The bouncy pleasures of Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.

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April 5 2007 10:02 PM

Letterman Meets Maxim

The bouncy pleasures of Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld.

Red Eye.
Red Eye 

Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld (Fox News) looks like the least costly hour of programming on any major news channel and, more impressive yet, the most bizarre. The two-month-old show is a tabloid gabfest and a dumbfounding frat party—a production so light and crude that it seems to have been adapted from the margins of a spiral-bound notebook, right down to its hair-metal-indebted logo and that indifferent w-slash.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

The most direct antecedents of Red Eye are the sloppy salon of The View, the fluffy hindparts of such chat shows as Scarborough Country and Tucker, and the jollier rants of local cable-access programs. Indeed, in his on-air manner, Gutfeld sometimes suggests a Joe Scarborough without the dignity, and sometimes a Tucker Carlson without the education or the breeding or the absolute priggishness. Last week, riffing on the topic of The View, the host joked that its fans should be put to death.

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But who are the fans of Red Eye? On a recent episode, Gutfeld read a mash note proclaiming that "Army wives in Hawaii" adore pairing the show with an 8 p.m. glass of wine. The show airs at 11 p.m. Pacific time, meaning Red Eye's West Coast viewers derive some pride from the fact that they're actively not watching Comedy Central at that hour and implicitly scorning Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as clever sissies. The show yammers into action at 2 a.m. ET. Some of its viewers must be on the clock, but if you live in the East and you watch Red Eye regularly, it is more likely that you have a case of insomnia worth discussing with a physician or that you've come home drunk again.

If you make it back to the futon in time to catch the show's opening, you'll see a crudely animated bit featuring bobbleheadish renderings of Paris Hilton, Barry Bonds, and George W. Bush. Gutfeld—standing antsily and often attempting a mock-stentorian bellow—then goes charging through the events of the day. His go-to sources for material appear to be stray gossip from the usual sites, badly sourced items in the New York Post, and snippets of news radio that he's hashed over with his town-car driver in some sincerity and with a comedy writer not at all. Gutfeld comes to TV from Dennis Publishing, where he presided over magazines pitched at illiterate breast men. He tries to play the boor here, with Sarah Silverman shock tactics and one eye on the gutter, but there's a nerdish twist to his sense of humor and a good-natured twinkle in his eye. It's all horribly watchable. A recent, ideal Red Eye lead story concerned a report that Brazil's Gisele Bündchen might cut back on her modeling responsibilities in order to provide her current paramour, New England's Tom Brady, with an heir. Gutfeld ran tape of Gisele strutting about in fancy underwear and discussed the implications of this news with his regular sidekicks, Rachel Marsden and Bill Schulz.

Marsden, a columnist at the Toronto Sun and former Canadian correspondent for The O'Reilly Factor, offers the opposite of conventional wisdom: abnormal inanity. Last Wednesday night or Thursday morning or whatever, the adorable little Dennis Kucinich turned up via satellite from New Hampshire, and, in passing, he advocated that the United States try to engage Iran diplomatically. In response, Marsden said, "Ronald Reagan did that, and everybody knows what happened there, right? Iran-Contra!" Case closed. Elsewhere, trying a joke about right-fielder David Justice, she referred to his .279 lifetime batting average as "point two eight."

Schultz, slight of build and panting with unfocused snark, is working a David Spade thing with middling success—though when his jokes hit, they hit big, partly because they turn back on the strangeness of the show. The other night, he went on a riff about being baffled about how to comport himself in a two-shot with Marsden—how to react to her weird yammering when they shared the frame—and the laughter kept jangling around off-screen for a good minute.

At any given moment, two or three guests lend their voices to the show. Mostly, these are personalities drawn from a rotating cast of magazine people, Internet microcelebrities, and experts-for-hire. It's like Hollywood Squares for media whores. Vaguely employed sex columnists, media bloggers with limited media savvy, girls from tabloids, boys from lad mags, and low-tier VH1 talking heads drop in to attempt one-liners about Lindsay Lohan or Karl Rove or freak occurrences of wild carnivores in sandwich shops. Recently, an editor from Life & Style discoursed on Minnesota politics. A "life and dating coach" took a fearless pro-astrology stance. A Republican strategist came very nearly close to working blue. It's brilliantly random: Some of the guests could credibly host Today, others oughtn't have left the house, and there are players at all intermediate levels of skill. Rachel Sklar cannot at all make eye contact with the camera, but her hair looks terrific.

This is weird business, something close to pure television: Banter, tape, banter, hair spray, no content, no context, so bad you can't stop—and then these degenerate spikes of old-school David Letterman Dada emerge. In a bit that always goes on too long, Gutfeld has a nightly phone conversation with his mother. Absurdly, he features his own lovingly crafted doodles, which tend to involve mythological beasts with the heads of unicorns. The show has its own ombudsman, Andrew Levy. (Levy contends that Red Eye's core demographic is "stoners with sprained thumbs from playing Xbox 360.") He is a classic, muttering and unshaven and exactly anti-televisual—an olive in the show's jumbo-sized cocktail of pop detritus.

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