Sitting on the sidelines of anarchy.
That’s what being a guest on Fox News Channel’s soon-to-no-longer-exist late-night panel discussion show Red Eye. And by late night, I mean really, really, really late night. As in 3 A.M. late night.
It was weird, it was wonderful, and did I mention it was weird? Because it definitely was. A typical episode would find a table of panelists that included newscasters, comedians and people like Alan Dershowitz talking about topics ranging from terrorism to robot sex partners to diapers for cats.
Sadly, for many of its most crazed fans and repeat panelists like myself, Fox News announced that this Friday will be the last taped episode.
To quote one noted Twitter user: Sad!
I'm writing about the show here because like the world of entrepreneurship, it didn't follow any well-worn path. Red Eye wasn't about "let's get a bunch of conservatives and a bunch of liberals to talk over each other for an hour." It tried new things, it ditched boring conventions and kept viewers and panelists alike constantly guessing what on earth what was coming next.
Early in my working life, I was lucky enough to wind up at Stuff magazine, a place that employed some of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Included in that mix was Greg Gutfeld, editor-in-chief, and Bill Schulz, editor-insane. In 2007, the two of them joined forces with Andy Levy to launch this oddity of a show that simultaneously made all of the sense and none of the sense in the world. Greg once told me that he’s pretty sure the show had a chance to stay on the air and build a rabid fan base in the early days because Fox News execs forgot that it was on.
And I don’t use the term “rabid fanbase” lightly – there’s one longtime viewer called TAStheResidentArtist (@TAStheR_A) who sketches each episode in real time and tweets it out the next day. So when you appeared on it, you would wake up to something like this in your Twitter feed:
Greg eventually moved on to host other shows at Fox News and write approximately 8,000 books and left Red Eye in the hosting hands of Tom Shillue, a man who is as funny as he is thin. (Extremely so in both cases.)
I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest every couple of months during its 10-year-run, and I’d like to describe that experience in listicle form:
- A couple of hours before you went on the show, you'd get an email with topics you’d be discussing. Some of these topics you'd have a well-informed opinion about and others you'd have to research -- immediately landing you on multiple federal watch lists.
- You'd sit down, a nice man would stick an earpiece in your head, a nice stage manager would tell you which camera to look in, the red light would go on and then Greg would start screaming at you.
- 60 minutes later, you'd go to the bar across the street and wonder what the hell just happened.
The hardest part for me over the years was remembering that I was on a TV show, not just sitting there watching one. As a panelist, you’d often be seated next to hilarious folks like Jim Norton or Kennedy or Jimmy Failla and you’d just sort of start watching and forget you were supposed to say something, too. Then Greg or Tom would say something like, “Bova, you’re short and hairy, what do you think about weaponized dolphins?” and you’d snap back into it.
What I always loved about being on this show and watching it is that while it was on Fox News Channel, the decided point of view was that no matter which side of the political aisle you sat, we could all agree that the world is filled with crazy and stupid people who do crazy and stupid things. And that is worth celebrating.
So I wanted to again say thanks to the people in front of the camera and thanks, too, to the folks behind it (like Kristine Kotta, Ben Stickney and Tim Dimond) for all of the laughs and all of the germs I enjoyed while sitting on Red Eye panelist stool #3. (When the lights go out on Friday night, you should really have that thing burned.)