Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Satirical Take on TV News

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Satirical Take on TV News

Article excerpt

Think of "Broadcast News" with a touch of early "Murphy Brown" and a dash of "Nightline," and you get the idea: Al Franken's new sitcom, "Lateline" (premieres March 17, 9:30-10 p.m., on NBC), takes a satirical look at the evening newsmagazine.

Franken plays Al Freundlich, an honorable, competent TV reporter who is also a bit of a doofus, hopelessly lacking in self-awareness. Franken is fragile, pompous, bright, and gullible all at once in the role.

But what is best about this comedy is its truly ensemble effort. Equipped with a crack cast, fine comic writing, and a string of complex, interesting characters, "Lateline" seasons its take on the newsmagazine with a good handful of real-life public figures. In one particularly amusing show, wire services report the death of comedian Buddy Hackett, and the "Lateline" anchor announces it on air. House minority leader Richard Gephardt and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who have been brought in to comment on a mining-industry strike, start recalling Hackett's funniest films. And jumping on the "hot" story of Hackett's "death," "Lateline" dumps Freundlich's mining story only to learn that reports of Hackett's death have been greatly exaggerated. It's Al Franken all over. His political satire on "Saturday Night Live" and "Politically Incorrect" has earned him a host of loyal fans. And while he has never done straight news, he has done commentary for CNN at the Democratic National Convention and been around the news, he says, a lot. In fact, most of the guests that give "Lateline" its verisimilitude are men and women Franken has worked with or for: guests like Michael Dukakis, Joycelyn Elders, Jerry Falwell, Barney Frank, G. Gordon Liddy, James Lovell, Joan Lunden, and Ralph Nader. "What Al and I try to do," says co-producer John Markus, "is write them as themselves - not give them a lot of jokes to do, but just try to put them in their own character. …

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