As Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert exit the political satire stage, the Huffington Post enters the game with “The HuffPost Show,” a live weekly webcast that premiered last Friday.
With the second episode slated for 9 p.m. tomorrow, reviews of the debut episode indicate that this weekly satirical news show may be missing a key ingredient – humor.
“[The show] is not as funny as it thinks it is – or, perhaps, as it hopes to become,” wrote Steve Johnson, arts reporter and former longtime TV critic for the Chicago Tribune in an email to AJR. “The hosts said they’re trying to do humor that leaves bruises and pushes envelopes. But most of their attempts at jokes fell pretty flat.”
The HuffPost Show’s cohosts are Roy Sekoff, HuffPost Live president, and HuffPost Live network host Marc Lamont Hill.
Sekoff, in an email interview with AJR, said he and Arianna Huffington have a “shared passion” for satire and have worked on several satiric projects in the past. With this launch, he said they are “an addition to the party,” joining “The Colbert Report,” “Last Week Tonight” and “The Daily Show” as humorous interpretations of the week’s news events.
Following the premiere, AJR surveyed media experts and viewers via email to get their initial reactions. Most were unimpressed. Several people noted that the show was too long – the total runtime was over an hour – and while the guests had interesting potential, they thought the show fell short of its “satire” label.
Long on News, Light on Ridicule
During the debut, Hill and Sekoff said the goal of the show is similar to the Huffington Post’s front page. “We want to cover everything from serious news to…let’s just say lighter stuff,” Hill said.
Starting with some “lighter stuff,” the show opened with a segment called “This Week In…,” during which the hosts joked about such topics such as Atlanta teachers getting charged with conspiracy over a scandal involving standardized test answers. Later it presented a “HuffPost Show Remembers” video segment which followed the narrative arc of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s rise and fall in news relevance.
Elia Powers, assistant professor of journalism and new media at Towson University, said while the show definitely fit in with the Huffington Post brand and style – “a mixture of ‘hard news’ and ‘soft news’ presented in an informal and often edgy format” – it didn’t really measure up to other popular shows branded as political satires.
“I didn’t really see any satire in this first episode,” Powers wrote. “There’s plenty of snark — and the hosts certainly have big personalities. But this show seems to be more about opinion and edge than pure satire.”
Matt Jordan, associate professor in the department of film/video and media studies in the college of communications at Penn State University, agreed.
“[The hosts] were mostly doing straight news analysis with a couple of jokes,” Jordan wrote. “Just rolling your eyes at news content doesn’t make for satire.”
For some of the more serious elements of the show, Sekoff and Hill talked with guests Sen. Elizabeth Warren, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and comedian Tig Notaro.
Warren discussed her book, “A Fighting Chance,” and the challenges she faced growing up, including her mom working a minimum wage job at Sears to save the family house. And after watching a rousing video plea from actor Mark Ruffalo asking her to reconsider, Warren again confirmed she will not be running for president in 2016.
Viewers See Pros and Cons
Reaction from Internet viewers was mixed.
A viewer favorite was the “Dickipedia, a Wiki of Dicks” segment, featuring the show’s first honorary dick: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The segment noted all the things that make McConnell a dick, including his “dickishly” creating a scholarship in his name at the University of Louisville that would be suspended for any woman who gave birth out of wedlock.
Alexandra Leigh, a senior at senior University of Maryland student, said she thought the show may be at an advantage on the Internet which has no time limits or station restrictions. “[It] allows the guests to speak on topics as long as is necessary for them to say what they want to say, and allows the hosts to continue asking them thought-provoking questions without worrying about how many minutes they have left,” Leigh wrote.
But others thought the show was too long and lacking in edgy humor.
Matthew Popkin, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, said the hosts could learn from the examples set by others in the satire realm.
“Elizabeth Warren is a great guest to get…but they didn’t ask her interesting questions and just let her talk,” Popkin said. “Interviews on ‘Last Week Tonight’ and ‘The Daily Show’ tend to add something to the discourse, often challenging their guests in ways that bring out more intricate aspects of the discourse and not just fluff.”
Give ‘Em Time
Since the show is still new, Powers said the writers and hosts are probably still trying to find their footing, making it difficult to judge what the show might become.
“It can take time for a show to really develop a niche and find its way,” Powers wrote. “After one episode I can’t really tell what The HuffPost Show is trying to be.”
Jordan and Johnson see potential in viewers being able to watch anytime.
“I would tune in to watch an interview, or might click on the segments one at a time,” Jordan wrote. “But I doubt that I will spend 90 minutes on a Friday night unless the show develops a more unique voice or some comedy bits that are not just preaching to the choir.”
New episodes will live-stream on the Huffington Post’s front page each Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, and segments will be available to watch anytime on the site.