There's a secret to how Onion News Network anchor Brooke Alvarez keeps a straight face delivering stories like "Hundreds of Miners Still Trapped in Mining Jobs" or reports on a congressman having an affair with a horse.
"We keep her in an isolation chamber where she's cut off from the world so she thinks these stories are real," says Will Graham, exec producer of ONN, IFC's news satire show.
Well, not really. But Graham almost sounds convincing. When it comes to comedy, The Onion team is nothing if not committed. The whooshing graphics and breathless on-air talent (Alvarez is really former cable news anchor Suzanne Sena) can make you think you're watching the real thing, and that's the point. "If you graze across ONN and say, 'I can't tell if Al Qaeda has released a tape of a cute piglet,' then we've done our job," says Onion general manager Mitch Semel.
The Onion has been doing biting news satire for two decades in print and online and has spawned best-selling books and an award-winning website. Now they're finally getting some laughs on TV. ONN has been ordered for a second season on IFC, while Onion SportsDome — a takeoff on ESPN's SportsCenter — finished a 10-episode run on Comedy Central. The plan is to develop more Onion shows for other outlets.
So what took it so long to get to prime time? It helps that there are now more places to sell to; IFC was once a cable destination for art-house films. But like a lot of channels, it has pushed hard to get into original programming. "They were ready to think about coming to television," says Jennifer Caserta, general manager of IFC, about The Onion. "And we were ready to catch it."