Tonight Fox News takes another small step away from traditional “news” programming with the Bill O’Reilly-produced series Legends & Lies. Separating myths about the Old West from fact, it sounds like it belongs on The History Channel, but with Strange Inheritance performing well on FNC (it’s sometimes their top-rated Saturday night program), it’s understandable that the suits think a similar program might help shore up Sunday nights.
TCG is all for innovation in a world where technology and fragmented audiences are creating challenges for cable news outlets. But I’m not sure that Legends & Lies will be as well-received by Fox News viewers as Strange Inheritance. Superficially they seem like similar shows, but finicky cable news audiences will know better. Inheritance has in Jamie Colby a recognized cable news journalist as its host, investigating and talking to real people. Despite a few restaged scenes, it could be a segment of a magazine-type program like the old Fox Files. L&L, on the other hand, is not structured as a documentary. It uses dramatic recreations to tell its story; in that respect it’s like a movie, albeit a low-budget movie, often employing local semi-professional actors who seem unlikely to earn Emmy recognition for their thespian artistry.
What’s more, L&L deals with the past. What happened in the 1800s can be fascinating, even intriguing, but its strongest appeal is to history buffs. Cable news viewers are instinctively attracted to current events. The natural audience for Legends & Lies is on the History Channel; it’s an open question whether attaching Bill O’Reilly’s name to it gives this show sufficient cachet to keep and hold an audience that is, at its core, not all that interested in the subject matter.
TCG expects the heavy promotion to stir up enough curiosity to get a decent tune-in for tonight’s debut, but I’ll be surprised if Legends & Lies sustains Strange Inheritance levels of viewership. On the other hand, no one in cable news has a track record like Roger Ailes, so what do I know?