It’s been fun to watch Bill O’Reilly hustling up viewers for Sunday night’s premiere of Killing Jesus, the TV movie that’s been made of the Fox News commentator’s best-selling book of the same name. Of all the various poses he strikes, my favorite is Bill O’Reilly, Master Salesman!
On Monday, O’Reilly booked Kelsey Grammer on The O’Reilly Factor. In the National Geographic channel film, Grammer plays King Herod, or as Bill described him, “a very, very bad guy.” They chatted amiably about how many children Herod had murdered and the challenges of portraying venal royalty who was, said O’Reilly, “diseased because he’s led such a dissolute life.” (Don’t worry, I checked the clip to make sure Bill was talking about Herod and not Kelsey.)
“Hey, I wrote it evil, and you played it evil!” said O’Reilly approvingly. And they say screenwriters are the low men on the Hollywood totem pole…
The next night O’Reilly swanned onto The Late Show to give David Letterman a thrill — or as Letterman put it, to plug “one of your killing-people books.” O’Reilly was in fine form, averring that Killing Jesus is “one of the best TV films… Lonesome Dove, with Tommy Lee Jones? This is up there with that!” O’Reilly said proudly of the actor who played Jesus: “He’s a Muslim — you’ve never seen Jesus like this!”
Oh, yes: O’Reilly and Letterman also agreed that NBC News ought to let Brian Williams out of the woodshed and put him back in front of the cameras. “He’s a very entertaining guy,” said O’Reilly, and who knows more about that mystical mix of news and entertainment than Bill O’Reilly?
On Letterman we got the full O’Reilly package. In the same way that he told Letterman he “hit back hard” at recent accusations he’d misreported two-decade-old news events, he does everything “hard” — promoting movies, books, and his show’s supernal ratings. (“Up 20 percent!” he told Letterman.) His essential assertion is that he’d never find himself in Williams’s fix because he’s always on the offensive, swatting down potential scandal with a claws-out grizzly-bear paw.
On Wednesday night, back in The Factor clubhouse, O’Reilly led with a breaking news headline: “Momentum building for the movie Killing Jesus!”
He brought on Haaz Sleiman, that Muslim feller who plays Jesus. O’Reilly made sure the actor knew of O’Reilly’s patented magnanimity: “When you auditioned,” the host confided to the actor, “they called me and said, ‘Well, you know, he’s a Muslim.’ I said, ‘Well, would Jesus hire him?’” The question hung in the air.
Never let it be said O’Reilly spared the star of the movie his hardball tactics. “Final question: Very affecting scene with lepers.”
I’ll be reviewing Killing Jesus later this week. I hope O’Reilly’s hypnotic swirl of hype hasn’t clouded my judgment already!
Killing Jesus airs Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.