Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Zurawik: Bill O'Reilly plays to thousands of empty seats in Baltimore

Bill O’Reilly’s “The Spin Stops Here” tour stopped in Baltimore on Friday, and the former Fox News host played to thousands of empty seats at Royal Farms Arena.

Perhaps the best indication of the size of the crowd in relation to the hall is that 45 minutes before the show an usher came to me and about a dozen other ticket holders who were seated in the cheapest seats in the third level and gave us tickets to move down to level one — much closer to the stage.

Royal Farms declined a Baltimore Sun request for an official attendance figure. A spokeswoman for the arena also declined to answer questions about what capacity would be for the seating configuration used Friday night.

“We unfortunately do not give out this information,” she said in an email to The Sun.

Capacity is 10,001 to 15,000, according to “Billboard” and “Venues Today” figures cited on a Royal Farms Arena website.

Tickets were available for a third of their value in resale the past week. One ticket holder from Virginia emailed The Sun saying she bought her tickets in the spring and was “shocked” to find when she tried to sell them two weeks ago that hers were the only ones sold in their section on the second level of the hall.

“We gotta start playing some bigger rooms,” comedian Dennis Miller said near the start of his solo portion of the performance.

Miller was a frequent guest on O’Reilly’s Fox News show “The O'Reilly Factor” before the host was forced out in April following a New York Times story on sexual harassment lawsuits against O’Reilly that the Times said were settled by him and Fox. O’Reilly denies the allegations in the suits.

The show started about 15 minutes late at 7:45 p.m., with Miller doing 25 to 30 minutes of solo comedy. I’d call it stand-up, and he was standing, but it lacked the energy I associate with stand-up comedy. Miller stood behind a podium and literally read jokes to the audience. He said he has a comedy concert coming up and was trying out new material.

One part of his monologue dealt with ideas he had for TV shows and books.

One offering was an episode of NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” that “all takes place inside an SUV.”

Another was a book titled “Killing Everybody” that was about “everybody who O’Reilly hadn’t already killed.”

The reference was to such big-selling O’Reilly books as “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy” and “Killing England.” The last one was being offered as a freebie to those who signed up at a table on the second-level concourse for “premium membership” at O’Reilly’s website. I went out of my way to pass the table five times Friday night, and I didn’t see anyone signing up. Two people in my aisle, though, did say they were already members.

O’Reilly came on about 8:15 p.m. and brought energy to the hall.

He talked about moving his daily 30-minute podcast into a new studio, where it would be a “bigger presentation.” He boasted of having 2.5 million followers on Twitter.

Big applause.

(Actually, Twitter has him listed as having 2.22 million. But who’s counting?)

“And my dog has 3,000 followers on Instagram,” he said.

Solid laugh.

(I don’t fact check dogs. There’s got a be a limit.)

“So, I’m actually having a good time,” he said. “I did the Fox News Channel for 20 years and 6 months.”

Bigger applause.

“A lot of people are talking to us about doing bigger things on cable and broadcast and all that,” he said. “But I don’t know if I want to do it again, because this country is so hateful. It’s so hateful. What’s happened is there are no rules anymore. There aren’t.”

O’Reilly then talked about “starting to fight back against this organized cabal,” a vague reference to the forces he has been citing since April as having been involved in his ouster at Fox.

“In the next weeks, we’re going to have an explosive exposition” on the alleged cabal, he said. “But I guarantee you when we drop that bomb, you won’t read about it in the Washington Post or The Baltimore Sun or The New York Times. You won’t see it, alright? Because they’re not interested in the truth, pursuing the truth. They’re interested in pushing an agenda.”

He had promised such an “exposition” in May in an interview with Glenn Beck at TheBlaze.

"This was a hit and in the weeks to come we are going to be able to explain some of it," O'Reilly said at the time, according to a report of the interview at CNN.

“So, what’s happened in this country,” he said Friday night, “when I first started at Fox News and went out there with some commentary, I was attacked virtually every day of my life. OK. But it wasn’t as organized or destructive as it is today. And I’m not going to get melodramatic, and I’m not going to get into it specifically, but people are just dying because of this. They’re dying, and it’s horrible. So, when I make my decision about what I’m going to do in the future, I have to take all of that in account. But I also have to take into account the millions of people who want to hear the truth.”

Solid applause.

The gist of O’Reilly’s presentation was deconstructing the mainstream news of the week from his ideological vantage point.

That meant, for example, that the real news on Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign manager, wasn’t that he had extensive dealing with the Russians, but rather that some of the revelations about his interactions with Russians came from surveillance.

“Number one, we have this exposition of the Obama administration surveilling Americans without anybody knowing about it,” he said. “Now again, mainstream media buried the story, because they’re still trying to hang Trump with the Russia stuff. That’s their goal: ‘Let’s overturn the election to get him impeached or indicted and out of there.’ That’s what they’re working on.”

O’Reilly also hit hard on attempts to remove memorials to figures of American history based on their connection to racism and slavery.

“The Dallas public school district is now debating whether to remove the names George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin from schools,” he told the audience.

Fact check: According to the Dallas Morning News, the histories of those three are among several being investigated to see if it is appropriate to have schools named after them.

“Can you imagine? This isn’t about statues. This is about removing these people because they’re ‘white supremacists,’” he said drawing out the last two words. “This is serious. Now we’re in serious stuff.”

After a joke about “white privilege,” he said, “This is insane … The only way it stops is if you and every other American goes to the school board meeting and says we’re not going to tolerate this.”

He went on to ask, “What are they going to do in Texas with Houston? Sam Houston was a slave owner. He owned slaves. So, what’s it going to be — are we going to change the name of Houston to Puff Daddy?”

He told his audience they could get the facts about the founders in his books. (Where else?)

And he said that was important, “So you can debate these people and knock them down when they’re lying about our founders ... You have to be armed with the facts. … We’re fighting for the soul of our nation. We are.”

Bill O'Reilly is no longer on TV with a nightly audience in the millions. But he's still in the business of waging cultural warfare.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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