"NO ONE SAYS news has to be boring," says Fox News correspondent and producer Jesse Watters, who'll be out to demonstrate that tonight at 8 p.m. on "Watters World," the second in a series of monthly specials he's doing during the 2016 election cycle.
An expansion of the segment Watters has long done for "The O'Reilly Factor," the series is likely to include some of his trademark interviews with unsuspecting - and frequently uninformed - pedestrians.
Watters, who grew up in Philadelphia, spoke with Ellen Gray about his not-so-conservative roots, his love of history and what people on the street most often ask him.
What can you tell me about your time in Philly?
Born and raised in Philadelphia. Grew up in Germantown, on Manheim Street, and then I think when I was around 6 or 7 or 8, moved to East Falls.
Went to Penn Charter, kindergarten through 11th grade. And after I was a junior, my father moved [us] up to Long Island. It was tough. But I go back and see my friends in Philly often.
You majored in history at Trinity College. How did you end up on television, learning disappointing things about Americans' knowledge of history and geography?
I wanted to go into finance after college, and I quickly found out that I couldn't do simple mathematics. And in order to handle millions of dollars of other people's money, you have to.
That didn't work out, so I worked on a campaign in New York [where Dora J. Irizarry was] running against Eliot Spitzer [for attorney general]. We got crushed. If I'd had his black book, maybe things would have gone differently.
I got hired at Fox News, because I like politics and I like television. And one day, [Bill] O'Reilly said, "Watters! I want you to go down to Alabama and confront this judge."
So I go all the way down to Alabama and run up to some judge who'd given a sex offender a soft sentence, and I ended up confronting the wrong guy, in my first-ever time in the field. So I got off to a rocky start. But after that, I kind of got the hang of things.
Does it make for better TV when someone gets annoyed with you, whether it's at Target or the Oscars?
Listen, any time anybody gets annoyed or emotional on television, it makes for good television. But I enjoy talking with people. I enjoy different types of people, from different parts of the country, from different ways of life.
I try to make it enjoyable for the person I'm interviewing. We always come away from the interview all smiles, for the most part. And it's always fun to come back and look at the footage and say, "Oh my gosh, what just happened?"
Quaker schools aren't usually hotbeds of conservatism. Were you a closet conservative at Penn Charter?
No, I was never that political in high school. I was always patriotic. I liked history. I've always been in love with history: the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II. But I never really became political until late in college. My antennae started going up.
Did you come from a conservative family?
My parents are both very liberal people, which is funny. So I was the Alex P. Keaton of the household, which is amusing around the dinner table around holidays.
But my parents always brought me up to have discipline and respect for other people and the belief that hard work pays off. They didn't raise me to be who I am politically, but I think they gave me a lot of the values and the resources to kind of shape my own path.
Philadelphia didn't come off too well when you came here to ask people on the street the questions that appear on the U.S. citizenship test. Please tell me those were tourists.
No, when Bill sends me to places, he doesn't want me to get tourists.
It wouldn't be fair to go down to Philly and interview people about the Constitution and then have everyone be from France. Or Canada. So we always try to be authentic when we interview people.
Did you have higher hopes for your hometown?
I've been doing this for a long time and my expectations are very low as to what people know, or don't know, about this country. Did I think Philly was going to do better? I hoped it did, just for sheer rooting for the hometown. But hopefully it was a learning experience for Philadelphia.
What's the No. 1 question you get from people who recognize you on the street?
People come up to me and they say, "What's O'Reilly like?" And I say, "He's exactly the same as he is on television."