t was just after 7 a.m. on the set of "Fox & Friends," but the studio already looked like the scene of a college all-nighter. Papers and blue index cards littered the couch next to the three co-hosts, and the mood resembled the giddy intensity produced by sleeplessness and large doses of caffeine.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade, discussing Sen. John McCain's debate performance, noted that he might be "a man of substance with a career and a résumé, but he is not a master -- a master debater."
Kilmeade broke into a grin as he realized how close he came to accidentally saying something else.
"We just gave the people who are reading the subtitles quite a shock," said co-host Steve Doocy, shaking with laughter.
"Master. Debater," Kilmeade repeated carefully, trying not to crack up.
The loose atmosphere is the signature characteristic of "Fox & Friends," the freewheeling program on Fox News that dominates the morning competition on cable. The hosts' political observations and pungent personal comments have stirred controversy, drawing detractors even as they have raised the show's profile.
"Here you have an ability to do stuff, and then they can always rein you in," Kilmeade said after the program. "But I know I'm not going to get reprimanded."
"Fox & Friends" has attracted more than 1.2 million viewers on average so far this month, topping the combined viewership of CNN's "American Morning" and MSNBC's "Morning Joe." And in 16 major local markets, including Los Angeles, the cable program gets a bigger audience than CBS' "The Early Show," even though it airs from 3 to 6 a.m. on the West Coast.