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Political Parodies Pay in Election Year

Oct 5, 2008  •  Post A Comment

This election season, there’s money to be made in making fun of politicians.
Tina Fey’s brilliant mimicry of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has helped boost “Saturday Night Live” ratings 46% over last year. And Comedy Central’s late-night news parody shows, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” are enjoying record viewership as the elections approach.

David Alan Grier

HOT ‘CHOCOLATE’ David Alan Grier’s new “Chocolate News” won’t ignore Barack Obama.

Comedy Central next week launches “Chocolate News” starring David Alan Grier, which uses a newsmagazine format to look at issues from a black perspective. While “Chocolate News” isn’t as topically driven as the “Stewart” and “Colbert” shows, given that it’s the height of the election season and one of the candidates is African American, the show will be talking about the topic.
While political humor once scared off advertisers, the jokes about this year’s election have some advertisers voting for comedy.
“‘Colbert’ and ‘The Daily Show’ are hot, hot, hot,” said Jeff Lucas, executive VP at MTV Entertainment Networks, who oversees ad sales for Comedy Central, Spike, TVLand and CMT. “Politics are hotter than ever. You can even see it with ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
‘SNL’ Revival
Advertisers who haven’t sponsored NBC’s sketch-comedy show for several seasons have returned to the show, a network spokeswoman said. Demand has spiked since Ms. Fey began appearing as Gov. Palin.
Between now and Election Day, “Saturday Night Live” will be doing a series of prime-time specials on Thursday nights, plus one on Nov. 3, the Monday before the election. The ad time in those specials was largely sold in the upfront, the spokeswoman said.
Comedy Central plans to capitalize on the rush to political humor with a live “Indecision 2008” Election Night special that will be sponsored mainly by clients who signed up last year for a special “Indecision” package, including Volkswagen, AT&T, Subway, Diageo, Apple, E-Trade, Columbia Sportswear and Anheuser-Busch. The “Indecision” package includes sponsorship in Comedy Central’s coverage of the conventions and Election Night, presence on an election-related Web site and other promotional opportunities.
“It’s turned into a huge bonanza for them because the show has been doing better, it’s hotter than ever, and they have an association with the main political theme,” Mr. Lucas said.
So far this season, “Daily Show” is averaging 1.8 million viewers and “Colbert” is averaging 1.4 million, both up 16% from last year.
While there is still commercial time available in “Daily Show” and “Colbert,” Mr. Lucas said demand exceeds supply and the network is being careful not to have regular sponsors squeezed out at the last moment.
He estimates that this year’s “Indecision” has generated more than twice the revenue it did four years ago. (The Emmy Award-wining “Colbert Report” wasn’t on the air in 2004.)
Advertisers traditionally have shied away from political humor out of concern they could be seen as taking sides, said Shari Brill, senior VP of programming at media buyer Carat.
This year, it’s clearly different.
“They must have said a prayer to get a windfall like this,” she said of the networks.
Ms. Brill believes that while partisans will sometimes claim that shows like “Saturday Night Live” favor one side or another, “I think they just make fun of all of the candidates.”
On top of that, advertisers who buy late-night spots know they’re going to get a different kind of atmosphere.
Some clients still want to steer away from anything controversial. But clients looking to reach out to young men will go for edgier content, Ms. Brill said.
“There are advertisers who wouldn’t touch ‘South Park’ with a 10-foot pole,” she said. “But the movie advertisers who want to get those young audiences, they all go into that.”
‘Chocolate’ Buyers
And some clients may be a bit wary about “Chocolate News” as well, she said.
“I would think the title alone may cause people to take a closer look,” Ms. Brill said.
Mr. Lucas noted that even though “South Park” remains controversial, it has a huge following among clients because they know the show is the No. 1 destination for young men.
He said he hasn’t had any issues with clients over “Chocolate News,” and that the series is selling as well as the network’s other prime-time programming.
The fact that Mr. Grier has a good reputation has helped, he said.
Lauren Corrao, executive VP for original programming and development at Comedy Central, said “Chocolate News” is more of a sketch show in news packaging rather than a topical show. The network wants to balance its topical shows with programs that will do better in reruns and DVD sales, she said.
That doesn’t mean the election is off-limits. In the show’s second episode, Mr. Grier will urge viewers who can’t bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama because he’s black to remember that he’s only half-black, and to vote for the white half.
Another segment looks at John McCain’s controversial (fictional) dry cleaner, who believes in separating whites from blacks (at least when laundry is involved).
“You have to be pushing the envelope a bit to really stand out as a comedy show, and our advertisers, the ones that come to Comedy Central to really reach that young audience, know you’ve got to be cutting-edge because of all the alternatives [to TV] out there,” Mr. Lucas said.
Ms. Corrao expects “Chocolate News” to appeal to the kind of audience David Chappelle drew with his edgy comedy before he abruptly left the network.
“Not to bring up the ‘C’ word, but a while back this network had a lot of success with ‘Chappelle’s Show,’” she said.
Comedy Central is coming off a third quarter in which its ratings were largely flat. Network executives said the Summer Olympics presented competition for the young men who usually watch the channel.
In addition to “Chocolate News,” Comedy Central will be launching new seasons of “South Park” and “The Sarah Silverman Show” this month.
Ms. Corrao said she had recently screened six pilots but hasn’t made a decision on which of those shows will be picked up, or whether this summer’s new programs, “The Gong Show” or “Reality Bites” will be renewed.

