It may sound like hype, but it's true: The WB's Sunday debut of "Hype" made last weekend the most competitive sketch-TV face-off in years.
NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and the Fox series "MAD TV" both presented their season premieres on Saturday, and "Hype" was unveiled less than 24 hours later. So how did they do (and did they aim at the same targets)?
"SNL," starting its 26th season, opened strongly. At 90 minutes, the show itself was was not only longer than "Mad TV" (one hour) and "Hype" (30 minutes); it was much funnier.
It also was smarter. The opening sketch, a confidently long spoof of the Al Gore-George W. Bush presidential debates, depended on policies, as well as personalities. Later, new "Weekend Update" cohost Tina Fey, who's sharing duties with Jimmy Fallon, delivered the sharpest current-events barb on any of the weekend's shows.
"After a week of violent protests in Yugoslavia," she reported, "Slobodan Milosevic finally stepped down and conceded defeat in the presidential election.
"Milosevic said he plans to relax and spend some time with his family," she added with a deadpan expression, "before being strung up on a meathook in the center of Belgrade."
"SNL" also presented the most dead-on spoofs, featuring Daryl Hammond, Will Ferrell and Fallon as the new "Monday Night Football" trio of Al Michaels, Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller (whom Fallon nailed hilariously), and guest host Rob Lowe topping even that strong skit with his witty impersonations, in separate sketches, of "Dateline NBC" host Stone Phillips and Scooby Doo sidekick Warren "Shaggy" Shagowski.
(For the record: Weeks ago, HBO's "Chris Rock Show" poked fun at his own "Monday Night Football" audition in a sketch even more riotous than "SNL's.")
On both "Mad TV" and "Hype," the standout skit lampooned Britney Spears. On "Mad," Nicole Sullivan played her as a brainless bimbo who liked to apply makeup to higher-voiced boyfriend Justin Timberlake; on "Hype," which was even more outrageous, Jennifer Elise Cox played her as a brainless and trashy bimbo spending a weekend with a flustered and repulsed Prince William.
Celebrity targets among the three shows were fairly well divided. And all three shows assiduously avoided mention of either "Survivor" or "Big Brother."
In addition to impersonating Spears, "Hype" and "Mad TV" also provided separate doppelgangers for Regis Philbin and the entire "Sex and the City" cast. Gore was lampooned by both "Hype" and "SNL," and rap star Eminem was impersonated on "Hype" as a gay rapper named "Feminem," while "SNL" showcased the actual article.
Other caricatures were specific to each show. "Hype" poked fun at, among others, William Shatner, Chris Farley, Whitney Houston, Bill Clinton, Paul Lynde and Anne Heche. "Mad TV" did Orpah Winfrey; Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush (in a First Ladies staging of "The Vagina Monologues"), as well as Frank, Kathie Lee, Cody and Cassidy Gifford. "SNL," in additions to the sketches already discussed, attacked its networks own Olympics coverage and such obscure targets as Melissa Stark of "Monday Night Football" and Nancy Grace of "Court TV."
Sketches based more on character than spoofs were most prevalent on "Mad TV," where recurring favorites occupied a good part of the show.
On "SNL," former regular Tim Meadows returned in his "Ladies Man" character to hype his new movie - and on "Hype," since it was its first show, everything was new.
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