BY MICHAEL PASSMAN
Published March 7, 2007
For better or worse, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has become the voice of a generation and "The Colbert Report" is that voice's smartass best friend. Comedy Central's duo has blown up in the past year and everyone from slacker college students to ultra-liberal Hollywood types loves to shower the duo with praise. And for good reason: Stewart and Colbert consistently put out intelligent, funny shows - unlike most of their late-night talk-show counterparts.
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But while the blue states love to half-joke about a Stewart and Colbert presidential ticket, most fail to realize that the televised political comedy landscape isn't limited to Comedy Central's 11 p.m.-to-12 a.m. weeknight block.
The most recent addition to the political comedy arena, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour," premiered two weeks ago. A red-state rebuttal of sorts to Stewart and Colbert, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" is right-wing political humor in the form of a weekly news show that resembles "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."
Loyal Daily readers may have noticed that we didn't review "The 1/2 Hour News Hour." For those of you who were saddened to see that 500 words on the Republican "Daily Show" didn't grace our fine publication, I'll give you my five-word review: The show is fucking terrible.
Sitting through the arduous half hour is painful like nothing else on television. "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" suffers from poor writing, horrible execution and a tragic laugh track. Once and a while, the show appears to tap into something with moderate comedic potential, but it's quickly squandered by poor execution.
Although the show is painfully unfunny, the most objectionable aspect has nothing to do with its crappy material. While "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" air on Comedy Central, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" airs on the Fox News Channel, an actual news network. Does anyone else see a problem with this? How can you claim to be a legitimate 24-hour news network when a prominent Sunday evening timeslot is occupied by an openly slanted right-wing "comedy" show? The issue isn't just that it's on a news network. The show is intentionally counteracting another network's left-wing comedy show and airs on a news network. Rupert, I don't know what your people told you, but "The Daily Show" isn't on MSNBC, it's actually on Comedy Central.
Not all of the non-Comedy Central news comedies are this loathsome. Case in point: HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," which airs on Friday nights at 11:00 p.m. during a few multi-week runs every year.
"Real Time" isn't a new show - it debuted in 2003 shortly after ABC cancelled "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" following comments from Maher that the network deemed inappropriate in the wake of Sept. 11 - but the show hasn't garnered the attention most quality HBO original programming does.
"Real Time" typically consists of a short opening monologue from Maher, a satellite interview with a relevant political voice, an in-studio panel discussion and a closing monologue called "New Rules." The bulk of the show is occupied by the panel discussion where three guests discuss relevant topics with Maher. The panel discussion is usually the most entertaining portion of the show, but, interesting enough, outside of the satellite interview, the panel discussion is the least comedic aspect of "Real Time." Sure, Maher and the panelists crack jokes here or there, but the show's most redeeming value comes from the debates between Maher and his guests.
The real difference between what Maher is doing on HBO and what Stewart and Colbert are doing on Comedy Central is that the Comedy Central shows are comedies with a political slant, but "Real Time" is a news show with a comedic edge. "Real Time" may not get the laughs Stewart and Colbert do, but the Comedy Central guys can't touch the conversation depth each episode of "Real Time" reaches.
The distinction between Maher and the Comedy Central guys is demonstrated by the interview guests the shows attract. Jon Stewart is able to get almost anyone on his show because his pseudo-interviews are almost always non-threatening. Conversely, Maher doesn't let his guests off the hook, so it's more difficult for him to lure in big names. "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" is hardly relevant, let alone not funny.
Stewart and Colbert may be the news source of choice for those frustrated with the current political climate, but "Real Time" takes the news aspect of the news comedy to another level. Plus, "Real Time" is on HBO, so they can say "fuck," and that's always fun.
- E-mail Passman at firstname.lastname@example.org.