June 1, 1985
By Don Merrill
Unless you're on cable and subscribe to HBO, you can't see this show. and that's too bad because it's easily the fastest and sometimes one of the funniest half hours on television. Now in its third year, it disputes the old Broadway bromide that satire is what closes on Saturday night.
       The best bits are those that play with news film or tape, dubbing new - and much funnier - words into the mouths of world leaders, stopping action or repeating it, doctoring press-conference footage so that officials' replies to correspondents appear to be answers to silly questions put by cast members. Consider a news clip of Yasser Arafat greeting a church dignitary with a big hug and a kiss on the lips. The action stops in the middle of the kiss - to make it long and passionate - and finally there's a big wet smack sound effect as the action resumes, the kiss ends and Arafat leans back with a broad smile of satisfaction on his stubbly face. Or see a close-up of New York's Mayor Koch. Somehow, a hand appears with a magic marker to draw spectacles and a mustache on his face just as he is exclaiming, "I hate graffiti!" It may not be classy fun, but it's definitely fun.
       Picture an H&R Block commercial - "No. 14" - that goes to some old news tape of President Reagan explaining the tax situation in tortuous detail. As the statement becomes more and more complicated and incomprehensible, an announcer's voice declaims: "H&R Block. We understand what he's talking about."
       As was the case with Laugh-In, much of the humor misfires, but that isn't fatal here. Before you can say, "That wasn't funny," another bit is occupying your attention. Producer John Moffitt, in adapting the BBC's Not the Nine O'Clock News for this monthly (with lots of repeats) HBO show, has much more freedom on pay cable than he would on a broadcast network, and the program could easily go the way of bawdiness and nudity as other made-for-pay programs do. Instead he manages to stay within the bounds of good taste, only occasionally indicating, with something like a commercial for "Bustles by Staytex," that this is not necessarily standard TV fare.
       The repertory group of young players - Anne Bloom, Lucy Webb, Stuart Pankin, Danny Breen and Mitchell Laurance - moves nimbly from broad to subtle comedy as required to make the most of the show's pictorial tricks, political satire, sketches, phony commercials and make-believe newscasts.
       Well then, if this pay cable effort is so enjoyable, why can't broadcast television support a show like Not Necessarily the News?
       Because it's largely satire. And any network programmer worth his salt knows that satire is what closes on Saturday night.

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