Magazine article The Spectator

Television Knock-Off News

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Knock-Off News

Article excerpt

The Onion is a comic giveaway American newspaper that satirises the awfulness of most American newspapers. 'Doofus Chilean miner stuck down there again' is one of their recent headlines, along with 'Parents honor dead son by keeping up his awful blog'. Now we in Britain can watch the television version, Onion News Network (Sky Arts 1, Saturday). It is the latest spoof of 24-hour news. The first, and probably the best, was Armando Ianucci and Chris Morris's much-too-brief The Day Today back in 1994. You may remember the hopeless Peter Hanrahanrahanrahan. Morris used to duplicate those cosy chats between reporter and presenter except that in this case he would tear Hanra's reports to shreds. 'By "sources", I suppose you mean one person you had lunch with?' Barbara Wintergreen, played by Rebecca Front, could have come straight from CNN, and reported on the execution of the same prisoner in different states, complete with ghoulish puns. 'He'll be frying out the door. . .'

The Onion is the same only different. It is less angry than The Day Today but perhaps even more contemptuous. 'Cold weather is again causing problems for the nation's idiots.' There's a long report from New Orleans, which expects a sprinkling of snow ('Twenty-five people have so far reported feeling "a bit chilly" ') so the federal authorities, fearful of being caught out again, send one snowplough for every block in the city, and declare a curfew with immediate execution of looters. 'I think it's wonderful, ' says the reporter mournfully, 'that no matter how much God tells us New Orleans is doomed, we still keep trying to save it.'

Congress has forgotten how to pass laws.

Women soldiers are to be allowed in combat zones, but only if accompanied by a male chaperone. An autistic reporter - and if more people watched Sky Arts there'd be plenty of complaints, because we are getting into Jeremy Clarkson territory here - goes to the funeral of a young woman killed by a stray bullet. 'A grim day, ' says the presenter.

'Not really, I saw two red cars, ' replies the reporter.

In fact the main difference between these pastiches and the real thing is that the knock-offs are slicker, far more carefully put together. Real round-the-clock news is less polished, more likely to go horribly wrong.

Lines such as 'well, perhaps we'll be able to go back to that report later' are frequent. …

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