How 'The Five' Became The Most-Watched Show in Cable News

Despite long-prepared slide show presentations and focus group organizations, the cable news industry remains boringly predictable. There are a few mysteries, such as which hosts become stars, which acts don't resonate, and which topics garner the most divided reactions. One of the rare exceptions is The Five, Fox News' daily 5 pm roundtable program.

In 2011 -- if you can remember the world at that time, it was a happier place -- then-president of Fox News Roger Ailes temporarily replaced Glenn Beck, a unique talent on television, with The Five. He didn't have grand designs for The Five. He only needed something on air until he could find a permanent replacement. No one knew when that would happen.

As months went on, the show found an audience, which then grew. But just in the past 16 months, The Five gained a new wave of popularity. In October, The Five finished the month as the most-watched show on cable news.

Here are the top six:

It's likely that Tucker Carlson Tonight, which averaged the most viewers ages 25-54, will regain the top spot soon and stay there. Still, The Five won't fall far down the list. It never does.

This is what makes The Five such a strange phenomenon. News pundits typically don't strive to land a program at 5 pm ET. People are still at work on the West Coast, and 4 pm is traditionally dead for viewers in the Central time zone. So how did an early dinner-time program go from background noise to leading the cable news industry in viewership?

Behind every media question is a connection to Donald Trump. Do you remember him? Trump's presidency drew a higher interest in cable news than any politician before him for obvious reasons. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, viewers tended to leave FNC, CNN, or MSNBC on TV throughout the day. How could they not? They were frustrated, fascinated, and terrified -- by design. Every show received a ratings bump with a new drive-by audience. And at 5 pm, casual Fox News viewers found themselves relating to The Five more.

The Five's often light-hearted, sometimes heated discussions between a group of people with different backgrounds reminded viewers of the political conversations they shared with their own friends. It's not preachy or unwelcoming. Rather, the co-hosts show a semblance of vulnerability, losing debates with errors. The honesty projected by the hosts has enticed viewers who gave the show a shot in early 2020 to stick around. Now in the final quarter of 2021, they're still watching.

Because of the program's familiarity, it doesn't rely on the news cycle. Television's most successful personality-driven shows are comforting, not demanding. The longevity of shows like GMA and Today comes from their inviting character. Viewers wake up wanting to be in that atmosphere, if only from their living room.

Similarly, viewers tune into The Five, not for that day's headlines but the show's banter. It's no different than how sports fans view Pardon the Interruption, ESPN's highest-rated program.

The Five reminds viewers of people they know, even if they don't like them. It includes the uncle at the end of the family dinner table who crosses his legs and delivers sarcastic, inside jokes. There's a likable woman who's the voice of reason, and a guy with too much hair gel and confidence. There's also a dissenting voice, someone out on an island who keeps the discussion moving. You can figure out who is who, not by watching the show but by observing your personal circle.

The format is hardly ingenious. It's rather simple, something so rare in television. The show launched as a placeholder that now out-rates the programs carefully crafted by industry executives. Overthinking and over-controlling stifle creative content and dehumanize conversations, as they do on CNN's New Day.

The Five found success by mistake. It wasn't meant to last. A show airing at 5 pm shouldn't compete with primetime. No one behind the scenes demanded The Five become one of cable news' top shows. The viewers did that. The Five's success is a creation not of industry suits but of an audience at home. That's novel in cable news.

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Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics.. Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.