Thursday, February 26, 2015

News Watch: This may be the best promo I've ever seen


"In Season 2 he's changing everything up. . . .
Maybe he'll add a pony . . . a crime-solving pony.

Says John, "We were just really assuming the show was going to be basically the same." The good news: He gets to keep his glasses.

by Ken

This promo was actually first posted about seven weeks ago, and we're already three weeks into the season it was promo-ing. But it's still maybe the best promo I've ever seen for anything. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it delights me as richly as it did the first time.

At the end of the promo John expresses speaks rather forlornly about his hopes for this "one more year." After Episode 2 of the new season aired, HBO announced that Last Week Tonight will be around not just for the season-in-progress but for two more, of 35 shows apiece, in 2016 and 2017. Let's hand it to the HBO programming people for getting this call triumphantly right. The Last Week Tonight team has consistently managed to make the show among the funniest and the most informative broadcasts we've had.

Of course John was a pretty thoroughly known quantity by the time the show debuted, thanks to his years remarkable work on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Joh Stewart, including his well-deserved stint as substitute host during Jon's leave. What wasn't known was just what sort of show he and his people would be putting together at their new address.

The format they came up with is simple but durable; it just depends on the huge amount of work and wit it takes to stuff it with content. First there's a roundup of relatively short items plucked from the week's strange-but-true events. Then the latter two-thirds or so of the show is given over to a really extensive look at a single subject.

I would think that even the most casual observer can see how much research and screening and writing and rewriting and materials collection that half-hour broadcast entails. Still, the point seemed to be lost on Charlie Rose, as I discovered when, in order to see John, I broke my standard no-Charlie-Rose rule (which can be stated roughly, in case the point needs clarifying: "No Charlie Rose!"). Charlie, apparently genuinely surprised to hear John say that no, there's no way he could do LWT on a = nightly basis -- like, you know, The Daily Show. Of course it's possible that our Charlie, for all his seemingly sincere aura of fandom, had never actually watched either The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight. The fact remains that he seemed sincerely confounded by the idea that the way the shows are produced is different in any way except the number of times a week each is produced.

The big challenge for the LWT team, obviously, is the "big" segment of each show: finding subjects that lend themselves to their kind of treatment at 18-or-so-minute length, and then putting together a segment that fills those 18 minutes at peak news and comedy value. I think it's pretty extraordinary how many such subjects they've imagined and executed so successfully, coming up with an astounding array of information, most of which is genuinely shocking -- and side-splitting, often at the same time. One obvious result is that each episode of LWT has enduring rather than merely topical value.

I can't think of a better example than the "Tobacco" segment from this season's Episode 2.


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