BEST KNOWN FOR SUCH SILLINESS AS The Simpsons, Married…with Children and that ridiculous electronic hockey puck, the Fox Network is now desperate to be taken seriously as a news-gathering organization. A step in that direction is Fox News Sunday, a new public affairs program airing Sunday mornings at 9. The host is Tony Snow, once head speechwriter for George Bush, which may explain why the show is exactly like the Bush Administration: professional, thoughtful, bland. Although publicity for FNS has stressed its determination to reach younger viewers—an Internet hookup enables viewers to e-mail questions to Snow on-air—this is basically a Double A version of ABC’s This Week with David Brinkley. Anyway, why would younger watchers tune in to a program hosted by a Republican baby boomer? Gen Xers hate people in their 40s.
Implicit in starting such a show is the notion that it fills a void. But the evidence says otherwise. One of the Sundays that we checked in, Snow conducted a tedious interview with Senators Orrin Hatch and David Pryor, while NBC’s Meet the Press had a lively chat with Newt Gingrich. True, Gingrich did seem to be sneering at some of host Tim Russert’s questions, but at least sparks flew. The same morning, Bob Schieffer at CBS’s Face the Nation did his usual solid job, and Cokie Roberts, George Will and Sam Donaldson turned on the expected wattage on David Brinkley. None of the talking heads on Fox News Sunday were even in the same ballpark, not as pundits, not as stars. It has been suggested, mostly by people paid to suggest things like this, that Snow’s rightward tilt countervails the liberalism of the other programs. But that ignores the overarching influence of the The McLaughlin Group, whose host has that territory locked up. Rude, bullying, slightly demented, occasionally quite funny, John McLaughlin remains one of the best entertainers on TV today. What’s more, his sitcom cast—Jack Germond as avuncular Uncle Pete, Eleanor Clift as Shrill Shill and Fred Barnes as Amiable Conservative—play their roles to the hilt. When Snow tried the same thing on a show with superconsultant James Carville and political wiseman Michael Barone, the fireworks felt derivative, as if the panelists had been scripted to do a McLaughlin. Snow’s show has a basic problem: Seen it, heard it.