DAVID BIANCULLI

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Colbert Plays Maddow, and Goes Long. Very Long.
March 16, 2017  | By Eric Gould
 

Whether you thought Rachel Maddow’s drop of Donald Trump’s 2005 IRS return on Tuesday night was a big scoop or a big fizzle, the one thing that we can maybe all agree on – as Stephen Colbert pointed out last night in a mocking Late Show sketch – is Maddow’s interminable trademark windup, embroidered with numerous Dostoyevsky–like digressions meant to either fully flesh out a story, or kill off any last morsel of interest you had in it.

There’s a fossil-old SCTV sketch that has Dave Thomas playing Richard Harris as he’s recording the ‘60s hit “MacArthur Park,” an out-of-the-box 7-minute neo-classical pop piece. It's got an instrumental bridge so long he’s got time to run out of the studio to get milk and bread at the store, and race back before he has to belt out the final verse.

That’s pretty much the feel of Maddow’s show on any given night, and viewers who happened to tune into her show for the first time Tuesday have, in some reports, felt like the return, showing Trump actually paying taxes, was a big zero, and her 15-minute intro and going to commercial without showing the tax return until the next segment, was a ratings ploy. (The Twitter-verse was off the scale in the early evening preceding the show with Maddow first announcing she had Trump tax returns, and then in a second, about an hour before the show, tamped-down expectations and backpedaled a bit, saying it was only one, and only from 2005.)

Love her or hate her (and MSNBC for that matter), Maddow can often be a fantastic explainer-in-chief. And she has been doing great work weaving together the threads on the Russian hacking of the 2016 election, Trump’s accusations of wiretapping, and the leaks on the congressional investigations into them.

Her show has been almost nightly must-see news TV as she has broken new bits and details on the various stories since Trump tweeted out his claim, almost two weeks ago, that the Obama administration was surveilling him and his 2016 campaign.

And fans do legitimately love her dives into detail.

It’s just getting to those breaking items that is sometimes the problem. Unless you’ve slept well the night before or want to have a cup of coffee at 9 p.m. ET, when Maddow’s show airs, you might not make it.

Colbert’s Late Show has also been must-see for liberals looking for a place to gather since the election. His nightly monologues on politics have become comedy gold, and his Monday night send up of Kellyanne Conway’s claim that microwave ovens can be used as cameras was one of his greats.

So, last night, he satirized what most of us Maddow fans have always known – the gratingly slow build up to the story.

Colbert’s version, without glasses and in a Maddow-style blazer and t-shirt, was to tell a joke that Donald Trump had recently heard. Holding up the “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road” joke in the show’s cold open, he digressed, with all the trademark Maddow ticks and glances, into where he got the joke, when Trump might have heard it, the varieties of chickens, and veered off into why we need roads.

Finally, he got to the punch line…

But went to commercial first.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post