At a television anchor desk, the intensely perky news reader Emma Hunter is reporting on a curious bet-you-didn’t-know story involving four people considered to be among the many in musical history often referred to as the so-called fifth Beatle. “Let’s take a look at some of the lesser known names behind the group that was one of the main causes of Beatlemania,” Hunter says, setting up the piece. When she lists “noted actor Ringo Starr” as a fifth Beatle, co-host Miguel Rivas interrupts her. “Really? I think he was the fourth Beatle,” he says, with a puzzled look on his face. “A distant fourth, but …”
Fellow host Hunter disregards his concern and tells him to keep reading, which the wary Rivas does, reporting that Mick Jagger replaced Paul McCartney in 1966 and that Eric Clapton replaced Jagger in the Rolling Stones, with Pete Best assuming Clapton’s identity.
He then stops and asks where this information is coming from. When Hunter impatiently tells him the news was sourced online, Rivas has had enough. “We can’t just take things we find on the Internet,” he protests, “and report them as fact.”
Really? That’s news to us.
Recently, Fox News reported as fact an item found in a completely wacky and clearly bogus transcript of one of Hillary Clinton’s leaked speeches to Wall Street banks, found on the website Real True News, which parodies the craziest alt-right conspiracies. And just last week, Sean Hannity, radio host and anchor of Fox News’ Hannity, took to Twitter to apologize for repeating on air a fake story from YourNewsWire.com about Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren disavowing Clinton.
“Fact is they didn’t,” the susceptible Hannity tweeted. “I humbly apologize. Live radio.”
In the age of the Internet and what with the recent wild-and-woolly U.S. presidential election, the line between parody and real news is blurred like never before. Which brings us to The Beaverton, the Comedy Network’s new weekly Canadian comedy-news show, airing Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.
And as for taking things found on the Internet and putting them on television, that’s exactly the case with The Beaverton, which makes the jump from satirical website thebeaverton.com – “North America’s Trusted Source in News” – to the airwaves.
At an east-end Toronto television studio last week, The Beaverton wrapped up the taping for its 13-episode inaugural season. Besides the fabulist report on the Fab Four – in her early days with the Beatles, Margaret Thatcher was known as “the frowny one” – other phony news was presented in front of a live audience. Those of us in attendance learned that Bombardier had announced a new round of layoffs for more workers than it currently employs, for example, and that Newfoundland finds itself in a housing crisis: “All their houses are on a rock in the Atlantic.”
Off-camera, the news anchors Hunter and Rivas spoke to The Globe and Mail about the shows and their characters. And, yes, while they use their real names on the show, they are playing caricatures of news readers.
“It was designed by the writers,” says Rivas, a Toronto sketch-comedy specialist whose newsman persona is the ethical compass of the two, and the one sometimes dubious of the material. “The style of presentation mocks the television format. The satire isn’t just the material, it’s the form.”
The style harks back to Saturday Night Live’s Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain or SCTV ’s Joe Flaherty (as Floyd Robertson, a barely veiled Lloyd Robertson) and Eugene Levy (as Earl Camembert). It’s the opposite of the current SNL Weekend Update pair of Colin Jost and Michael Che, who smirk their way, as themselves, through the satirical news.
“The blurred line between satire and reality is very fine on our show,” says Toronto-bred actress-comedian Hunter, who plays her news reader as vivacious and with mad, laser-eyed straightness, completely committed to the absurdity of the material on the teleprompter. “Maybe someone will tweet something we reported as real,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the satire being taken seriously.”
Speaking of being taking seriously, both Rivas and Hunter are fans of CBC Radio’s This is That, a spoof of, well, CBC Radio. As hilarious as the content of the show’s fake interviews are, some of the funniest This is That moments involve the airings of the fooled, outraged listeners who call in to the show to complain about some of the fake things they took to be legitimate.
“It goes to show you how genius the writing is,” says Leslie Merklinger, CBC Radio’s director of new programs and talent development. “And it also shows how absurd the real world really is.”
(While The Beaverton is expanding from online to television, This is That, in its sixth season now, is branching out onto the Web. Six online videos, including one on artisanal firewood, have earned 6.5 million views.)
From the outset, the people behind The Beaverton television incarnation wanted an anchor duo, as opposed to the solo news-comedy format of The Daily Show or Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
“From the beginning, we wanted two hosts and two voices,” says show runner Luke Gordon Field, who began as a writer for thebeaverton.com. “The dynamic of Miguel and Emma pulls people in. The jokes and the material drive the show from there.”
Hunter and Rivas have known each other for years. “The chemistry was easy to come by, once we were first cast,” Rivas says.
The pair stay in character, when the mics are off but the cameras are still rolling. As a segment fades and the bumper music is played, the two do the fake banter that all co-hosts do. Now, I can finally ask, “What are you guys talking about out there?”
Rivas says some of things his sparky co-host says are scandalous – “I’m not even sure I’m even comfortable talking about the things she shares” – but Hunter herself isn’t shy about letting me in on the secret fake conversation.
“Mostly I talk about a rash I had in 2004,” she says. “He has no choice but to listen, because the camera is still on. And there’s more to it. More is to come.”
Adds Rivas, “It’s a Marvel-sized universe of rash.”
There you have it, The Beaverton, all the news that isn’t fit to print.Report Typo/Error