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Not Necessarily The News: Facts About The Funniest Show Not Many People Know About

While "Saturday Night Live" was one of the first mainstream American television shows to popularize the idea of a spoof news program with its Weekend Update segment, it was the acclaimed HBO series "Not Necessarily the News" that truly laid the groundwork for "The Daily Show" and others like it. In 1983, HBO debuted its first batch of original scripted series (per World Radio History), among them "NNTN," which was structured like a traditional news program — complete with reporters, interviews with famous figures, and in-the-field journalism. But while it did often use actual footage of politicians and other celebrities, the show itself was entirely fabricated with its mixture of The Onion-style parody news readings and comedy sketches that served as special reports.

"NNTN" ran for 72 episodes across eight seasons, ending its tenure in 1990. While somewhat lost to time due to only being briefly available in VHS collections that are long out of print and not yet being made available on any streaming service, the series launched a number of successful careers both in front of and behind the camera, not to mention helping to lay the foundation for mixing news and comedy in a way that would soon become ubiquitous on television. Unless you were around to have watched "NTTN" when it originally aired, chances are you've never seen the show — or perhaps even heard of it — something that doesn't seem fair given just how influential it was and still is.

It was based on a UK news parody series

As much as "NNTN" deserves more credit than it often gets for the type of show and comedy it helped to pioneer, it must also be mentioned that it was actually inspired by a UK show with a very similar name and premise. "Not the Nine O'Clock News" ran on BBC2 between 1979 and 1982 and did most of what "NNTN" would pick up beginning the year after the former's finale (per TV Guide). In addition to just being among the first dedicated news parody shows, "Not the Nine O'Clock News" is also noteworthy in that it was part of a shift in England at the time away from the more surreal, freeform sketch comedy of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" back to a more focused and straightforward style of sketch show (per BBC Comedy).

While most of the cast of "Not the Nine O'Clock News" are relatively unknown outside of that show, especially to American audiences, it was one of the first credits for Rowan Atkinson — at the time having only a couple of comedy specials under his belt. The year after "News" wrapped, he would star in his first "Blackadder" series, and then finally gain worldwide fame in 1990 when "Mr. Bean" debuted.

The writing staff included several people who would go on to be major players in television

Looking at it in retrospect, "NNTN" had a dream team of television writers. Considering how many other great shows they would go on to either create or just play a major creative role on, it's not at all surprising that "NNTN" was as good as it was. For starters, it was the very first credit for Conan O'Brien, pre-dating not only his own talk shows but his time as a writer on both "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live." And speaking of "The Simpsons," both Al Jean and Mike Reiss were also part of the "Not Necessarily the News" writing staff (via NPR).

As if those names weren't impressive enough, "NNTN" was also the first writing credit for one Greg Daniels, who you might recognize not only from also being a "Simpsons" writer but also creating or co-creating "King of the Hill," "The Office" (U.S.)," "Parks and Recreation," "Upload," and "Space Force." 

Its original theme was an instrumental version of an Eric Clapton song

For those that do remember "Not Necessarily the News," the theme song they recall is the one the show had for the longest: a bouncy tune called "Hooray for the City" by the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. It definitely helped to make clear right from the get-go that you were about to watch a comedy show, and a silly one at that. But "Hooray for the City" wasn't the show's first opening soundtrack. In fact, one of the most beloved guitarists in rock history was behind the original theme song for "NNTN."

The show first used an instrumental version of the blues standard "Motherless Children" during the opening credits. It's also an upbeat song, at least musically, but not as overtly lighthearted and fun as "Hooray for the City." It helped to separate the show from "SNL" — whose musical cues typically have more of a "Hooray for the City" vibe. The theme song switch happened in 1985, and it's unclear why the change was made, though it's pretty easy to assume it had something to do with the fact that a Jack Mack and the Heart Attack song was likely a lot cheaper to license than Eric Clapton's cover of a classic blues song.

The journalist characters sometimes had their own storylines

As with most sketch comedy shows, the actors in the cast of "Not Necessarily the News" played multiple characters, including the journalists who read the news. Rather than just be a vessel for reading funny news parodies or — in the style of Weekend Update or "The Daily Show" — simply being themselves and using their real names, they typically played journalists who were fully formed characters, with each one having their own particular personality, quirks, and mannerisms that carried over from episode to episode.

