Cable TV's witty satire on the news media has the ring of truth beneath the laughs

Not Necessarily the Media HBO/pay cable, tomorrow, 11 p.m.-midnight; also Aug. 11, 14, 19, 24, and 30. Producer: Matt Neuman. Directors: John Moffitt and Paul Miller. Guest appearance: Edwin Newman. THIS hilarious satire on the nation's working press is essential viewing for news buffs. It can be of great interest to normal people, too.

The program, a kind of ``Not Necessarily the News'' special, starts off comparatively sedately by dedicating itself to ``the tastemakers who leave a bad taste in our mouths,'' and gets increasingly outrageous with each sendup as it spoofs many aspects of the news media.

It roasts gossip magazines, local and national newscasts, the White House press corps, national advertisers, national newspapers, President and Mrs. Reagan, Lt. Col. Oliver North. It is alternately tasteless, scurrilous, mean, gross, brilliant, witty, irreverent, but never irrelevant.

Newsman Edwin Newman appears in a funny takeoff on the Betty Ford Center public-service commercials. He plugs the Edwin Newman Center for Newsaholics in Palm Springs. Its slogan is ``No News Is Good News'' and he confides: ``I survived. So can you.''

Other hard-edge satirical segments:

The Wall Street Journal covers everything - even a homeless vagrant on a park bench.

U.S. News & World Report advertises on this show that it brings you ``all the dirt'' (instead of ``none of the gossip,'' as it actually advertises).

The program reports that it can tell that Sen. Sam Nunn is going to run for president because he is changing his name to Nunn-of-the-above.

In a parody of the commercial for press-on nails, the program advertises press-on noses, press-on ears, and press-on mouths.

In this era of specialized magazines, the writers imagine a new one: Whittlers, Raw Fish, Fast Cars, and Yo-Yo Monthly.

``The 501 News'' features on-camera reporters in tight jeans.

A commercial for Ollie North for President announces that it is ``paid for by the Sultan of Brunei ... in cash.''

A segment titled ``Reese's Puff Pieces'' reports on obvious promotional features which prove that ``your mind needs candy, too.''

A news ``sniglet'' to add to your media vocabulary: ``Donnatammyfawnphobia.'' Definition: media concentration on trivial but sexy aspects of the news.

There's a devastating picture of newsroom preoccupation with personal appearance instead of breaking stories.

The newscasters report their own ``minor'' budget cuts periodically - progressing from fewer pencils and smaller plastic cups to increased car pools and bring-your-own bottled water. Finally, the cuts to make the electronic news ``meaner and leaner'' result in the on-camera anchor sitting on an orange crate.

The program does devilish things with news clips, managing to juxtapose actual footage of answers with phony questions. Thus, when President Reagan is asked how daughter Maureen's diet is coming along, he is able to say, she ``could easily fit into a single cargo plane.''

Many people will find some of the liberties the show takes with their favorites to be offensive. Some viewers will find the humor too broad; others will find it too ``inside'' for general appeal. There is no doubt, though, that ``Not Necessarily the Media'' will be appreciated most by the media buffs among us.

I predict that the reward for most viewers will be lots of knowing chuckles and appreciative guffaws. And, in the end, a suspicion that this hard-edge satire, in its own preposterous style, may actually be the cutting edge of truth.

Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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