Friday, January 22, 2016

Forgotten TV: Our Planet Tonight (1987)

The presentation of news on television has often been ripe for satire or parody, dating back to television's earliest days. From Johnny Carson's earliest shows to Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update to today's Daily Show and its brethren, the headlines of the day have also been a fountain for topical humor.

However, not all parodies work so well. Weekend Update and Daily Show are branches of a tree that started with That Was The Week That Was in the 60's. Some genius thought that adapting the joylessly unfunny Weekly World News into a weekly television show would work in the 90's, and it bombed, despite having a legit newsman in Edwin Newman in the anchor chair, a good enough sport to subject himself to ridicule at the end of his career. After all, he'd been a newsreader for David Letterman on the latter's short-lived daytime show nearly two decades earlier, before Letterman joined him in achieving iconic status.

In 1987, Jim Abrahams and Jerry & David Zucker, the masterminds behind the "Airplane!" movies, Police Squad!, and the subsequent "Naked Gun" trilogy, all starring Leslie Nielsen, tried again to post their tentpoles in television. But, much like Police Squad!, Our Planet Tonight, a 1-shot special for NBC, failed to find an audience large enough to warrant a sequel.

It wasn't for lack of trying, to be sure. Planet had the right idea, spoofing the concept of primetime newsmagazines such as 20/20, 60 Minutes, etc., although the pairing of actors John Houseman (ex-The Paper Chase) and Morgan Fairchild (ex-Flamingo Road, Mork & Mindy, Dallas) actually was a goof on ABC's pairing of Barbara Walters & Harry Reasoner for their evening news a decade earlier. Houseman played his part as though his Chase character, Professor Kingsfield, had moved from the classroom to the newsroom. That was part of the joke, of course.

The supporting cast, if ya will, included Jay Leno, future filmmaker Peter Farrelly, and, in this sample clip, Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello, ex-Saturday Night Live), and Martha Quinn, who was in between tours of duty at MTV.

Small wonder, then, that Team Zucker didn't try another television special after this failed to impress in the ratings. Why it was never exhumed by Comedy Central, for example, we'll never know.

Rating: B+.

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