also "Not Necessarily the News," a weekly
(three times a month) series on HBO and a TV institution
(now in its sixth year) whose fate is in the balance.
"NNTN" is a minor league pitcher
(audience-wise) with a major league curve. Because it's
been on cable (HBO claims an audience of 15.9 million
households), it hasn't even approached the ratings or
exposure of NBC's infinitely more infamous "Saturday
Night Live." No one has written any books or made
any TV movies about the cast of this series.
"NNTN" has always been one of TV's funniest
shows (often more consistently funny than
"SNL") and a rare TV venue for slashing
question is whether truly biting political satire is
craved by American viewers in sufficient numbers now to
keep a 10:30 p.m. half hour like "NNTN" on the
air. Perhaps not.
reports that the show's ratings are in the
"blah" range, passable, but hardly
institution-like. So, whether "NNTN" is
extended past its present nine-episode commitment that
ends Aug. 2 remains uncertain.
hoping. . . .
creation of Moffitt-Lee Productions, "NNTN" is
in some ways better and meaner than ever.
season's "live" element and cast are new, and
the format increasingly resembles an actual newscast,
with Annabelle Gurwitch and Tom Parks as anchors. Most
important, the show's mandate - to deliver as many cheap
shots and low blows as possible - happily survives.
A takeoff on the ABC News "Person of the Week"
- substituting another "P" word for Person.
with much satire, there are as many misses as hits: Some
of the humor is especially cheap and sophomoric. Dopey
reporter Joe Guppy is dopey. And heading the
list of good ideas that flopped were Gurwitch's
"interview" with embattled author Salman
Rushdie, and also the usually amazing Harry Shearer as
former House Speaker Jim Wright (good impression, bad
its best, though, "NNTN" is not only fearlessly
tasteless, but frightfully funny.
to tops its repertoire are often-hilarious "dirty
tricks" interviews of political figures - ranging
from President Bush to members of his Administration - in
which "NNTN" mischievously slices its own
questions and reactions into footage of actual
interviews, changing their meaning.
the hands of "NNTN," for example, Secretary of
State James Baker's taped responses to an unknown
interviewer somehow became a conference with a nun about
the conduct of Baker's son "Jimmy" at a
Catholic school. In another episode, Republican National
Chairman Lee Atwater appeared to be responding to Park's
question about Vice President Quayle when he said:
"I think he's a charlatan and phony."
can fault "NNTN" for distorting reality, but at
least its intentions are bad.
show also has a collection of acerbic political
commentators, the best of whom has been Will Durst, who
noted recently about the Bush presidency: "The only
problem with doing nothing is, how can you tell when
of the show's most inspired bits to date, meanwhile,
found Gurwitch daydreaming as Parks delivered a nasty
commentary on Bush. Suddenly she was Madonna, gyrating
and dancing in her underwear while fawning over a Bush
look-alike in a parody of the singer's "Like a
all of the show's targets relate to politics.
was "NNTN" that broke the story on "Batman
and Rainman," for example. And one of the show's
brightest elements is Richard Rosen's hard-hitting Rosen
Report, tough, relentless, and passionate, investigative
journalism at its best.
recently he was brutally confronting dishonest New York
street vendors, not only those selling phony Rolex
watches, but also sellers of counterfeit Rolodexes
("This one has no vowels").
ranging far and wide is the show's consumer advocate,
Merrill Markoe, who looked and sounded suspiciously like
writer/TV commentator/coffee spokeswoman Linda Ellerbee
recently when she put on large eyeglasses to offer her
credibility and services to advertisers:
have access to cameras, studio time. I've got eyeglasses,
everything it takes to make your refreshing beverage a
huge seller. And as long as I keep talking with this big
smile on my face and a certain amount of authority, I bet
no one notices this isn't part of a newscast."
With HBO and MTV
launching comedy channels and stand-up comics continuing
to proliferate throughout television, the small screen is
becoming America's electronic Catskills, a training
ground helping to revitalize an entire industry. Fine, as
long as the social and political humor of an
"NNTN" isn't killed off in the process.
episode is the show's 80th in a long run that deserves to
be even longer, one that has proved "Not Necessarily
the News" is necessary.
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