Saturday, February 17, 2007

The ½ Hour News Hour

'The Half Hour News Show'
(Special -- Fox News Channel, Sun. Feb. 18, 10:30 p.m.) Produced by Milaca Prods. and 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Joel Surnow, Manny Coto; co-executive producers, Ned Rice, Joe Revello, Michael Binkow; producer, KC Warnke; director, Michael Dimich.

Anchors: Kurt McNally, Jennifer Lange.

There's certainly no shortage of comedy on the Fox News Channel, from the antics on "Fox & Friends" to Geraldo Rivera to memory-free analysts like that pixie Dick Morris. Still, "24" producers Joel Surnow and Manny Coto clearly saw a void for a conservative counterpart to "The Daily Show"/"Colbert Report," and Fox was willing to oblige by ponying up for two tryout specials. The right will doubtless welcome the gesture, but for those who really yearn to mix laughs with news and/or politics, try following FNC's Anna Nicole Smith coverage or the current convoluted storyline on "24."

That isn't to say there aren't a few semi-clever lines in the premiere (Iran, say, denying that it staged a Holocaust-denial conference), or even some juvenile ones (a Barack Obama magazine titled -- wait for it -- BO). It's just that everything about the show, from its title to straight-faced anchors Kurt McNally and Jennifer Lange sitting behind a desk on a red, white and blue set, feels like a warmed-over "Weekend Update" spoof -- the kind of thing enterprising high-school kids with a video camera could replicate.

Surnow does call in the big conservative guns for cameos, including Rush Limbaugh (who seems to have fun with it) and Ann Coulter (who looks like she's sitting on something sharp). Between the news segments, there are mock ads for the ACLU, a bit deriding global warming and a sketch with comic Dom Irrera as a dealer in T-shirts featuring Che Guevara and other figures of dubious repute.

All in all, the whole exercise feels like a means for avowed conservative Surnow to get some pet peeves off his chest while recycling a tired canard about the dearth of conservative comics. In truth, the term is practically an oxymoron, inasmuch as the most provocative political humorists (George Carlin, Mort Sahl) have always thumbed their noses at authority and expressed distrust in government in a manner that stands well left of the Democrats, which is hardly a conducive environment for Republicans.

Others will no doubt question Fox News blatantly stepping outside its news brand to indulge in such a trifle, blatantly wearing its heart (that is, its ideological moorings) on its corporate sleeve. To the extent that Fox already approximates the razzmatazz of talkradio -- and given that CNN Intl. carries a compilation of "The Daily Show" abroad -- it's a charge that doesn't quite stick.

No, the larger miscue behind "The ½ Hour News Hour" is rather its belief that there's a need for more comedy on cable news, given the inanities that the nets collectively churn out daily. As for Surnow, in a sense, he's added a program to his resume that neatly dovetails with "24" -- demonstrating that stiff, uninspired comedy isn't exactly torture; it's just not much fun.

Writers, Rice, Sandy Frank; editor, Keegan Martin; music, Sean Callery. Running time: 30 MIN.