If TV news wasn’t a joke before, it is now

  • By Howard Rosenberg Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Sunday, November 9, 2008 5:26pm
  • Life

As if Coopie, Wolfie, Dobbsie and CNN’s other kazoos weren’t funny enough, “the most trusted name in news” now has comedian D.L. Hughley holding down an hour of interviews and sketches before a laughing studio audience on Saturday nights.

Hughley on Barack Obama’s fundraising chops: “Wow, a brother with that kind of money! He don’t even have a shoe deal.”

Saturday nights are different on the Fox News Channel, too, where former Baptist minister, Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — hoping perhaps to keep a high profile with an eye toward 2012 — now heads a talk show titled “Huckabee.”

Although Huckabee leans way, way right, his civility with guests is out of step with a Fox network that revels in disemboweling its foes on the left. He wraps himself in the kind of earnestness that has helped make him a formidable political figure, turning the other cheek enough times to give you motion sickness.

On one “Huckabee” installment, guests blew in from the left. In strode activist actor Richard Dreyfuss, so laden with gravitas you worried about him giving himself a hernia. Huckabee’s interview with Bill Maher (promoting his irreverent movie, “Religulous”) produced an amiable debate about faith rare for the fire pits of 24-hour news.

Very, uh, slow. And very un-Foxy.

When you think about it, though, “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” is perfect for CNN, where burlesque dominates, catchy news slogans such as “keepin’ ‘em honest” and “diggin’ deeper” spew from Anderson Cooper, and that great kidder Lou Dobbs delivers stormy sermons right out of “Network.” With a straight face yet.

And in a nod to Trekkies, CNN ventured where no news network had gone before on election night, giving the planet its first hologram reporter?

Although in Chicago, Jessica Yellen suddenly materialized on CNN’s New York set, joining Wolf Blitzer and briefly upstaging the funniest political team on television.

Wolfie, stonily, to the beamed-down Yellen: “All right, Jessica. You were a terrific hologram. Thank you very much.”

In my house, we stood and applauded.

And getting back to Coopie: Did you know that he is now available in bookstores as a bookmark?

Yes, that’s right, a full-body paper cutout of this guy in all his self-important glory. A friend of mine picked up a book at a store recently and found him slipped inside. I’m betting a Coopie action figure comes next, in a bush jacket and pith helmet.

Tell me this isn’t funny.

In fact, CNN’s cutups have set the comedy bar so high that even a pro like Hughley has difficulty making much of an impression. “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” is merely advertised as funny; the rest of CNN actually is.

As CNN’s only acknowledged comedy, Hughley’s two-week-old show is designed to rope in young viewers like those drawn to the political satire of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” and to the jokes of ­MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

It’s a goofy plan given the difficulty of imagining youthful viewers blowing off Saturday nights to take in Hughley or even bothering to TiVo him.

Conventional monologues and comedy scraps mixed in with legit interviews? When I watched, most of it was rather lame. Hughley is likable enough and may get funnier, but that isn’t really the point.

Now here comes CNN wiping the line separating news and entertainment away entirely by having some of its actual correspondents go for yuks in “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News.”

In one episode, Hughley juxtaposed faux interviews with a legit interview of Al Sharpton, followed by a truly awful sketch with CNN correspondent Erica Hill, whose main gig usually involves split-screen shtick with Cooper on his evening newscast.

Next, on to another Hughley monologue, leading to his legit interview with Bertha Lewis, who heads the voter registration group ACORN. That was followed by another comedy bit with Hughley interviewing an actor playing Osama bin Laden, who was interrupted by CNN “truth squad” correspondent Josh Levs’ announcement that it was not really Bin Laden.

The show ended (we applauded that too), and CNN anchor Don Lemon immediately introduced a story about “election anxiety,” with me thinking these guys and Coopie’s crowd deserved to be Frisbeed out to space on their satellite dishes.

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