"Coming to CNN: A comic taking shots at CNN"
Chicago Sun Times
July 15, 2002
by Phil Rosenthal


PASADENA, Calif.--Like nerdy kids sporting welts from the school bully, CNN honchos are trying desperately to convince people that it doesn't matter how badly Fox News Channel pounds them in the ratings because, well, CNN is just better. OK?

Boss Walter Isaacson says his outfit would prefer "to be trusted rather than popular. ... We are No. 1 as a great journalistic network. ... Winning is more than just the ratings.

"We're going to remain true to our mission of having, as our hosts [and] as our journalists, folks who are real reporters, real journalists, folks who are interested in telling you the story rather than just shouting their opinion at you."

This was shortly before the official announcement that the network of Arthel Neville, Larry King, "Crossfire" and Connie Chung had cut a deal with Comedy Central to beam a cut-down version of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on its international feed around the world.

More than 200 countries will get Stewart's newscast beginning this fall, though it's less clear whether they will actually get it.

"That's an excellent question, and one that I should answer, not the head of CNN," Stewart said, deadpan. "I feel badly for the countries that think we're serious, but I have heard that in sub-Saharan Africa irony is considered a real art form."

There is indeed something out-of-sync about CNN --derided last week by MSNBC exec Jerry Nachman as "a little musty-looking [with] that Atlanta discount warehouse look to it"--embracing a program that, for the most part, is making fun of it.

"I can't speak for [the people who run CNN] in most respects ... oh, what the hell, let me speak for them," Stewart said. "They don't get it. They think it's cute. They don't realize that we're actually angry at them. ... I'm not sure they realize that we're actually making fun of them."

The only reason this is plausible is that the people at CNN seem to have a rather unique view of themselves, as evidenced by their enthusiasm for "Connie Chung Tonight," critically shelled and stomped in the ratings by Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" since its debut three weeks ago. Said Isaacson: "Man, that's a cool show."

A more common viewer response was that of Chung's 7-year-old son, Matthew, who, according to Chung, "came up to the TV for one second and ran off."

Chung did concede that while she wasn't nervous, she didn't feel like herself in that opening show on which, as luck would have it, Stewart was a guest. The lowlight of their exchange--or highlight, from a comedic standpoint--was when, with a straight face, she asked if either CBS or ABC had approached him about becoming a real-life anchorman.

"May I just demonstrate visually how I felt inside?" Stewart recalled, launching into a series of cartoonish noises, gestures and double-takes, a la Jim Carrey in "The Mask."

Asked to put that amazement in print terms, Stewart said: "Write this down: 'Whaaaaaaaaat?!?'--with as many a's as you can put in there.

"That first night she was bouncing between--literally, I think the stories were arson, pedophilia, me and world soccer. ... I hate to say she was actually serious. I honestly think she was still thinking about the arson thing."

Fire certainly seems to be an early theme of "Connie Chung Tonight." Three times during Chung's third night on CNN, a fire alarm went off, interrupting her live, hard-hitting chat with Playboy babes who used to work for Enron. "We should use it again if we ever have a boring interview," she said, leaving open the possibility that that's what the alarm truly signaled.

So one can see how CNN viewers outside of this country might not know how to take Stewart's humor, which arguably might be less absurd.

As for the possibility that "The Daily Show: Global Edition" might clash with foreign sensibilities, Stewart boasted that the Comedy Central program has run for two years "without incident" and in fact "has helped promote a healing between" the United States and Canada.

"I'm a corporate tool," he said. "Where somebody wants to put it--if they want to put it on Lifetime and say that it's really relevant to women's issues--I'm fine with that. My middle name is Repurposing.

"My basic feeling is this: If you can make it in Bahrain, you can make it in the United Arab Emirates. We're just excited to have the opportunity to let down the entire world."


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