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Comedy Central's Life After Stephen Colbert

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 28 Apr 2014 16:30
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Portlandia

Meet the new boss, opposite of the old boss

A more radical proposal? The Colbert Report spent nine years turning American conservative media into a joke. Maybe it's time the other team took some lumps? Part of what made Fox News so parody-worthy when Colbert first got The Report going was that the notion of an entire (openly) partisan news network was still pretty novel in the U.S., where true "objectivity" is still considered a journalistic ideal (however unattainable.) But times change, and Fox now has a proudly left-of-center competitor in MSNBC - and if you don't think liberal news anchors can't make Hannity-level fools of themselves, you've clearly never seen what MSNBC's Ed Schultz do his shtick for a minute or two.

"Colbert from the other side" would be a headline-grabber, for sure... but there's no telling whether or not it'd be a ratings winner. U.S. politics tends to divide by age as much as by ideology, i.e. a key component of the "Go to hell Fox!" sentiment that animates so much of Daily Show's largely college-age audience is tangentially "Go to hell DAD!!!!!! sentiment. Does that same audience want to see its own ideological eccentricities poked at?

There's also the issue of focus - Fox and the broader "right-wing" media bubble are easier to write jokes for because there's a broad consistency to the interests and issues it represents: Older, Whiter, heterosexual, nominally-religious, tradition-oriented, you get the idea. The American "left," on the other hand? Well, the nice word is "diversity," but it's often more like a giant mess of competing interests united only by being marginalized by the monolithic "old/traditional America" that makes up the Fox side of the coin. In other words, it's possible "liberalism" comes in too many flavors to forge a broadly-representative target for parody like Colbert's TV-self was. Hell, IFC's Portlandia managed to build an entire show out of only mocking community-minded liberal do-gooders in Oregon. By contrast a strawman joke written for a Hannity-expy would work fine with minimal edits coming out of an O'Reilly or Megyn Kelly expy because... well, they all pretty much stand for the same exact stuff.

That's all theoretical, though. The real knock against a pitch like this is that it's been tried and failed resoundingly multiple times. Fox itself rolled out 24 creator Joel Surnow's 1/2 Hour News Hour, heavily promoted as a Daily Show alternative for conservatives, only to see it bomb spectacularly with what one would presume could be the most receptive audience possible. Audiences similarly rejected Mike Judge's The Goode Family, which aimed to affectionately parody a family of daft, well-meaning progressives the same way King of The Hill ribbed a family of all-American Texans. David Zucker's An American Carol, a satire of political filmmaker Michael Moore, was one of the bigger box office duds in its year of release. Fox News' continued success proves that there's a pretty big audience for smack talking at liberals... but for some reason no one has been able to harness it for comedy yet.

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