In a few short months, John Oliver has entered the late night political satire game and shaken up the scene. Joe Adalian, West Coast Editor of Vulture.com, says Oliver's new HBO show, "Last Week Tonight," has already made an impact.
John Oliver has sort of just raised the stakes and raised the bar for satire in American television. We already were living in a sort of golden age as it were between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and ["Real Time With Bill Maher"], which is not really satire, it's more political commentary. But John Oliver's HBO show has been amazing since day one...I think very subtly he's bringing the best in the competitive juices of Stewart, Colbert, Bill Maher...We've got a really great universe of shows to choose from that sort of tackle politics from a satirical angle right now.
These shows don't just offer satire and comedic value, but they impart valuable information as well. In the most recent episode of "Last Week Tonight," Oliver laid out the dilemma with elections for state legislators — pointing out they're often eccentric personalities who pass ridiculous bills, and yet those bills have in many ways a more direct impact on our lives. (See video below.)
In fact, a 2014 study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center entitled, "Stephen Colbert’s Civics Lesson: Or, how a TV humorist taught America about campaign finance," found that viewers of "The Colbert Report" knew more about campaign finance than people who watched CNN.
Bruce Hardy, lead author of the study, was quoted as saying: “Colbert did better than any other news source at teaching. There were two reasons: First, was the narrative structure. He walked us through creating a Super PAC and every episode was a continuation of that story; and second was the use of humor and satire.”
Vulture.com's Joe Adalian posits that as there's been a golden age of political satire and comedy, we've also been in a dark era for TV news:
The days of Murrow are not just over, they're buried. And there seems to be a race to the bottom for network news shows and cable to see how irrelevant and uninformative they can be — and stepping in to fill this gap in a weird way are these comedy shows.