Thursday, July 2, 1987
HBO keeps satire burning in TV vacuum
By Clifford Terry
TV/radio critic
With the major networks having long abdicated any commitment to prime-time political satire - Johnny Carson and David Letterman are, gratefully. keeping awake unilaterally on the late watch - viewers are forced to scramble to find outher places in which the government is gunned down.
     Such places, unhappily, are few. On PBS, there are the occasional Mark Russell specials, and on HBO, there is the consistently amusing "Not Necessarily the News" (NNTN), which since its 1983 debut has won more awards than any other show on pay-cable television as well as received honors from various film and television festivals.
      At 10 p.m. Thursday, the producers will unveil the first in a series of hourlong specials devoted to a single theme, as "Not Necessarily the News: Inside Washington" takes a look "behind closed doors, under the covers and between the sheets" at the goings-on in our nation's capital. You know, that "bourbon-soaked, bug-infested, bureaucratic bunghole."
      Playing the roles of hot-shot political reporters are the members of the NNTN repertory company: Lucy Webb as Helen St. Thomas, Danny Breen as Steve Casper, Stuart Pankin as Bob Charles and Anne Bloom as Frosty Kimelman (who, deciding that her name sounds like that of an airhead, changes it to Fawn Kimelman, and eventually, Walter Cronkite, and , no, it doesn't work on the the screen either).
      Washington, we are quickly told, is "the city that never sleeps." Cut to a dozing Ronald Reagan. There are pokes at CBS News, ABC's "Nightline," Michael Deaver, Robert Dole, Maureen Reagan, Camp David and George Shultz's tiger tattoo. Oliver North (wonderfully played in a cameo appearance by Mitchell Laurance) appears as frenetic used-arms dealer Crazy Ollie ("If you've got a hostage, I wanna talk!").
      Through the show's trademark use of actual news clips juxtaposed through quick cutting with the scripted nonsense, Jesse Helms is "interviewed" about his views on pornography, Robert McFarlane winds up being sent out to the deli for sandwiches, and Reagan orders a hot dog from a vendor working a presidential press conference.
      In a capsule history of the National Security Council, we are informed that during the Eisenhower administration, because of a mistake, it became known as the National Securites Council (whose members subsequently became stockbrokers) and that during the height of the Nixon paranoia, was the National Insecurity Council.
      Written by Larry Arnstein, Steve Barker, David Hurwitz, Matt Neuman, Elaine Pope and Lane Sarasohn, the special is cleverly conceived and, for the most part, quite funny. Predictably, too much time is devoted to sending up the TV evangelists - not only America's favorite sitcom couple, the blissful Bakkers, but Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell - although Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci offers his usual delightfully off-center observations. ("In the Catholic Church, we do things a little differently. We make money the old fashioned way: We play bingo.")
      Along the way we are introduced to the "Stepford Politicians" ("They do what they're told") and the Mt. Washington Professional Liars' Institute ("Leave it to the people who really know how to tell a lie"). There is a sales pitch for the Fawn Hall-endorsed "D.C. Pocket Shredder," and there is an editorial reply on immigration policy by a representative of the Canadian-American Defamation League.
      Later, there are word plays - "inside-Washington sniglets." (An appearance by the President at which you can't ask a question or take his picture is known as "a Dodo opportunity.") And at one point a reporter mistakes a Burger Clown fast-food joint for CIA headquarters. Hey, nobody's perfect - not even Washington's best and brightest. You know: "The movers, the shakers, the candlestick makers."

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