52 Comments

  1. I was intrigued by SNL this past Saturday night, not for the expected jab at anything Republican, but by the very clear indictment of the Democrats for the Wall Street mess (which, of course, is blatantly true). My jaw actually dropped a little that they didn’t try to pin the whole mess on Bush, who in fact blew the whistle back in 2005 on the potential disaster but Democrat-led Congress wouldn’t regulate the sub-prime rates. Granted, they made the point of Democrats’ culpability by embedding it in a joke, but I was still surprised that it was mentioned at all.

  2. Having funny candidates is such a sad situation for us to be in, that we need a good laugh to help us through the miserable prospect of what any of them will do when they get into “power”. For now, it helps all of us (especially NBC) to be the “deciderers”. Can NBC continue to do as a good a job as Comedy Central once the dust has settled in November?
    http://richreader.blogspot.com/

  3. I would be a little nervous as an advertiser. I know I have been insulted by so many of the left wing liberals whose only job is to get Obama elected by making McCain & Palin look bad that I’ve stopped watching most liberal news & ‘comedy’ shows. Advertisers can’t afford to lose 1/2 their customers with bad jabs that are offensive and just not funny

  4. It seems that the advertisers are coming around to the fact that Americans are in a seethingly anti-republican mood, as the Economist magazine put it. Smart brands are placing themselves firmly in the forefront of change, common sense and a genuine american humor when they use platforms like the Daily Show, SNL, now Chocolate News, and others. Consumers are starved for truth, and speaking truth to power, especially by comedians and journalists who expose the Orwellian double speak, false populism and machinations from the right is like a refuge after 8 long years of one of this beautiful country’s worst presidents and now the prospect of people like Palin in a position of executive authority.
    Humor seems to be the only thing most consumers have at this point. Indeed, when the Soviets were running the Russian empire, the populace used humor, albeit in an underground, viral fashion as their only weapon to maintain a level of sanity. Same here, and lest someone accuses me of being a pinko, let me carefully explain I am making an analogy to the right wing of the Republican party. Anyway, most marketers are smart enough to understand this dynamic. This is one way our wonderful free Market works, isn’t it?
    From – Patriot. American. Progressive.

  5. LFforMcCain you watch a lot of that so called “news” on Fox News? At least Comedy Central is a comedy channel they don’t try and mask it as news. Unlike your lapdog Karl Rove and all those excellent reporters on Fox News.

  6. BTW Doug congress wasn’t led by a Democratic majority in 2005 the Republicans had the majority. Seems like your into facts as much as your buddy President Bush.

  7. The U.S. presidential election will be decided by a wrestling match to claim the vacant title. John McCain, wearing a red, white and blue mask that juts out to one cheek, will enter to the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner. He will be accompanied by his manager, the sultry Miss Sarah, wearing her traditional hair in a bun, glasses, red jacket and black skirt. Obama will follow to the sounds of America, America, wearing a black singlet. The referee, wearing a mask, will examine both wrestlers for any foreign objects and will then ring the bell to start the match. McCain will walk around and then grab a microphone and start talking in some gibberish that confuses the crowd and Obama. Then McCain uses the microphone to hit Obama over the head and temporaily daze him. McCain will then apply the camel clutch, something he learned while in the desert, but Obama will riggle out of it with some moves taught to him by his good buddy the Rock and shouts out loud, “Can you smell what Obama is cooking?” applies the people’s elbow, dazing McCain. He will fall to the matt and Obama will move in for the count. It will go to two and a half before McCain slithers out of it, making the crowd mad, feeling the referee purposely slowed the count.
    The lovely Sarah will then try to disrupt Obama by winking at him and giving him a shout out.
    And McCain will use the distraction to counterattack with a move called the Budgetary Bomb. But, Obama will counter with a move to remove McCain’s mask, which reveals none other than George W. Bush, explaining his gibberish on the microphone.
    At that point, Obama turns around and looks at the mysterious referee and removes his mask to reveal it’s McCain.
    McCain runs around the ring, at which point the lovely Miss Sarah stands on the outside of the ring to once again interfere. But Obama pushes McCain, who bumps Miss Sarah. A stunned McCain looks on bewilderment, at which point Obama moves in with his signature move — the Obama Slama.
    And with that, another referee runs into the ring and applies the count. The second referee is Joe Biden, who applies the three count.
    Obama wins the match and the vacant title.

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