To that end, sometimes the journalist characters would even have their own mini-storylines that hinted at their lives behind the scenes and away from the studio. One noteworthy — and extremely dark — example of this was when actor Audrie Neenan left the show in 1985. The writers decided to have a little fun with her exit, and had it inferred that her journalist character Jacqueline Pennell was murdered off-camera by her colleague Bob Charles (Stuart Pankin). 

Creator John Moffitt would later help to guide another pioneering sketch show

The creator of "Not Necessarily the News" — as well as the director of about half of the series' episodes — is a man named John Moffit. If you've never seen the show and his name sounds familiar to you, there's a good reason for that: He's also been a mainstay in the credits of several popular and pioneering series over the years. Just before "NNTN," Moffitt was also the co-creator of the sketch comedy series "Fridays," which for a brief period in the early '80s looked like it had a real shot at overtaking "SNL" as the biggest sketch show on television (via New York Times).

But he wasn't content just helping to innovate sketch comedy in the '80s. Moffitt was also one of the executive producers of "Mr. Show with Bob and David," also serving as the lead director on almost every episode of the series. Where "NNTN" helped to incubate the up-and-coming comedy writers of the '80s, "Mr. Show" helped to do that for many key figures in the so-called alt comedy movement of the '90s. He's largely worked on individual stand-up and comedy specials since then, but being a key driving force behind three important and influential comedy shows has Moffitt's place in the sketch comedy pantheon well cemented. He's not a household name like Lorne Michaels, but he deserves to be.

To replicate a real news broadcast, fake commercials were also created

Airing on HBO, "Not Necessarily the News" didn't need to have commercial breaks. But the idea was to make the show feel like a real news broadcast, so it still included commercials anyway — it just did parodies of commercials. Of course, this was nothing new, as sketch and other comedy shows had been doing fake commercials for years at that point. 

But what made the spoof commercials in "NNTN" unique is that they often made sure to tie into a current news item or a famous figure who was in the news at that time, in keeping with the general theme of the show itself. While, say, "Saturday Night Live" mostly spoofs products in their fake ads, the faux commercials in "NNTN" were typically more about spoofing people and news stories, with the product itself almost being incidental to the joke (per New York Times). 

One of its stars holds a one-of-a-kind sketch comedy distinction

The cast of "Not Necessarily the News" largely came from a sketch comedy background, though for most, it was their first major TV role. The main exception to this in terms of the long-running stars is Rich Hall, who had already been a main cast member on the aforementioned "Fridays" before joining "NNTN" as a series regular. But his initial stint was brief, as he was then asked to join "Saturday Night Live" for its ill-fated tenth season that was so disastrous the show was nearly cancelled (per A.V. Club).

Not that it was Hall's fault, of course, but he was a casualty of a show in turmoil and only got a single season with which to be a regular "SNL" cast member. He would eventually return to "NNTN," but the result is that he would go down in history as the only person to ever be a regular cast member of both "Fridays" and "SNL" — and also "NNTN" to boot — a unique distinction that he will forever remain the only person to hold (per Vulture).

A slang word was coined on the show that outlived the show itself

Various shows over the years have been responsible for actually adding words or phrases to the pop culture lexicon, with "Seinfeld" among the biggest examples in terms of sheer quantity. "Not Necessarily the News" has one of those, courtesy of Rich Hall, that would for a time become so big that it even outlived the show itself: sniglet.

Hall defines a sniglet as "a word that doesn't appear in the dictionary but should" (per ThoughtCo). He began by sharing some of his own sniglets on "NNTN," and soon released a collection of them in book form. Several follow-up sniglet book collections by Hall followed, and the word/fad would eventually be referenced on "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," and eventually, in "The Onion" which also makes mention of Rich Hall and the word's "NNTN" origin. It's also worth mentioning that the "Simpsons" episode that mentions sniglets, "Homer Goes to College," was written by Conan O'Brien.

Among the first screen credits of several future stars

It isn't only writers, directors, and producers who were involved with "Not Necessarily the News" early in their careers before later gaining greater fame as part of bigger projects. A few actors who appeared on the show in minor roles also did so early on in their careers, definitely before any of them could be objectively considered famous. 

