Back when I lived in Atlanta, I spent my Sunday mornings with Ike Newkirk, host of "Open Line," one of the few liberal talk-radio shows on southern airwaves. Newkirk's format is simple: he opines on all things far-left (Diebold and Carlyle Group are among the frequently-used buzzwords), and callers either agree wholeheartedly or are treated to his wrath. While I didn't always agree with Newkirk's views, I always approved of his verbal pummeling. My favorite Newkirk exchange was with a caller who was fed up with the host's belly-aching over the outcome of the 2004 Presidential election:
Caller: I'm sick and tired of hearing people talk about how Bush cheated. It doesn't matter now. We have to get past it, stop being sore losers and get behind our president.
Newkirk: Sir, let me ask you something, did you vote?
Caller: No, I didn't. I was busy moving.
Newkirk: How long did it take you to move?
Caller: About two weeks.
Newkirk: Sir, you are an idiot.
Caller: What? Why do we have to resort to name-calling?
Newkirk: Why am I calling you an idiot? I'll tell you why. You're an idiot because you don't vote, and yet you expect people to care about your opinions, and because it takes you two weeks to move. I moved my whole family, and you know how long it took me? Four hours.
He hung up on the caller shortly thereafter, and I was no good for about the next ten minutes, as I was doubled over with laughter. At that moment, I realized a simple truth: hearing someone whose political views mirror yours belittle someone whose political views don't is very, very funny.
So in theory, I understand the concept behind "The ½ Hour News Hour," the Fox News Channel's new satirical news show that aims to skewers the left as deftly as "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" skewers the right. What baffles me is the execution—specifically, how it is possible that something as simple as mocking politicians could be flubbed this badly.
To a certain degree, critiquing this show is futile; if it is critically reviled, that only further confirms the notion of a liberal media bias (I tipped my hand early, to spare the conservative blogosphere the chore of closely reading everything I've ever written.) Still, funny is funny, and I'd like to think the right can do better than this.
"News Hour," which premiered last night and will air again on March 4th, borrows from both "the Daily Show" and the "Weekend Update" segment from "Saturday Night Live." The two co-anchors, Kurt McNally (actor Kurt Long) and Jennifer Lange (actress Jenn Robertson) trade limp barbs as news-anchor caricatures; he's composed to the point of being wooden, she's vapid and chirpy. Their interactions are weirdly stilted, as if both are performing alone against a green screen, not actually playing off each other. The boisterous laughter comes not from a live audience, but from a laugh track that sounds like its most recent use was on "One Day at a Time," and is applied far too liberally (ha!).
The bits are stale and uninspired, beginning with a faux Oval Office address from our new president, Rush Limbaugh, and his vice president, Ann Coulter. Both appear as themselves, and while Limbaugh could have been worse, considering the material he was working with, Coulter looks visibly uncomfortable. But no one could blame her with flop sweat-inducing jokes like these. Lange offered this one about Hillary Clinton's speech declaring her bid for the presidency: "Clinton said I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I'm beginning a conversation with you, with America. Let's talk. Let's chat. If you'd like to chat with Mrs. Clinton, it's $4.99 for the first minute, $2.99 for each additional minute."
Hello? Is this thing on? OK, I've got another, this one on Barack Obama, who's virtually begging to be taken down a peg: According to polls, only 8% of Americans are bothered by the fact that Obama's middle name is Hussein. However, almost 2/3 of Americans were disappointed to learn that his nickname in college was "Gassy." C'mon, does that even make sense? This led into a segment promoting "BO: The Barack Obama Magazine." The bit promised that subscribers will get a free t-shirt that says "Don't Tell Mama I'm for Obama." Scatological humor, rhyming-name jokes—this is smart stuff.
Other targets included Dennis Kucinich, Ed Begley, Jr., the ACLU—and global warming, during a segment in which a character called Dr. Samuel Pinkner claims he could link any phenomenon to global warming in six steps or less, or "Six Degrees of Global Warming." The biggest joke of the segment was Pinkner linking global warming to Britney Spears not wearing panties. Yes, that's just as unfunny as it sounds.
"News Hour" was created by Joel Surnow and Manny Coto, producer and co-executive producer of Fox's real-time pressure-cooker, "24." Unfortunately, Surnow and Coto don't have nearly the same level of competence in comedy as they do in drama, and while they set out to prove that conservatives aren't as stodgy and humorless as they're made out to be, "News Hour" is bound to further cement that reputation.
The only time I actually laughed during the entire show was during a commercial break, after seeing a promo which I'd initially thought was part of the show. The promo was for an episode of "The O'Reilly Factor" this week, which will apparently find Bill O'Reilly tackling such hot-button political issues as the forthcoming sex tape starring celebutante Kim Kardashian and R&B singer Ray-J. When I finished laughing and realized that wasn't a joke, it became clear to me Fox News already has comedy covered. Why fix what isn't broken?