This morning marked a changing of the guard across the television dial, as NBC's "Today" celebrated itself with a new personality, Carson Daly, whose job it is to engage with the internet -- or was it to interface with technology? -- and a very orange new set.
At Fox News's "Fox & Friends," meanwhile, the set changed too, but the personnel change was more striking. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the former token conservative on "The View," took over today from the departed Gretchen Carlson (who's getting a daytime show, replacing Megyn Kelly, who's getting a primetime show replacing a player to be named later).
Amid the context of a reshuffling network, Hasselbeck is at least familiar from her decade on the ABC midmorning chat franchise -- and she seemed at home from her first moments. Wearing a fit-and-flare periwinkle dress and statement necklace, Hasselbeck looked flashy, unlike the more conservative-dressing Kelly, Fox News's most serious-minded star; her first act was to bring her co-hosts, both men, coffee. Except -- oops! -- the mugs were empty!It was a bizarre "prank" and one that established in an economical fashion who Hasselbeck is and why her core audience loves her: a person deeply interested in hewing to the established order but putting a fun, daffy spin on it! While her dress may not be conservative, Hasselbeck is conservative in the most classic sense; her beliefs, viewers of "The View" have long known, are rooted less in "The Road to Serfdom" than in a fundamental sense that traditions are what make America great. She often has explained her beliefs through examples using her children, as though one's ability to explain a policy to a child or not makes it workable -- or not. And so it is that women get the men coffee, of course -- even when the woman, in this context, is by far the biggest star involved.
Hasselbeck exchanged hugs with her new co-stars and mugged, feigning tears, as she looked at the "living room" set for the first time. The entire opening segment was deeply strange even after the fake coffee handoff -- Hasselbeck's two costars, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, couldn't stop speaking over her or one another in a manner that came to feel confrontational after five minutes.
Whatever the reason Hasselbeck departed "The View" -- "I don't recall anything that day," she recently told a reporter when asked whether Barbara Walters, rumored to have fired Hasselbeck, gave her parting advice -- it was a great spot for a person seeking an impact; as I've written before, it allowed her to enter the homes of Americans seeking a silly kaffeeklatsch and spout off conservative talking points.
If "The View" was an ongoing political debate framed as a celebrity chat show, "Fox & Friends" has the framework of a political show but is far fluffier than non-viewers might expect. It's the simplest and most straightforward of Fox News's programs; half unadulterated conservative thought, but perhaps more importantly, half rambling family breakfast. Guests, like Donald Trump appearing to discuss the upcoming Miss Universe pageant in Moscow this morning, appear to the sound of a doorbell ringing; the hosts fall over him and cut one another off.
Kilmeade explicitly referred to "talking points" in conversation with Trump; guests are eased along in order to agree with the hosts all the more fervidly. Hasselbeck's first question to Trump was quoting another "Fox & Friends" interview subject's joke about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize; she seemed somewhat at sea in delivering it. Hasselbeck has gone from the one conservative woman many American women saw with any regularity to a widget in an infinite loop of those talking points, watched by a cadre of believers who may care little for her flair.
And so Hasselbeck, for as flashy as her outfit is and as comparatively charismatic and good at being on camera as she may be, is somewhat lost on "Fox & Friends"; what she is good at is finding a pragmatic political angle in discussions of celebrity culture and the like, not about engaging with actual political celebrities. It's one thing to express one's opinion, and quite another to use that opinion as the framework defining one's entire existence. Hasselbeck had been the fashion-conscious mother who happened to be conservative; becoming a conservative who happens to be a fashion-conscious mother may be an uneasy transition.
"How long did we sign her for?" asked Kilmeade at the conclusion of the first of Hasselbeck's sure to be countless segments. "Twenty or thirty years?"
"Hey now," Hasselbeck said. It was the first time she didn't seem happy.