While The Daily Show With Jon Stewart continues to ascend to a spooky legitimacy, feeding off the same absurdities that news anchors report with a straight face, entertainment news remains stubbornly unlampooned. Why doesn't Comedy Central, for instance, do an Access Hollywood spoof as a companion to Stewart?
Well, somebody else already has, though few people seem to have realized it, judging by the show's bargain-basement cable ratings during initial airings. Still, Showbiz Tonight is part of a rollout of prime-time programming, dubbed Headline Prime, begun last week on CNN's sister network, CNN Headline News.
Now the network has scheduled Showbiz Tonight at 4 and then again at 7, a beguiling hour of entertainment industry nonsense, followed by Nancy Grace, which is pitched as a tough-talking legal affairs program, but is closer in spirit to America's Most Wanted, not to mention Jerry Springer. Grace, a former criminal prosecutor, alternates between fulminating rage and tears at the day's most sensational criminal cases.
Then follows a spruced-up, hourlong version of Headline News' bread and butter, called Prime News Tonight. Co-hosted by Mike Galanos and Erica Hill, who are trying for a newsmagazine feel, the show spends four minutes on the bird flu story instead of one. It means to slow down Headline News' usual Orwellian loop of national and global misery and fear, and it does this job in a serviceable way.
But the rubric is still the world as infotainment: Should we be scared of this bird flu? And what's this latest identity theft scam? Now here's our tech guy to tell you about some gadgets.
Headline News isn't CBS, or even CNN, but in the landscape of broadcast news, this new trio of programs neatly represents the slow but steady march away from perspective, balance and a genuine interest in the world outside of what might immediately affect you, or what might stimulate for you some primal feeling of outrage or pity or disgust.
Of the three shows, Showbiz Tonight may be the lesser evil, if only because, being about celebrities, it doesn't involve real people. The format is its own outsized joke, with nothing at stake except viewers' brain matter.
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