As the news developed into something resembling sports commentary or reality entertainment in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, news analysis became vital to TV ratings on both cable and traditional broadcast outlets. You can read more about this transition from news to entertainment here (CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It. Inside the strange symbiosis between Jeff Zucker and the president he helped create. BY JONATHAN MAHLER APRIL 4, 2017): https://nyti.ms/2r2aW3F
Basically, Jeff Zucker moved from NBC entertainment in late 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s (1988 Olympics, Friends sit-com, Fear Factor reality TV, and Donald Trump’s The Apprentice) to head of CNN Worldwide in 2013, bringing with him all he learned about sports programming, entertainment ratings, and late night comedy/interview formats to the field of news production at CNN.
As entertainment, drama, hyperbole and hype took over, other entertainers took notice. Some of the early beginnings could be traced back to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn. Even earlier news analysis could be traced back as far as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Robin Williams – all comedians with a political or social edge to their acts.
Craig Kilborn’s show on Comedy Central was somewhat pioneering. It was political satire played out as if it was a live news read. Comedy – with all the license the writers, directors, producers and talent could possibly take with the material. Unlike “real news” it could easily skew facts to fit a comic gag.
Interestingly, Kilborn previously anchored sports coverage on the comedically emerging ESPN. That network’s SportsCenter show used to be somewhat funny and sarcastic with a whole slew of anchors like Kilborn joking about plays of the day and inserting their own comedic personalities into the show. Later on, there was even a network sitcom on ABC called Sports Night that aired from 1998 to 2000. The show chronicled the early days of a fictitious ESPN-like network. More interesting stuff from Wikipedia:
“The show is said to be a semi-fictional account of the ESPN SportsCenter team of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, with Rydell representing Olbermann and McCall representing Patrick. Patrick has confirmed this on his syndicated radio program The Dan Patrick Show. It has also been said that many of the story lines for Casey McCall were inspired by Craig Kilborn, who was an anchor on SportsCenter during the mid-1990s.”
So Kilborn was an early comedic act to come out of sports. He’d go on the pioneer The Daily Show, which is now a modern staple for all kinds of people who’d prefer to get their politics from a comedy show as opposed to a stuffy or angry conventional outlet like CNN or Fox News. Interestingly, Keith Olbermann went on to host his own political show on MSNBC, then another political show on Al Gore’s Current TV. Perhaps more interesting, in 2013 Current TV was sold to Al Jazeera, one of the alternative networks we’ll examine later.
Now, back to The Daily Show. Steven Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, was one of the original on-air contributors to Craig Kilborn’s and John Stewart’s Daily Shows. Colbert is regarded as a big political commentator these days, albeit via comedy. Trevor Noah succeeded John Stewart as the host of the show in 2015. Like Colbert, he started out as a contributor to the show. Like Kilborn, Olbermann, and Stewart, Noah was the furthest thing from an experienced journalist. He was an actor and a comedian from South Africa.
In any event, these shows are important, because these days a significant portion of the population gets their news from shows like The Daily Show, The Onion and the various clips they spawn on YouTube. According to Pew Research, “One-in-ten (10%) online adults said they got news from the [The Colbert Report] in the previous week, on par with such sources as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.” (December 2014 study) In 2015, Pew Research cited that same 2014 survey and found that 12% of online Americans got their news from The Daily Show. The Onion is another satire/comedy publisher on the web.
Some of the others personalities that have political influence on large portions of the population include:
- Seth Meyers(comedian – started on SNL)
- Jimmy Kimmel(comic actor and sketch producer for radio – started on Los Angeles radio station KROQ)
- Jimmy Fallon(comedian/musician – started on SNL)
- Dennis Miller(comedian – started on SNL)
- Tina Fey(comedian/actress/writer – started on SNL)
- Sarah Silverman(comedian/actress, also girlfriend/partner of Kimmel from 2002-2009)
The general issue here is that a large portion of the population – who knows how many get clips shared via phones, tablets and laptops – consumes news via characters that are somewhat fictional and are certainly not trained journalists. You might even inquire as to whether any of the people mentioned above have college degrees.
While the viewers of these shows may consume news elsewhere, there’s a chance they don’t. And there’s a chance the shows form their major opinions about how the world works and who’s responsible for what. And, there’s ample research showing that the emotional reach of comedy allows speakers and performers of all kinds to make indelible impressions on their audiences – much more so than people that are delivering straight, dry news accounts that appear on traditional, non-comedy media.
Oh, and so you don’t have to, we looked up the colleges and degrees of the people mentioned above. Here you go. You’re welcome:
- Craig Kilborn– Montana State University (no major given on Wikipedia)
- John Stewart– College of William & Mary (psychology major)
- Keith Olbermann– Cornell University (communication arts)
- Stephen Colbert– Northwestern University (theater)
- Trevor Noah– none listed (looks like he went directly into soap opera acting and comedy after attending a private catholic elementary and high school in Johannesburg)
- Seth Meyers– Northwestern University (none listed)
- Jimmy Kimmel– Arizona State University (looks like he never graduated)
- Jimmy Fallon– College of Saint Rose, Albany, New York (communications – he completed the degree in 2009, 14 years after leaving to pursue comedy career)
- Dennis Miller– Point Park University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (journalism)
- Tina Fey– University of Virginia (drama)
- Sarah Silverman– New York University (studied for one year, didn’t graduate)
These are all people that had clear intentions of working in show business but somehow ended up influencing voters all across the U.S. for decades and decades to come. Interestingly, they started in either sports broadcasting or comedy and eventually found their way into politics. You’ll see all of these people – with the exceptions of Kilborn and Fallon – wade heavily into the drama, passion and shrillness of national and international politics if you take a quick spin through YouTube and combine any controversial issue with their names.