'The Onion' news show to make TV debut

The programme – 'more pretentious than CNN, more biased than Fox' – marks a major expansion for the satirical publication
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The Independent Online

As slogans go, it's nothing if not ambitious. Launched into the most cut-throat market in American television, adverts for a new current affairs show promise: "The nation's No 1 source for breaking news, screaming political arguments and vital information on missing teenage Caucasian girls".

The programme is called Onion News Network. Its host is one Brooke Alvarez, a pneumatic blonde whose inside leg measurement is some way north of her IQ. Asked where it will sit on the political spectrum, its executive producer, Will Graham, said: "We're more self-important and pretentious than CNN, and more aggressive and biased than Fox."

With a bit of luck, they'll also be funny. The Onion News Network is the first television venture by the publishers of The Onion, the satirical newspaper that was first published in 1988 and became the Western media's most successful purveyor of knockabout comedy and spoof news articles since issue one of Viz rolled off the presses in the late 1970s.

The show makes its debut on the cable network IFC this month and marks the final stage of The Onion's transformation from underground free newspaper to multimedia empire. It is also the latest demonstration of the snowballing popularity of TV satire.

Jon Stewart, the left-leaning host of The Daily Show, is currently the most influential anchorman in the US when it comes to reaching the commercially crucial demographic of viewers aged 18-35. Like him, The Onion intends to use its airtime to lampoon the excesses of the cable news industry.

In the first edition, a daily "news without mercy" slot carries a report that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, has given in to pressure to suspend his nuclear programme. In return, he has demanded the lead role in the next Batman movie.

In Washington, "political analyst" Jason Copeland then presents the results of a fictitious poll in which 2,000 lifelong Democrats were asked the topical question: "What's the worst that could happen if Sarah Palin were elected president... Don't you kind of want to find out?" He reports that more than 80 per cent of them responded: "God, I'm so sorry, but yes."

Finally, in an effort to send up the non-stories that appear in the "and finally" sections, the Onion News Network carries a scoop from Illinois, where an apparently serviceable car tyre has been found "just sitting there... for at least a day".

Mr Graham says that the yardstick of the show's success will be how neatly it treads the line between life and art, particularly when poking fun at America's two agenda-driven news outlets, the left-wing MSNBC and Rupert Murdoch's conservative Fox.

"Fox News and MSNBC set a very high bar for their level of ridiculousness, and we're always thinking: 'We have to go just 10 percent higher than they are'," he told the Associated Press. "But there are times where we're kicking around an idea and then we'll be like, 'Wait, Fox News has already done that.' So we feel like we kind of got scooped."

That's not the only reason they might feel scooped. Spoof news programmes aren't exactly new. In Britain during the 1990s, Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci created The Day Today, which treads similar ground to the Onion News Network. The BBC show, itself an adaptation of Radio 4's On the Hour, helped to launch the careers of Patrick Marber and Steve Coogan.

The Onion is also launching a fake sports news programme on the cable station Comedy Central. The Onion SportsDome parodies ESPN, the sports network famed for its excessive graphics, noisy theme music and showboating anchormen.

Though most of the skits in its debut episode involve basketball, baseball and American football, at least one will strike a chord with UK viewers mystified by lowly status of "soccer" on the far side of the Pond. In it, the hosts say: "Catch up on everything that's happened [in football] since we last checked in... four years ago."

'The Onion' archives

God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy – 'No,' Says God

Massive Flow of Bull**** Continues to Gush From BP Headquarters

Report: Global Warming Issue from 2 or 3 Years Ago May Still Be Problem

Obama Declares Victory, Sort Of, Depending On How You Look At It, In Iraq

Pope Vows to Get Church Paedophilia Down to Acceptable Levels

Cheney Vows to Attack US If Kerry Elected

Study: Dolphins Not So Intelligent On Land

Rich Guy Feeling Left Out of Recession

George W Bush Chuckles to Self Upon Thinking About How He Was President of the United States For Almost a Decade