The Half Hour News Hour's 15 Minutes


The Half Hour News Hour, a news satire show produced by 24's Joel Surnow, is set to become one of the worst pieces of television ever—mentioned in the same breath as Pink Lady and Jeff, Fish Police, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. There's one promo clip here, in which the hosts make fun of Barack Obama (with a Marion Barry joke! Where'd I put the keys to the time machine?) and another here, where Rush Limbaugh is president. In the interest of fairness, here's an opinion from folks who think this kicks The Daily Show's smug, New York ass all over the block.

The Half Hour News Hour is actually nothing like The Daily Show because The Half Hour News Hour is actually funny. The two stars, Kurt Long and Susan Yeagley, displayed none of Jon Stewart's smug self-satisfied mugging or Colbert's tiresome ironic self-awareness. Instead, they're both charming performers with a strong chemistry who blend seriousness and absurdity in the same way SNL did in the heyday of it's Weekend Update series.

This is… incorrect. Both of these promo clips get even the basic tenet of SNL news sketches wrong—they don't sell the premise. In the news segments, the hosts switch from news reader personas to infomercial personas. That's a big difference from SNL's "Weekend Update"—the goofiness that disrupts those segments occurs as the hosts play straight men. You don't shake up personas in the middle of a sketch. There's a similar structural problem with the President Limbaugh sketch. It begins with Limbaugh giving an address to the nation. OK, that's one type of sketch. Halfway through, it pivots to a "president at work" sketch, as Limbaugh takes calls and chats with the vice president. The joke, weak as it was, is scotched.

These are basic comedy 101 problems that don't address why the show fails to compete with the Daily Show. The point of the Daily Show, especially when it launched 11 years ago under Craig Kilborn, was never to provide a liberal take on the news. It was to make fun of the news. Early Daily Show segments parodied the movie review, human interest story, in-house ranter (Back in Black) and in-studio debate (Even Stevphen) segments of crappy local and national news broadcasts. The show got more political in the Bush era, but so did, uh everything—we've had two more land wars and around 20 percent more voter turnout then we did in the latter Clinton years.

In any case, TDS is part of a tradition of news shows that make fun of the cliches of news and media, and only secondarily make fun of politics. The show that did this earlier, and I think a little better, was Britain's "The Day Today." Here's a clip, where Steve Coogan, as a "who's looking out for you" reporter, parodies the tone of "your children are in danger" promos.

The target is the media, just like TDS's target is the media and "Weekend Update" targets the media and celebrities. This is why it's easy to imagine those two shows under some future Democratic presidency, and why it's easy to imagine Fox's satire going the way of The O'Franken Factor.