Given that the millennial generation will soon enough be toiling away to pay for my Medicare and Social Security benefits, the least I could do is spend four hours watching a newly launched cable network created especially for them.
Fusion, a joint venture of Univision and ABC News that is also aimed at the young and growing population of Latinos and multiculturals who don’t conform to Pat Buchanan’s American ideal, debuted on Monday night with a mix of what its repetitive promos called “News,” “Pop Culture” and “Satire” in between commercials for ProActiv acne cream starring rocker Adam Levine. What a refreshing departure from MNSBC’s prostate pills and polished catheters! Another distinction: the new network launched with an elaborately choreographed theme song featuring its ridiculously youthful and attractive research, marketing and accounting departments.
I liked the news, tolerated the pop culture, and could hardly bear the “satire”—my scare quotes insufficient to convey the disappointing lameness of said attempts at humor. But please take my reaction with a grain of (Epsom?) salt; I am decades beyond Fusion’s 18-35 target demographic.
So, too, is 55-year-old Jorge Ramos, the slim, silver-haired Univision anchor who helms America, Fusion’s marquee prime-time news magazine program. In his first installment, which premiered an hour earlier than its usual 8 p.m. time slot, Ramos trekked to Maricopa County, Arizona, to face down its limelight-loving sheriff, Joe Arpaio, with an entertainingly hostile grilling focused on Arpaio’s ham-fisted crime fighting and anti-illegal immigration practices. “We haven’t spoken for 30 seconds and you’ve already said something outrageous,” scolded the Mexican-born Ramos, confronting the 81-year-old Arpaio in a heavy accent after the “unapologetic” sheriff needled him about President Obama’s allegedly “fraudulent” birth certificate.
Barack Obama received much gentler treatment in a walking-talking softball interview conducted just outside the South Portico on Monday afternoon by Fusion’s White House correspondent, Jim Avila, who also works for ABC News. The president dodged Avila’s questions about U.S. spying on foreign leaders’ phone calls, paid his usual lip-service to immigration reform, and must have been relieved that Avila didn’t press him on the disastrously error-prone debut of Obamacare—which, after all, might have seemed rude after the smiling commander-in-chief made a point of striding jauntily out of the White House and congratulating Avila and Fusion “on the new venture.”
Obama and Avila mostly appeared to be enjoying a friendly tête-à-tête, but it was a nice, absurdist touch when every so often the camera pulled back to show what was really happening—a scrum of techies, producers and White House aides walking backwards in front of the strolling duo and struggling not to slip and fall, while the president’s Secret Service detail kept up with the rolling mob. That made me chuckle. Of course, Ramos and company surely realized that zero news was committed, because the brief presidential interview didn’t air until well into America’s second half-hour.
Of more interest was the segment that preceded Obama—Ramos’s edgy encounter with a laid-back, shirt-sleeved Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Tea Party firebrand, who clearly wants Fusion’s audience to view him without the devil’s horns. Smart move on Cruz’s part, even though Ramos interrogated him about his Canadian birth to a Cuban father and American mother, and whether he can legally run for president with such exotic baggage. The senator ducked and covered. Ramos also made Cruz defend some of his dad Rafael’s more incendiary public statements comparing life under Obama to the dictatorial oppression of Fidel Castro. Yet Cruz, for all his filibustering bluster, calmly endured—and survived--Ramos’s withering fire. The program’s final segment was a syrupy satellite remote with Spanish-born pop star Enrique Iglesias.
So much for news. On to pop culture! Alicia Menendez, the affably spunky host of AM Tonight, devoted her entire half-hour to a discussion of virginity and the loss thereof by American teenagers and celebrities. My favorite comment—from documentary filmmaker Therese Shechter, director of How to Lose Your Virginity—was: “I think women have a lot of value that really has nothing to with what’s going on between their legs.” Hear, hear! AM Tonight was followed by DNA, an earnest effort at consciousness-raising hosted by musician and activist Derrick N. Ashong, a Harvard-educated native of Ghana. The half-hour show’s premiere focused on a young Miami skateboarder and graffiti artist named Israel Hernandez, who received a lethal tasing from Miami Beach police after he decorated a McDonald’s.
Ashong’s regular sidekick is fellow Harvardian and ex-model Alejandra Campoverdi, who also happens to be the former deputy director of Hispanic media outreach at the Obama White House. Note to viewers who stumble onto Fusion on their way to Fox News: Don’t expect critical treatment of the president in particular or Democrats in general. For one thing, the aforementioned Alicia Menendez (though it wasn’t mentioned on-air Monday night) is the daughter of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a zealous partisan and key immigration reform advocate who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Also, don’t expect to find Fusion on Time Warner Cable, at least not yet; I live-streamed it on my laptop.)
Next on the lineup was Sports Talkers, which was hosted by three members of the Harvard Sailing Team comedy troupe—heavy on the Crimson, guys!—and seems to aspire to be a parody of the testosterone-fueled shoutfests that dominate ESPN 2. With the talent seated at a wooden work table in what appears to be a sports paraphernalia-cluttered basement, the show was marginally watchable and overwhelmingly sophomoric. “You’ve got poopy in your pants!” the hosts kept shouting in a segment devoted to athletes behaving badly. Highlight: host Billy Scafuri to a bug-eyed St. Louis Cardinals fan who kept doing her most obnoxious bird calls: “You are an incredibly creepy guest and I’m looking forward to this being over.”
Alas, the giggles were few and far between—and nonexistent (at least for me) in the designated comedy half-hour, a satire of a breakfast show titled Good Morning Today featuring computer-animated hosts voiced by supercilious anchors, and flesh-and-blood guests. Don’t get me wrong: I like to laugh. But a sketch based on the premise that Elvis Presley actually didn’t die in 1977 but instead converted to Islam, recorded hit records in praise of Allah, and donated the proceeds to Hamas, didn’t come close to tickling my funny bone. (It’s just possible that members of the Muslim community would have found this weird misadventure in humor slightly more amusing than I did.) Nor was I in stitches when GMT’s hosts displayed their aptitude for raucous belching. An endless cooking segment featuring real-life chef Fabio Viviani whipping up a salad garnished by steel bolts and shards of glass struck me as pointless and bizarre and, again, not funny.
As political and social satire goes, this is not even competent, let alone in the same league as Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show—which is a surprise, given that the creator is The Daily Show’s much-lauded former head writer and executive producer David Javerbaum. His credentials alone suggest that he can—and hopefully will—do better in the future.