Less pomp, more romp on MTV, Comedy Central

January 20, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles--Comedy Central and MTV are promising relief tonight for those viewers who are growing tired of all the kettle drums, trumpet trills and pomp of Harry Thomason's reminiscent-of-ancient -Rome TV salutes to his friend Bill Clinton.

Under the heading of alternative inaugural TV, Comedy Central returns to the kind of satirical coverage it offered during the presidential campaign, with "America Gets the Bill" at 8 tonight. Then, at 10, MTV airs "MTV's 1993 Rock 'n' Roll Inaugural Ball" live from Washington.

"A number of people have asked us if we'll be going any easier on the incoming administration than we were on the outgoing," said Mitchell Semel, senior vice president for programming at Comedy Central. "And the answer in a word is 'no.' One of the runner-up titles for our inaugural coverage was 'The Honeymoon's Over.'

"We are positioning ourselves with our viewers as equal opportunity offenders in the news arena. And when it comes to putting ourselves alongside all of the other news providers . . . we think of ourselves sort of as the loyal opposition of humor."

Semel said Comedy Central's inauguration special will include taped coverage of Clinton's swearing-in at noon, his inaugural speech and the "pageantry and hoopla."

During the speech, jokes and sarcastic comments will crawl across the bottom of the screen -- the same technique that Comedy Central used so successfully during the vice-presidential debate between Dan Quayle and Al Gore.

"We found during our campaign coverage that this kind of thing really connected with our viewers," Semel said. "In the same way that in years past, Johnny Carson's monologue said a great deal about what was going on in the country, [with] a perspective obviously different from what viewers heard in the evening news, we found that by letting real events be as funny as they really are, we were talking in ways that our viewers really appreciated." Francis Gasparini, one of the writers of "America Gets the Bill," said tonight's show will also include a "major reconsideration" of the Bush presidency. "I'm feeling nostalgic and, frankly, a little guilty now that Bush is leaving office," he said.

MTV is in more of a celebratory mood, according to Linda Corradina, senior vice president for news and specials at the cable network.

"The inaugural ball is a culmination of our yearlong "Choose or Lose" news coverage and political awareness campaign," she said. "It's a celebration in honor of all the young people who got involved in the political process and voted in 1992."

Comedian Dennis Miller will be master of ceremonies for the televised portion of the ball.

The telecast will include live performances by Don Henley, Boyz II Men, 10,000 Maniacs, En Vogue and Roger Clinton, the president-elect's brother, a singer now working as an assistant in the TV production company of Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.

MTV invited the Clintons and the Gores, but there has been some question about whether they will attend, because MTV's ball is "not an official event," in the words of Thomason, who is co-director of Clinton's inaugural committee.

Corradina said that MTV did not pay the committee for the right to broadcast its ball -- unlike CBS, HBO and Disney -- but that she still expected the Clintons and the Gores to attend.

For one thing, a town meeting on MTV in June was one of the key moments in Clinton's comeback. Then there's the lineup of talent at the ball.

"Well, his brother's going to be performing, after all," she said.

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