The Fox News Channel makes its latest foray into the realm of farce and fake news on Sunday night with the premiere of The 1/2 Hour News Hour (10 p.m. ET). According to the elevator pitch, it’s The Daily Show for conservatives. A brief segment of the show popped up on YouTube this week, and though it must have been intended as what we blue-state pansies would call an amuse-bouche, it looks more like a determined bid to lower expectations. The mind strains to conceive of political humor that might be less humorous—or, ultimately, less political. Hannity and Colmes trying “Who’s on First”? Dennis Kucinich taking sledgehammer in hand to try Gallagher’s act? Jimmy Fallon attempting a Thurmond-length filibuster?
The anchors of the News Hour are parked, “Weekend Update”-style, at a desk on a set evocative of The Colbert Report. He is Kurt Long; she is Jenn Robertson. His jacket bunches at the shoulder, and her hairstylist has acted with malice. The look is in keeping with the ostentatiously humble Fox News aesthetic—a signal that the on-air talent isn’t putting on airs, that you’re watching something as homey as the leading morning show in Tucson. Kurt leads off the leaked segment thusly: “Illinois Senator Barack Obama admits that as a teenager he sometimes used cocaine. This news sent Obama’s approval rating among Democrats plummeting to an all-time low of 99.9 percent.” This gets some in-studio laughter, and Kurt forges ahead. “But, in a related story, Senator Obama has just been endorsed for president by former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry.”
It happens that there’s an actual joke in there, and The 1/2 Hour News Hour flubs it in eight or nine ways. On purely technical grounds, there’s the glitch of the control room flashing its graphic of Barry at least two beats before the host reads his name and also the plain fact that 99.9 is not a funny number. You can nearly feel the missed opportunities—for the line to get pleasurably offensive with drug lingo or to turn back on the teller—whizzing past.
Still, the bit seems worthy of the Algonquin Round Table compared with what follows, a mock ad for “BO: Barack Obama magazine,” the cover lines of which include, “Should We Even Bother To Hold the 2008 Election?” The laugh track really goes for that one, as will a subset of viewers who—simply tickled to see a TV comedian pandering to them—really couldn’t care whether the target gets hit.
It happens that such folks would have done better to tune in to the recent episode of The Daily Show that found Jon Stewart goofing on the campaign songs of various Democratic candidates. The fact-based setup found John Edwards bounding across a blue-draped dais to “Our Country,” John Mellencamp’s populist jingle/Chevy anthem. The Daily Show then presented us with Obama at the same event, rescoring things so that he walked to the podium to the chorus of “Jesus Christ Superstar”—a more incisive joke on Obama-mania and political theater than the News Hour’s whole bit. For a kicker, they juxtaposed footage of Hillary with some vixenly bars from Kelis: “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard … .”
The 1/2 Hour News Hour is the brainchild of Joel Surnow, co-creator of 24. “Almost every comedy show or satire show I see uses the same talking points against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney,” Surnow told Variety in November. “The other side hasn’t been skewered in a fair and balanced way.” Talking points? Fair and balanced? That’s not the language of the writers’ room. In any case, you couldn’t skewer a cube of tofu with material this dull. It will play to the base, maybe, especially if the base hands the remote control to its 12-year-old son. As a humorless liberal, I can handle it. It’s the conservatives—the ones with actual gifts for comedy—who ought to be sharpening their knives.
Click the module above for synched audio commentary on the video by Slate’s Political Gabfest team.