Is the former editor of Stuff magazine who used to host a 3 a.m. talk show now poised to become a top dog at Fox News? If recent viewership numbers are any indication, that may just be the case.
Greg Gutfeld, the 57-year-old self-described “libertarian” known for his right-wing humor and increasingly hostile politics, currently hosts two of the most-watched shows on cable news.
In the process, Gutfeld has played a key role in relegating Sean Hannity—whose name was once synonymous with Fox News—to third-place status at the network. And he is seemingly on the verge of overtaking Tucker Carlson as the king of Fox News ratings, even though both of his programs sit outside of the highly viewed weeknight primetime hours.
Between the recent ratings victories of The Five and the high viewership numbers of Gutfeld’s eponymous late-night talk show, the former Red Eye host is a Fox News juggernaut.
Since this past summer, The Five—the late-afternoon talk show Gutfeld has co-hosted since the program’s debut in 2011—has overtaken Hannity’s eponymous 9 p.m. as the second-most-watched show in all of cable news. At the same time, the show has nipped at Tucker Carlson Tonight’s heels, at one point surpassing the primetime star in October as cable’s most-viewed program. (In fact, for both the month of December and the final quarter of the year, The Five actually placed first in total viewership, topping Carlson by a slim 6,000 viewers in the final quarter of 2021.)
During former President Donald Trump’s chaotic tenure, his close personal friend and shadow chief of staff Hannity rose to the top of the cable news heap. This wasn’t just because of the Fox star’s sycophantic devotion to Trump or his willingness to parrot GOP talking points, however: In April 2017, Fox fired the reigning king of cable news, Bill O’Reilly, following a slew of sexual harassment settlements. Hannity easily slid into his former rival’s place atop the Fox News food chain.
Over the next few years, Hannity was the most-viewed show in all of cable news. But that started to change in 2020 when Carlson, who replaced O’Reilly in Fox’s 8 p.m. slot, finally snuck up on Hannity and overtook him and broke his record for average viewership in a fiscal quarter.
Though Hannity finished the year as the most-watched show, just barely edging out Carlson, the writing was already on the wall. Heading into the 2020 election, Carlson—whose program was always far less Trump-centric than Hannity’s and other MAGA loyalists—set more cable news records, at one point drawing an eye-popping 5.36 million average viewers for a single month, leading the network to its highest primetime numbers ever.
While that seismic shift took place atop Fox News, Gutfeld quietly amassed the clout and viewership to be considered among the upper echelon of the network.
Over the past few years, he has transformed from irreverent satirist to acerbic ideologue, spending much of the Trump years actively boosting and rooting for the then-president while basking in the TV-addicted president’s adulation.
But much like Carlson, Gutfeld’s MAGA adjacency never became his overarching identity. In a post-Trump world, in which Fox News has pivoted to culture-war grievances, right-wing outrage bait, and incessant anti-Bidenism, Gutfeld’s broad ideology of being decidedly anti-liberal has undoubtedly helped elevate his profile. Meanwhile, Hannity, whose wagon was firmly hitched to all things Trump fandom, has struggled for an identity.
By the 2020 election, the Gutfeld-led daytime talk show The Five already rose to third place in Fox News viewership, supplanting Laura Ingraham, another Fox host whose identity seems firmly attached to Trump’s. For the first half of 2021, Hannity was able to hold off Gutfeld & Co. from taking the No. 2 slot—but only barely.
As 2021 dragged on, Gutfeld’s stock only continued to rise at Fox.
He was awarded his own nightly 11 p.m. broadcast as part of Fox’s effort to ditch more of its “straight news” broadcasts for opinion programming. Debuting in April, the “comedy” hour, titled Gutfeld!, replaced Fox News @ Night—which was pushed to midnight—and immediately became a hit, easily accruing the most viewership for its cable timeslot and eventually besting most of the broadcast networks’ late-night talk shows.
The late-night show consistently remained in the top 10 of all cable news programs, pulling in an average of nearly 2 million viewers in November. And despite comedians and reviews initially panning the show’s attempts at right-wing humor, Gutfeld soaked in the praises of fellow anti-”woke” panel host Bill Maher.
Gutfeld also cemented his status as the dominant presence on The Five. His clout at the network and within the panel program has been apparent not just on camera, but behind the scenes when he reportedly played a part in getting liberal colleague Juan Williams booted from the show. (Fox News has denied this was the case.) By the end of the year, Gutfeld seemed to drive most of the headlines generated by the 5 p.m. gabfest.
And so, by August 2021, The Five passed Hannity in total viewership. The following month, the ratings gap between the two grew even larger. Since then, the later-afternoon talk show has consistently beaten Hannity and has not looked back. (Hannity did still finish 2021 in second place in the key 25-54 advertising demographic.)
But Gutfeld’s rise doesn’t seem to be stopping there.
After being firmly ensconced in second place, The Five has come knocking at Tucker’s door. For the month of October, the panel show took first place—by a mere 30,000 viewers. And Hannity remained mired in a fairly distant third place.
Carlson reclaimed his lead in November with 3.7 million average viewers, but The Five followed closely behind with 3.5 million. Once again, Hannity finished several hundred thousand viewers behind the Gutfeld-led program.
After barely finishing on top in the first week of December, Carlson’s 8 p.m. show placed second the following two weeks to The Five, which averaged 3.38 million total viewers in one week, and then followed that up with 3.19 million the following week, just squeaking by Carlson’s 3.11 million. And as the month wrapped up, The Five barely reclaimed the ratings crown, pulling in a total audience of 3.34 million to Carlson’s 3.22 million.
But while Carlson and Gutfeld now seem to be jockeying for Fox ratings dominance, Hannity is clearly left behind: Over the first three weeks of the month, he drew roughly half-a-million fewer viewers than both Carlson and The Five.