It wasn’t always this way. The TV news delivered the news, and comedy was just so much sitcom fluff. Then someone learned a bad lesson from Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 masterpiece of media prescience, “Network,” and turned the nightly news report into entertainment.
Fortunately, the slack in political seriousness has been tightened over the years by a triumvirate of Manhattan-based TV comics. On any midweek afternoon, a political junkie in need of a laugh can jump from “Late Night With David Letterman” to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” to “The Colbert Report,” all of which tape before live auds in midtown.
Who knew that one day Stewart and Stephen Colbert would ask more substantive questions of politicians than Charlie Gibson or George Stephanopoulos?
Reality and fiction became entirely blurred when Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly sat down for an interview with his Comedy Central doppelganger to confess, “I’m not a tough guy. This is all an act. I’m sensitive,” to which Colbert replied, “If you’re an act, then what am I?”
Colbert is also the comedian who showed more guts than any real TV reporter when, face to face at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he told George W. Bush:
“I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”
Even “Saturday Night Live,” the old geezer of TV satire, has jumped back into the political pool by helping to win more than one for their favorite Gipper, Hillary Clinton.