Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death, Taxes, and This.

Herman's Head was funnier than this train wreck into a flame-engulfed orphanage. Hell...so was Babes.

I won the bet.

A TV writer friend and I had a friendly wager on just when Fox's humor-anorexic “1/2 Hour News Hour” would be cancelled.

He gave it until February '08.—about a year from its launch announcement.

I said before Halloween.

We got this last week from the internal memo at Fox from VP Bill Shine:

Via Think Progress:

“Joel Surnow and I have mutually decided that we will not continue the Half Hour News Hour beyond its current 15 episode run. The last show will be presented on September 16th.

So, I get the copy of iLife '08 that was on the line. Gnah-hah-hah-haaaaa!

It was a sucker's bet, though. Like offering odds on whether a snowball would melt in ten minutes or fourteen minutes on Burbank summer asphalt. The fucker's just gonna melt fast, okay?

What accelerated the terminal-ity was the fact that the show was expensive to produce. Not like the 28¢ “Hannity's America” which exists as a loss leader and extension of the spluttering cro-mag's deal with Fox, while still getting the winger talking points out there. “HHNH” had a large-ish ensemble cast, and had to pay heavily for it's pundit stunt-casting of the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter in skits. In the end—having worked on a show or two with large casts and expensive guests—I, and anyone in the business could see what was coming. Or who.

It was an un-laughing dude looking like Bengt Ekerot—Death, from “The Seventh Seal” . Except in a suit, holding a Blackberry, and saying “Hey...can we talk in the producer's office? And security? Lock down the craft services table, pronto. Thanks.”

But that's the brass tacks entertainment geek in me giving you reasons. The creative me, along with many of you, repeatedly cited the main reason this thing stunk like a whale carcass full of old cabbage and chit-lins.

Fuck money, that bitch wasn't funny.

I mean, there's “not funny”, like a bad “clip-show” episode of “Facts of Life”, or “Mama's Family”, where you just go “Ennnh-heh.” at a gag that plays with the laugh track turned way up. That's aural, bad comedy white noise. You can just ignore it as it fades into rafters and sinks into the rug .

HHNH was grit-your-teeth, tense-your-neck, cover-your-eyes, and peer through the spaces between your fingers while cringing, bad. You wondered if when the cameras stopped rolling, the cast and crew looked at each other and said “What the fuck are we doing?”

I use the term “bed-shit” often to describe something going bad.

HHNH, was not a bed-shit.

It was...a ceiling shit. That's when you shit the bed so hard, that it ricochets off the mattress coils, back past the shit-ter and hits the ceiling and light fixture over the bed. And maybe drips a little and plops the perpetrator on the head.

Seeing the success of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”, and the way those shows deftly vivisection the right's talking points and their purveyors, moved Fox to have to answer back. And thus HHNH was born. Or as it turned out, shat. It copied Stewart and Colbert in these ways. “Let's have people talk into a camera like they're doing real news and commentary, with the sound of a crowd laughing in the background.”

And that was about it.

It seems they forgot about “funny”, and um...“incisive”. “Timely” and “not taking itself seriously” didn't make it into the treatment, outline or pilot script either. What you got was a coupla talking heads cribbing knock-knock jokes from Free Republic comment threads—with the LOLs and ROTFLMAOs still attached.

The phrase ”conservative humor” is considered by many to be an oxymoron. I know P.J. O'Rourke is a witty guy. Quick with a quip. But he's actually intelligent, too, and willing to mock his own—because a root element of humor is the willingness to point out your own foolishness. Conservative thought these days doesn't allow for that. They're afraid apparently that if you start laughing at them, and then look closer at them, you'll never stop laughing. So, there's no room for humor at all in their worldview.

And it's also really hard to get laughs when you're busy kicking your audience in the nuts before the punchline. Fucking over healthcare, stealing from the taxpayers, and pissing on the constitution is the world's worst warm-up act for a would-be comedian. Trust me.

So all they've got is mean. It worked for Rickles and Kinison, because they were ugly troglodytes and they let you know it. Mean coming from Animal House's Aryan poster-boy, Niedermeyer, just made you root against him and cheer on every humorous thing at his expense.

I've discussed this humor phenomenon here:

“Meanness and viciousness for meanness and viciousness' sake isn't funny. It's an element of funny, but not a basis. Unless it's part of a character you're playing--like Don Rickles' eternally dyspeptic, ugly grump, whose raison d' etrĂ© is to metronomically rail at anyone within five feet of him. Rickles' angle was "Zing--then move on. Zing--then move on". Hit any-and-everyone in sight. You laugh at the guy next to you being roasted and then laugh at yourself when your number comes up eventually as the crazy, angry guy locks eyes with you.

Meanness and viciousness can be deployed as defensive armor--as in the case of the shooting star that was Sam Kinison at his peak. His venom and ripping was based on who you saw spewing it--a short, fat, ugly little man you'd probably dismiss as a cipher if you saw him bringing your mail or stacking boxes at the supermarket. The eternal underdog. The shlub. His primal scream therapy/schtick worked because he was NOT the homecoming king. He was a nobody giving vent to his desire to not be ignored. It was genius. And fleeting. It became intolerable as soon as he embraced a pseudo-rock star persona. He wasn't a shlub anymore, giving vent. He became the rich, loud-mouthed, spoiled jerk, and that scream went from being celebrated as "rah-rah" to "getthef*ckouttahere"

A key part of comedy is identifying with the audience. To be the put-upon "everyman". Even Bob Hope, deemed by many to be a pretty good stand-up comedian (though not a great in my mind), made his true comedic mark as a put-upon comic foil to Bing Crosby's above-it-all straight man in the "Road" movies. 

They humanized him. You see, his acerbic ripostes got loads more mileage with him in the underdog role.

But meanness and viciousness for its own sake? A non-starter. And when your target becomes the little guy, the low man on the totem pole, because it's easy and cheap--well...that's when you get an Imus situation. Because there's one key thing I left out of the above description of "funny". And that thing is power.

Comedy is rooted in power relationships. The boss mocking his underlings is NOT funny. The boss slipping and busting his *ss in the office parking lot IS funny. Why? Because mocking the establishment, the power structure is the REAL taboo. Tweaking "The Man", if you will. Because it's freighted with the danger and excitement of challenging power--in spite of its ability to crush you.

HHNH proudly represented “The Man”. And “The Man” by nature of power relationships, and his undying need to kick your ass to let you know where you stand—or rather, lie in relation to him, just. Aint. Funny.

Funny is a dude who thinks he's cool walking into a door.

It's a drunken, power-mad gun nut shooting his pal in the grille while hunting flightless birds.

It's not a fat, hypocritical, bigot and a loathsome, hate-sweating harpy showing how cool it would be if they ran the country, and how that would be good for you.

Apparently more than enough non-advertisers, and non-viewers in the desired demographic agreed with that simple equation.

And with that, it was “Toodle-oo, 1/2 Hour News Hour”. Oddly enough, yet another victim of the “Dennis Miller Feces Touch of Series Death”.

Somewhere, the multitude of conservative comedians cries over this tragic loss.

That's if “somewhere” is actually the den in a paramecium's split-level, in a drop of water on that bottlecap in the gutter.

P.S. Fox's Babes actually booked more episodes than HHNH will. Which is really,all you need to know. :)