Monday, November 20, 2006

A case of life immitating art?

"Fair and balanced" Fox News is ready to try to immitate The Daily Show with a half hour news comedy show for "conservatives" (Hyden, Steve, "Fox News ponders 'Daily Show for conservatives'," November 20, 2006):
No longer content with just producing unintentional hilarity on The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes, Fox News is prepping a half-hour news satire program that will premiere in January. Overseeing the show, tenatively titled This Just In, is Joel Surnow, co-creator of that wacky laugh-riot 24. In Variety, Surnow said This Just In will be "The Daily Show for conservatives," an enticing description that promises many side-splitting Ted Kennedy jokes. "The way I look at it, almost every comedy show or satire show I see uses the same talking points against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney," Surnow told Variety. "The other side hasn't been skewered in a fair and balanced way." Finally, somebody will report positive fake news about Iraq.
According to the Variety article ("Satire hands a right," Learmouth, Micahel; November 20, 2006):
The pilot segs will be co-anchored by comedians Kurt Long and Susan Yeagley and feature a family of correspondents. "There will be some elements of 'The Daily Show' and some of 'Weekend Update,' " Surnow said.


Surnow said the show will feature man-on-the-street interviews and "respond to the news of the day." It will be scripted and may not have in-studio guests, a point of departure from Stewart and Colbert.
Predictably, the show won't be funny. The reason The Daily Show is funny is not because it offers fake news, but because it's a fake news show. Actually, it's even somewhat informative because it tells the truth, or at least tries to. (That is in opposition to Fox, which pretends to tell the truth, but doesn't.) It may present the truth in an absurd light, but it tells it nonetheless. Unlike the general cable news broadcasters, time is precious on The Daily Show's half hour slot, so the guests tend to be carefully picked and interesting; there's no need to worry about interviewing a Republican, and then interviewing a Democrat for balance.

One key ingredient to The Daily Show's success is its ability to mock attempts journalistic objectivity run amok. That "objectivity" sort of a by-product of the American media's obsession with having a di-partisan political system. If one side says something stupid, they don't feel they can report on the truth. Instead, they feel they have to present the stream of information as it came out of the mouth of a political official or party hack. This, in turn, allows some people (particularly Republicans, but Democrats too) to lie without being called on it.

Another key ingredient is that it really had a lot of material to work with the past six years. Politicians lied to get us to go to war in Iraq. Calling those politicians, like the Bush Administration, on their lies wasn't something very many news networks were willing to do. Further, with people like Rick Santorum and George Allen (both defeated in the recent election) in power, a constant stream of virulent social conservatism was being spewed across our airwaves for years, eagerly lapped up by their allies in the talk show industry. The Daily Show was able to present their absurd statements about homosexuality and the famous macaca incident in a humorous, yet tasteful, light.

In short, The Daily Show is often funny because it can turn the tables on dishonesty in political discourse. Much of that dishonesty comes from Fox News, of course. What will really be interesting is to see if The Daily Show can stay funny now that the source for all its material is out of power.