When word came last night that Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Survivor contestant turned conservative lightning rod on The View, will be leaving that frequently nightmarish chat show this week to start a gig at Fox's Fox & Friends, it initially seemed perfect. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sarah Palin booster and spouter of various Karl Rove-approved talking points, should be a natural fit for Fox News, a network that gives its many loyal viewers exactly what they want exactly how they want it. And in some ways she is that natural fit — she exists in the awkward limbo between intellect and intuition, a place Fox loves to dwell in. And, let's be honest, her sharp-eyed blondeness is the preferred look for the network's female anchors. But if you think about it a little more, I'm just not sure she's going to do all that well over there.
One of the strange, uncomfortable, and oddly wonderful surprises of The View over the years is how gnarly and raw its political discussions can get. On many occasions the genial, telegenic patter has quickly devolved into sincere, heated argument, usually involving Hasselbeck in some way. Of course there was the famous Rosie vs. Elisabeth showdown over the Iraq War, the one that eventually led to Rosie leaving the show. But there have been other dust-ups (Entertainment Weekly has a handy highlights list) that have made the show, on occasion, something lively and, in the oddest of possible ways, almost scary. The constant tension in the air that something might erupt has imbued the show with an ominousness that gives an otherwise bland chatfest an importanta something extra; that tingle of suspense is why it's worth watching. And Elisabeth Hasselbeck, love her or hate her, is largely responsible for that.
Though she's toned down recently — perhaps licking her wounds from the Romney defeat — Hasselbeck's firmly dissenting political convictions are the reason many people watch the show. That can't be discounted. And what works so well about her is that she's nearly always in opposition to the other women on the panel. Between Rosie and Whoopi and Joy and gently condescending Barbara, Elisabeth is surrounded by potential enemies. And she functions really well in that role — if not as a rhetorician, certainly as an entertainer. Elisabeth Hasselbeck feeds on being the persecuted one, the, as Rosie put it, "innocent, pure, Christian Elisabeth" who is always being attacked but bravely stands up for her beliefs. The jury is still out, for me anyway, on whether Elisabeth really is that unblinkingly convicted or if she's a shrewder operator than she gets credit for, but it ultimately doesn't matter either way. She's Elisabeth Hasselbeck, The View's outspoken, put-upon conservative; it's the role she was born to play.
Which is why the Fox & Friends thing is probably not going to work. She's going from the sour, tension-filled table of a relatively liberal major network talk show to Fox News's bozo calamity hour where the War on Christmas is lead story material. Elisabeth is going to be partnered not with some snide or patronizing liberal, she's going to be with Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy, two chuckleheads who love nothing more than making long reaches to slam Obama or liberals or whoever they don't like, no matter how embarrassing a leap it takes. Fox & Friends is a ridiculous show, and one that needs ridiculous people to anchor it. Current anchor Gretchen Carlson is not actually a dummy, but she plays one beautifully on TV. Sometimes she's the motherly/sisterly voice of reason, reining in one of Kilmeade's goofy, dumbest-guy-in-the-frat-house rants, and sometimes she's the one dribbling on nonsensically about Christmas trees and whatnot. The show is always a group of dodos dodoing around, but always remembering to touch on Roger Ailes's talking points of the day. That's what Fox & Friends does.
I just can't imagine Elisabeth Hasselbeck doing that. Or being good at it. Her talent, if you can call it that, is being the oppressed one, not part of the dopey morning affirmation to the choir. She's going to lose all her potency, again if you can call it that, when everyone around her agrees with her. Where is she going to draw energy and outrage from? Sure, news of the day stuff will undoubtedly boil her blood, but there won't be anyone in the room to spar with. And that's what she does! She gets in arguments. Maybe they'll book a bunch of guests for her to disagree with, but beyond that I think Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who's also perhaps too big a mainstream celebrity for the gig, is going to fade into the background on a show like Fox & Friends. She'll join the seething mass of like-minded Fox drones and that'll be that. Maybe that's a more comfortable place for her, and maybe she's ready to have everyone nod their heads when she makes a point, but I can't imagine it's going to be good TV.
But Gretchen Carlson's new show? Oh man, I can't wait.