The Onion Comes To TV: The Secret Behind The Laugh-Track

by Isidore Diodati · January 17, 2011

Founded as a mercantile gazette in 1756, The Onion has been a consistently hysterical purveyor of social satire in America. For four years, its website has featured popular video clips; and now, finally, The Onion is coming to television.

On January 21, The Onion News Network will premiere on IFC, airing a half-hour of "highlights" from its 24-hour daily news coverage on Fridays at 10. ONN anchors Brooke Alvarez (played by Suzanne Sena) and Tucker Hope (Alan Crain) will moderate, presenting pressing reports such as the recent blizzard "SNOWLOCAUST." The show will also feature segments from the popular morning talk show Today Now! with the exquisitely vapid Jim Haggerty (Brad Holbrook) and Tracy Gill (Tracy Toth), as well as clips from The Cressbeckler Stance, hosted by former gold prospector and Rough Rider Joad Cressbeckler (George Riddle), which is sure to be a revolution in American comedy in itself.

The stars of the new show, minus Cressbeckler, appeared in character on a lunch panel at the Paley Center for Media last Thursday, where we had a chance to catch up with some of them on the verge of their national fame.

We spoke first to Alvarez, and were surprised to learn that she is a native Russian. Did she work as a journalist in her former country and face any of the trials attendant on that profession in the region?

"Well, actually I did not," she began. "When I was in Russia I was training to be a boxer. And that was a very lucrative career. But then I found out what they paid journalists in America. So I high-tailed it out here, and immediately got rid of the accent, and I tell you: it's similar in some ways to Russia, but not as cold and, thankfully, not as many wolves."

Could we ask how much a news anchor of her stature does make in America?

"Well, you could ask me, but it would intimidate you, and it would make you feel so bad about doing your job, so let me just say that I'm paid what I'm worth."

We then spoke to Haggerty and Gill, who always manage to connect to their guests on such an intimately human level. Would they like to interview any of the victims, or the suspect, in the recent Arizona shooting?

"I'm sure they're already booked. We are the first ones on the scene of any tragedy, offering the assistance that we uniquely are able to offer. But we have a big staff that takes care of that. Tracy and I, our job is to get up every morning and give America a reason to go on fighting again," said Haggerty.

"Sunshine, rays of sunshine," Gill clarified.

"And we're just trying to distract them from their bleak, meaningless lives, and get them out the door. And it's Brooke and Tucker's job, at the end of the day, to beat them back down into the reality of their lives," he said.

But if it's they who get the rest of us out the door in the morning, what motivates them?

"It's my medication," Gill said under her breath. "What gets me out the door, at 5 a.m., every morning? My beautiful children, my loving husband."

"It's a call to duty. We're very honored to have that position of responsibility. We serve."

[Image via IFC]