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The Cable Game in 2008--The Eye of Jon Stewart

Written By mista sense on Friday, April 11, 2008 | 7:15 AM

Last night, Jon Stewart had a lot of funny stuff on his show--but of course, he always does funny stuff. After all, this laugh-till-you-cry world is a great source of material!

But one segment got The Cable Gamer thinking about the changes in the news that Stewart represents, and suggests a future course of action for all of not-ready-for-primetime--heck, not even ready for TV--wannabes out here in Blogland.

The particular segment that got me thinking was Stewart mocking the way that CNN covered the Olympic torch in San Francisco; specifically, anchor Wolf Blitzer, operating from the high-tech "Situation Room," narrating helicopter shots of the "action." (See screen grab above, taken from "TDS" website.)

Blitzer, who is capable of serious journalism, treated the movement of the torch, as Olympians and cops dodged protestors, as something akin to the way that aerial cameras followed O.J. Simpson's famous "white Bronco" race to the Mexican border back in 1994.

Of course, that was a ridiculous event--albeit a ridiculous event sitting atop a terrible tragedy. And the same with the Olympic torch controversy--the torch, of course, is being protested as it wends it way through London, Paris, San Francisco, and much of the rest of the world, on its way to the Beijing Olympics this summer.

(As an aside, we might ask, what were they THINKING when they planned the torch route? For better and for worse, China is a major player on the world stage now, arguably second only to the USA in its ability to generate friends and enemies, to stoke controversy, about issues ranging from trade and economics to human rights and pollution. And so then to send the torch through some of the media-heated cities of the world--yikes! Don't they known that San Franciscans will protest ANYTHING? Well, they know now!)

In our media-ted world, it's simply a fact that some things will catch the media's eye and will then be ballooned into pseudo-significance all out of proportion to their true significance. And that reality, of course, only encourages user-media-friendly "street theater." And cable news, of course, is the eagle-est part of the media eye--the first to swoop down with "breaking news," even if it's not really news. For all the discussion about the impact of the Internet, it's still true that when there's breaking news, people still turn to TV. Indeed, TV ratifies other kinds of news: If it's REALLY important, it's on TV. You read about something in a newspaper, or online, and then you turn on the TV to see if it's really real.

Now, of course, the news-judgment of cable news channels is open to criticism. Cable news tends to over-report events with good visuals, such as torch-riots, car chases, and hostage situations. But at the same time, it's not possible for cable news to over-report some events, such as 9-11, or the Iraq war, or a presidential debate--or, indeed, any kind of breaking news, from a court proceeding to a sports event. That's what TV does so well: It matches the suspense of the moment through the simple expedient of covering that moment live.

Enter Stewart, into The Cable Game. He has his own comic eye, bolstered, of course, by a great staff of writers and video editors--a reminder that much of what makes "TDS" so good is the technical virtuosity of the show when it expertly juxtaposes lies, non sequiturs, and other public idiocies for the benefit of viewers. And so when Stewart makes fun of Blitzer's breathless treatment of the torch controversy, it's not just Stewart, it's a whole team, trying to make Blitzer seem ridiculous, while still keeping a basic kindness and sense of fair play.

And here's the point: by late night, there's no reason not to start making fun of the news, or at least the news-coverage. By 11 pm ET, when "TDS" runs, everybody "knows" what the news is. If they are at all interested, they learned of the big news from TV, or their Yahoo account, or their Blackberry, or their car radio, or from friends, neighbors, and countrymen.

So why not, by 11 pm, start making fun of it? Others have tried, too, such as FNC's "Half Hour Comedy Hour," which I count as an honorable failure. And oh yes, there's "Red Eye." And let's not forget "Larry King Live," which is its own kind of parody.

But there's more to be done here. The Cable Gamer loves Jon Stewart, but I will go one step further: somebody should start "Daily Show"-ing "The Daily Show." Satire is the sincerest form of flattery--I think somebody said that.

Stay tuned!

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