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Two liberals walk into a bar ...

And one says to the other: `Did you hear about Fox News' comedy show? We're the punch lines.'

February 17, 2007|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

To many blue state-types, the Fox News Channel is already funny. But this weekend the media outlet famous for its patriotic fervor and red state champion Bill O'Reilly will try to be intentionally so.

Intended by its conservative creators as a counterbalance to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, "The 1/2 -Hour News Hour" premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. and will satirize current events and pop culture from a distinctly right of center viewpoint. Much like the 24-hour news channel itself, the show is out to fill a void in the marketplace, which the show's creators perceive as decidedly liberal.

"We thought it would be fun to have some unabashedly conservative entertainment," said Manny Coto, one of the show's creators and executive producers. "Our audience will be the millions who tune in to Rush Limbaugh and like-minded people who want that same kind of acerbic commentary and liberal bashing they get on his radio show everyday."

Added Ned Rice, another one of the show's creators and writers: "We're after the half of the country that doesn't think Jon Stewart is the only comedy that is needed."

Their show opens with something unlikely to be seen anytime soon on Stewart's "The Daily Show" or "Saturday Night Live." Limbaugh appears as the president of the United States and acid-tongued author Ann Coulter is his vice president.

The skit takes place in 2009 and is a joke, of course. Limbaugh was corralled into appearing in the skit by Joel Surnow, the show's executive producer and creator. The two struck up a friendship four years ago as a result of Limbaugh's enthusiasm for Surnow's hugely successful action-thriller program, "24."

(Surnow himself was the subject of an unflattering profile in the Feb. 19 issue of the New Yorker magazine. In it, he jokingly referred to himself as a "right wing nut job" -- a description the story implicitly argues might actually be accurate. Surnow has been highly critical of the piece.)

So far, Fox News Channel has ordered only two episodes of "The 1/2 -Hour News Hour." The first one will receive an "encore" presentation Feb. 25, and a new second show is slated to air March 4.

Surnow is confident that even with minimal ratings, the show will be greenlighted for weekly production. That could happen, he added, as early as next week.

Even with the considerable success of "24," Surnow still had trouble getting the show on the air. The Fox network, which airs "24," turned it down. But thanks to a long-standing friendship with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, Surnow was able to convince the executive to give his new show a chance.

"I don't know how many people have been pitching shows like this," said Surnow. "But up to now, the ones that get on seem to be pretty liberal leaning."

Hollywood isn't exactly choking on a conservative talent pool, Surnow said, who nevertheless rejected the idea a liberal agenda has suppressed a program like his in the past.

"I just don't think there are a lot of conservative writers and most of them are probably apolitical or lean some to the left," he said. "There may be a little barrier to entry, but talent will eventually mow those down."

The " 1/2 -Hour News Hour" is structured in a mock news format like "The Daily Show," but instead of a single anchor, there are two. As billed, the first show takes aim at Democratic politicians, environmentalists and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In one bit, an anchor states that, if elected to the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton has vowed to pick a diverse cabinet -- of "angry lesbians."

In another bit, it's reported that Iran, the recent host of an international conference denying the Holocaust, is now denying that the meeting was ever held.

"There are too many liberal sacred cows," said Coto, who is also an executive producer on "24." "Like Hillary Clinton may get an occasional swipe here and there, but they don't go after them the way they go after Bush or Cheney."

The show released a clip earlier this week on the YouTube website mocking the media's hyperventilation over the presidential bid of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The clip quickly climbed up the viral video charts with hundreds of thousands of hits by midweek. Of course, it's unclear whether viewers found the bit funny or were merely curious about the conservative stab at political humor.

What are liberal critics going to think of the show?

"They're going to love it," joked Surnow. "They're going to have another place to shoot all their arrows."

martin.miller@latimes.com

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