts. I mean, sometimes you could argue about facts, but the facts are facts are facts. And we have great producers who help us be able to show that visually.
Lahut: Or like on vaccines, I know you've all been quite transparent on the show about getting it and encouraging viewers to get it, but conservative men have remained the most vaccine hesitant group in polling, and that's a major portion of your audience.
Watters: Well, I got vaxxed. I got the J&J because I'm afraid of needles. And I told people, if you want to get the vaccine, go get the vaccine, go get vaccinated and it's going to help kill this bug. And it did. Thank God. And it's great.
Perino: I mean, and I think that you talked about being in New York. I mean, most people I know are vaccinated, but I know that there are many who aren't. For me, I've just been trying to focus on the fact that the science is incredible. Our researchers are amazing people. The fact that they were able to figure this out, and as quickly as they did - and President Trump deserves a lot of credit for putting the muscle behind it and you know, the production, the muscle and the money to be able to fund it so that we could actually have this.
Read the original article on Business Insider