It's probably not a big surprise that a couple of eventual "Saturday Night Live" cast members were kicking around on "NNTN" first, including Jan Hooks and Julia Sweeney. But a certain future movie star and Emmy winner also appeared on "NNTN" very early on in his acting career, long before any of his breakthrough roles. A few years before he started showing up in Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino movies and making a name for himself as an in-demand character actor, Steve Buscemi was just a struggling actor playing tiny parts in movies and on television; he did just a single episode of "NNTN" in 1986, with his earliest screen credits only going back a year prior.

Star Danny Breen largely shifted to writing and producing after the show ended

The two longest-running cast members on "Not Necessarily the News" were Danny Breen and Anne Bloom, the only two to break the 60-episode mark. For Breen, it would mark his only major recurring role on a television series, largely followed by short stints on various other shows through the '90s and 2000s like "Seinfeld," "Martin," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Full House." The one other TV role that gave him any sort of extended stint was voice work on the short-lived "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures" animated series.

Instead, Breen — who got his start in the industry as part of Chicago's famed Second City improve troupe — opted to shift his focus behind the scenes in the years that followed his time on "NNTN." He returned to his improv roots when he served as a producer on over 200 episodes of the Drew Carey-led relaunch of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," which then led to him working as a producer on the entire run of "The Wayne Brady Show." When "Whose Line" returned again in 2013 with host Aisha Tyler, Breen once again came aboard to produce, and remained until his death in 2017

The series tried retooling to be more like SNL's Weekend Update in its final season

For the majority of its run, "Not Necessarily the News" felt almost like a sketch series that just happened to have the gimmick of being a news show, rather than being more of a dedicated "funny news" program like "The Daily Show." Near the end of the decade, the show was struggling, having first taken a big hit due to the 1988 Writers Guild strike (per CBS News). Like many other shows have done, "NNTN" attempted a major retool as a last-ditch effort to save itself from cancellation — and decided to turn to a certain other news spoof to do so.

"SNL's" Weekend Update was as hot as ever, and then-current host Dennis Miller had really helped to breathe new life into it and really hone on in being a crafty, relevant news magazine parody. So "NNTN" followed suit by tweaking the format to feel a lot more like Weekend Update, fashioned more like a "live" news show with breaking news and up-to-the-minute updates rather than the more gradual, sketch-based format it originally used. It ultimately proved unsuccessful, as the eighth season would be the show's last. 

Star Anne Bloom eventually became a lawyer and professor

Next to Danny Breen, there's Anne Bloom in the club of "Not Necessarily the News" cast members who were on the show significantly longer than anyone else. And like Breen, it was definitely her most high-profile screen role, with the only competition being her playing Mrs. Lewis in the short-lived but cult classic series "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" (though she only played that role for the first season). 

After "Parker Lewis," Bloom's acting appearances were extremely sporadic and, other than a one-off video short in 2011, stopped completely after 1997. Rather than stay in show business, Bloom decided to pivot into psychology, and has been a psychology professor as well as leading her own private practice where she specializes in marriage and family therapy (per LA Therapist Find). While she acknowledges her 25 years as an actor, she seems to not really be particularly interested in going into detail about that time in her life and instead focuses on her current career field.

It was one of the first cable shows to receive an Emmy nomination

Long before the Academy Awards were hesitant to consider streaming movies "real" movies worthy of Oscars (per The New York Times), cable shows were initially ignored by the Emmy Awards. Instead, an entirely separate awards show specifically for cable — the CableACE Awards — were created so cable shows could have some sort of official ceremony to honor their best and brightest. Of course, cable shows not only regularly win Emmys now but typically trounce network shows in that area; unfortunately, that wasn't the case for much of the time "Not Necessarily the News" was on the air.

In fact, it was considered a big deal when "NNTN" finally got its first — and only — Emmy nomination in 1989. This came a year after the Television Academy formally announced that cable shows were finally eligible for Emmys (per the Los Angeles Times). It would still be a while before cable shows would regularly get nominations and even longer until they started regularly winning, but the fact remains that "NNTN" got to be one of the first to ever get the privilege of an Emmy nomination. Meanwhile, the show racked up nine CableACE awards, including five consecutive five Best Actress in a Comedy Series wins for Lucy Webb (per TV Tango).