The 2000 Presidential election was a mess. Far after the last ballots had been cast, miscounted chads hung throughout Florida, and America was left without a leader for months. Aside from establishing itself as the premiere American fuck up, Florida kicked off a decade defined by political partisanship without a mediator and general stupidity.
The election was ripe for satire, though, and Comedy Central wouldn’t miss its chance. A re-tooled Daily Show had begun to pick up steam throughout this yearlong botched display of American party politics. Jon Stewart took aim at the unreasonable and sensationalist rants of the 24-hour news cycle with one target frequently in his crosshairs: Fox News.
Since its inception in the mid-90s, Rupert Murdoch’s 24-hour news station has been a loud and proud opponent of the liberal views of cable and network television, wearing its viewpoints on its sleeve while hiding behind the branding “Fair and Balanced.” Stewart and Fox fought vehemently on their respective stations and, occasionally, face-to-face when Stewart and Fox’s henchman supreme, Bill O’Reilly, had one of their many heated debates.
But it wasn’t enough to attack Stewart on air; Fox needed to fight fire with fire.
The 1/2 Hour News Hour premiered on February 18, 2007 on Fox News. A response to the overwhelming success and ever-growing influence of fake news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Fox News’s parody of the media’s liberal bias opened to 1.4 million people tired of left-leaning outlets and curious bystanders looking to see if conservative comedy actually had legs — a question finally answered in David Zucker’s atomic bomb, An American Carol.
Unlike The Daily Show, Fox’s series attacked all aspects of the liberal agenda. Regular segments including “ACLU,” in which the show describes controversial cases from the American Civil Liberties Union’s history, boil down the complicated details to soundbite punchlines that aren’t really as biting as they are obvious.
Sketches usually avoid the headlines and instead put bastardized versions of liberal stances on display. One sketch entitled “Gun Free Zone” shows a world where signs that read “Gun Free Zone” stop a bad guy with a gun. Another where an anti-gun activist sets himself up as a victim of gun violence, only to reveal that he’s a career criminal tired of getting shot. The jokes celebrated the conservative view, but offered little commentary or insight as to why they think that way. While The Daily Show screamed for sanity in an insane world, The 1/2 Hour News Hour satiated audiences by assuring them that what they believe is right.
It’s hard to disassociate the comedy from the politics. But looking at The 1/2 Hour News Hour objectively, one would be hard pressed to give up a snort to what constitutes as a joke on this show. On a recurring sketch, the future is imagined as a terrifying world run by President Rush Limbaugh and Vice President Anne Coulter. The joke: every problem in America is solved.
Weekend Update alum Dennis Miller made regular contributions to the show in a segment called “The Buck Starts Here,” a pre-taped rant that doesn’t benefit from so much as a laugh track. Miller runs down a list of grievances and calls on Americans to stop with all the multiculturalism because it’s making it hard for us to know whom to kill next. Stranger still, Miller’s laugh free segments spit in the face of his mastery of making and telling jokes; though, when he does bother to make one, like when he describes a vote by Hillary Clinton as having so many twists and turns it makes San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street look like the Champs-Élysées in Paris, it returns nothing but a few chuckles. That punchline might be references — France and San Francisco — most conservatives just can’t get behind, cha cha. Miller’s rants, speed, and encyclopedic knowledge of culture work against the show’s handholding style of comedy, and no one suffers more than the studio audience. He gets fewer laughs than that segment that attempts to prove sexual harassment is kind of ok, as long as a man is victimized.
Surprisingly, The 1/2 News Hour did not fare well with critics, and audiences checked out quickly. The show’s lack of self-awareness only made it look more ridiculous. Afraid to attack or question anything the audience might disagree with, the show stuck to what will comfort viewers, even if it can’t make them laugh. The show was canceled about six months after the pilot, with Fox saying they were retooling the show for purposes still unknown.
The 1/2 Hour News Hour misses the point and, like the rest of the station, sensationalizes its points of view and POV of its opponent. The 1/2 Hour News Hour lives in a black and white world, forgetting that jokes mostly live in grey areas.
Matt Schimkowitz is writer and TV watcher from New Jersey. Read more from reviews at tvsfault.wordpress.com. Follow his outrage over the War on Christmas @borntoslug