The only thing bigger than Netflix is the daily news by John Doyle

Apr 18, 2018

Source: The Globe and Mail

The announcement on Monday was hardly a surprise. In the first quarter of 2018, Netflix added almost two million U.S. subscribers and yet more in other territories, beating its own estimates. The streaming company also posted quarterly earnings slightly above expectations.

There followed dire warnings and auguries. The soothsayers were extra busy.

The Guardian went on at length. “Netflix’s new world order” was in the headline. And in due course, the company was described as “the digital beast.” It was noted darkly that, this year, Netflix will spend almost five times the BBC’s annual spending on television. The nerve of the blighters. The nerve.

Yes, Netflix will probably have 250 million subscribers around the world and will own the entire planet of film and TV entertainment before any other company has the time and resources to catch up. The BBC won’t give up. CBC won’t give up. The Cannes Film Festival will still be complaining sniffily about Netflix five years from now, but Netflix will be dominant.

The only thing that can compete with Netflix for entertainment value is the idiosyncratic alchemy that is the news. The stuff that happens daily, twisting and turning in ever-widening circles of bizarre and preposterous events. Take Monday (go ahead, I don’t want it back, it was a horrible day) and what unfolded.

The world was still reeling from James Comey’s interview on ABC on Sunday night. The show was, in truth, a disappointment as spectacle. It was choppy and inelegantly edited down from multiple hours of conversation. Still, it did have Comey saying this about his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump: “I did not go into the business about, uh, people peeing on each other. I just thought it was a weird enough experience for me to be talking to the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow.”

And, of course, Comey declaring that, “A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds.”

Right, well, Monday would surely be routine after that. Nope. By late Monday, it emerged than Don Lemon on CNN was funnier than the comedians hosting the late-night talk shows. And all Lemon did was recount the events of the day with a knowing smile and a few well-timed pauses.

Stormy Daniels, the noted adult film star who alleges a sexual encounter with Trump, was in court in New York because Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s lawyers and the one who allegedly paid her US$130,000 to keep quiet, was in court to fight about access to materials seized by the FBI at his office, home and hotel room. There were no cameras in the room, but Daniels’s arrival was a bizarre sight, as dozens of reporters swarmed her excitedly.

That was enough to be going on with. And then came the stupefying disclosure that a mysterious other client of Cohen’s was Sean Hannity of Fox News. Nobody saw that coming. If this saga were a TV drama, critics and viewers alike would have dismissed the twist as an unfathomable breach with storytelling logic.

In writers’ rooms across all the late-night talk shows, the typing stopped. Then gleeful giggles were heard. Alleged Russia collusion to a fired FBI director talking about prostitutes in Moscow, to Stormy Daniels to the President’s lawyer’s offices raided to, well, Trump’s biggest booster on Fox News being named in court! Somewhere, clenched fists were raised. Somewhere else, ravens were seen swirling in the sky.

As it happens, the late-night hosts were stumped. Stephen Colbert referred to Cohen as the “sad neck with hair” and said, “This is crazy, Cohen only has two other clients and all he does for them is pay off mistresses, which raises the obvious question: Who did Sean Hannity have sex with?” He also quipped, “Jon Stewart, after the show I’m going to come over and we’re just going to spoon.”

On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah said, “You know Sean Hannity is probably on the phone with his wife like, ‘Hey, honey, its so weird how I used the guy who pays off mistresses to get me out of that parking ticket.’ ”

Jimmy Kimmel, so recently in a feud with Hannity, couldn’t muster much. Noting Hannity’s comments about sort-of using Cohen as his lawyer, Kimmel said, “It’s interesting, he has a lawyer he doesn’t pay.” He also called Hannity the “chief propaganda guy for Trump’s legal team” and then said, gnomically, “If this is the biggest witch hunt in history, the broomstick is getting pretty full.”

The often-forgotten Conan O’Brien had one of the few good quips: “It’s come out today that President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen also represents Fox News host Sean Hannity. Apparently, Cohen would pay women $130,000 to watch Hannity’s show.”

People, when the late-night hosts struggle to find a punch line, on a day of stupefying, bizarre news, the news has won. The storylines are off the rails. Top that, Netflix dramas.

© Globe and Mail