The Onion News Takeover

From its origins as a satiric newspaper in Wisconsin, the Onion has become something of an empire suddently this month with the premieres of both “The Onion News Network” on IFC and “Onion SportsDome” on Comedy Central.

Both expertly parody the slickest excesses of their targets with the dense parody found in its publications and online outlets.

Producer Will Graham says it was the online news network that originally started the idea of  a network that’s “more pretentious and boring than CNN, more kind of aggressive and in your face than Fox News.

“Taking it to television just seemed like a natural next step for us,” Graham says. “It was time. And also, I think, it was a chance just to skewer the kind of broader world of cable news and this kind of nonstop, in-your-face information flow and explosive, swishy graphics, that kind of thing.”

And yet, considering the excesses of existing cable news, the main challenge of the Onion TV projects is to actually parody them.

“It is literally impossible to be more ridiculous than Fox News or MSNBC,” Graham says. “It’s actually impossible. It’s happened multiple times that we’ll be talking and brainstorming a joke in the writers’ room. We’ll get excited about it, and then it’s literally on the website. So I think we have to kind of embrace that closeness.”

The closeness has already resulted in Onion stories being repeatedly used in mainstream press as if they’re real.

“We’ve had online cases where, for example, last year there was a case where we published a story about Neil Armstrong now saying that the moon landing was a hoax, and all these papers in Bangladesh picked it up.

“There was a story about the Make-A-Wish Foundation being bankrupted by a child who wishes for unlimited wishes, which is pretty out there. It went on MySpace, which is kind of the Internet hub for morons, and we got this letter from the Make-A-Wish Foundation that was, like, ‘We’re getting hundreds of e-mails every hour, people who are concerned.’ So how ridiculous those things are, I think, really kind of opens up a lot of doors for us.”

“It isn’t so much that we’re taking those situations and exploring the humor in those,” says Suzanne Sena, who convincingly plays their hard as nails head anchor, “but rather how sometimes those things are covered. How many of us haven’t been out there at some point covering that snow storm that never really comes, but we’re out there, and we’re dressed for it, and we’re waiting and waiting. But we report on it because we’re there, or we’re in front of the building, and it’s dark, but we’re there because we’re live on the scene. It happens. And I
think that’s some of the absurdity that we like to explore at ONN. We’re not afraid to acknowledge that absurdity and call it out.”

Sena is convincing in her role because she has been a TV anchor before she became a fake one. I wondered how her former colleagues feel about her jump.

“Many of them feel I’ve been promoted, and actually, the response has been phenomenal,” she says. “I think from the journalists in this room who have followed The Onion from its inception and online, most of our fans, I think, start with journalists because we understand some of the absurdity with the business at times. And frankly, if you tune in to all the episodes, I think you’ll see a couple familiar faces from some of my colleagues, actually.”

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