I like to keep up with the news. I use it for my day job, (I run sound for a classically formatted news show) and it keeps me informed on current events for when I need to drop knowledge bombs on my friends (Friend: “Oil is only going to get cheaper”. Me: “Well the Saudis have boosted production and effectively devalued the barrel rate of sweet crude coming from places like North Dakota which may ultimately force them to slow production to remain solvent or close altogether…so you know…” Friend: “Oh.” Me: “Yah.” (Boom) ). But I have a problem. While I like to watch the news, most cable news outlets are either dramamine levels of boring or very repetitive or both. That’s where John Oliver has come to save us all.
Look, I get it. 24 hours of news all day every day is hard to do. That’s a lot of time. That’s 10,080 minutes that have to be filled with news and commercials for reverse mortgages and painless catheters. But I think we have a problem. That problem is that there is probably only really 4 hours a night or 1,680 minutes of news a week. This isn’t a fact, just my opinion which is based subjectively on my own ritalin fueled ability to pay attention to anything. So what happens when you have too much time and not enough news? You repeat it. You repeat it again and again. You dissect it. Then you let the anchor after you host a panel and discuss it. You know what happens after you’ve tuned to the news three different times throughout your day to see the same clips and the same dialogue from a story that actually matters and is important? You (I ) cease to care. Again, this is my opinion and not fact or even broad market research. I don’t know about you, but I tune out when I see CNN or Fox News and talking about the same news story all day every day for a whole week.
And that’s sad because beyond wanting to keep current I believe the news has an opportunity to reinforce empathetic growth in the hearts and minds of our population. Here’s how John Oliver and Last Week Tonight have come to make news bearable. It’s 30 minutes a week. Yep you heard me, just 30 a week. Not a night, not in the evenings and mornings, just one half hour block on Sunday night. Now I know what you’re thinking; “Is a comedy news show all that insightful?” Thanks for asking my incredibly engaged reader! I am here to tell you that, yes. Yes it is.
John Oliver has found a perfect balance between making jokes, making fun of the news, and actually reporting what is happening in the world around us. It’s not purely objective reporting but if that’s all you want then you should get your news from the AP and call it a day. Where Colbert and Stewart have been irreverent and crude in the past, Oliver is here to tell you the news and do it in an amusing, but actually insightful and engaging way. He also does something that, in my opinion, the others don’t do as well. He picks a topic and roughly half the run length of his show is dedicated to giving you hard fact-based evidence about whatever he’s talking about. From income inequality right here in the USA to Big Tobacco’s meddling into other (pretty much every) countries’ efforts to get kids to stop smoking. His ability to mix humor with actual news reporting is fantastic. When SOPA was being introduced into Congress last year he led a charge to make the event interesting to Americans. Instead of using terms like “BANDWIDTH” and “CONTENT PROVIDER” to describe how congress wanted shape the internet he broke it down and said it outright, keeping the internet free and open keeps your cable company from f***ing you. He even thought we should change the name of the bill to reflect that. You know what, if that’s a little rude or inappropriate, at least you clearly understand what’s at stake now. His report went viral and really helped to keep congress from passing a hugely detrimental bill that would have forever changed the landscape of the Internet as we know it today. He has an uncanny ability to be funny, irreverent, and insightful. I think his ability to blend humor into the news lends itself to actually reporting what’s happening better than any of the other comedy news show out there.
This season is no different from the last. One big benefit to this show is that “Last Week Tonight” airs on HBO, and since there are no commercials or sponsors, John Oliver can do his thing and bring light to ANY issue he sees fit without fear of angering a sponsor. This is huge. It gives him a blank check to talk about whatever and whoever he wants. And he has; from TimeWarner, to the sugar industry to Big Tobacco, to Big Pharma, and even the NSA.
Now I know it is much easier for him to do this since he only has one show a night and I know I’m picking on big cable news agencies that air news 24/7, but you know what? I am much more likely to tune into his program than any other because it isn’t just endless roundtable discussions and opinions about whatever breaking news is happening. He gets in, covers the week at large, and gets out. Then reports on a topic and instead of taking a bunch of different opinions from talking drone heads, he actually does some investigating when it comes to his main news story of the night. I feel like this is easy for him to do since he’s only on one night a week. I also know that there’s no way 24/7 news can try to do the same every night; but I guess it would be nice to live in a world where we didn’t have such a barrage of images and clips and sound bytes ALL reminding us how terrible things are out there.
To show you what I’m talking about, here is his latest clips on standardized testing in schools: