In February of 1969, ABC aired a sketch show called “Turn-On” which holds a special place in television history.
Essentially a more-politicized version of NBC’s “Laugh-In,” the humor was so divisive and unfunny (one odd sketch had a woman banging on a birth control vending machine that refused to dispense pills; another allegedly involved the Smothers Brothers telling horrible dad jokes while the word “sex” was superimposed on the screen) that it was actually canceled before the first episode was over. Urban legend even has it that one major affiliate refused to return from the first commercial break, simply running a voice-over that said “The remainder of this program will not be seen this evening, or ever again” and airing advertisements for the remainder of the half-hour time slot.
The good news is that “The Break with Michelle Wolf” didn’t actually surpass this record. The only question is, why?
Perhaps the fact that it was on a streaming service had something to do with it. Alas, even Netflix’s patience isn’t unlimited.
“Despite plentiful buzz after her controversial turn as this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner host, Wolf’s late-night entry failed to garner the kind of viewership that warrants a second season at the streaming giant,” The Hollywood Reporter said late Friday, noting that the show was “only on the streaming service for a matter of months … before executives at the company decided to not bring them back for additional seasons.”
What could possibly have gone wrong for Michelle? Well, let’s start with that “plentiful buzz,” which is kind of like that “plentiful buzz” United Airlines generated with that viral video featuring that doctor a while back.
Sample lines from that WHCD tour de force, where she spent most of her time bullying Sarah Sanders:
“Is it Sarah Sanders? Is it Sarah Huckabee Sander? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what is Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? I know — Aunt Coulter.”
“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
“(Vice President Mike Pence) thinks abortion is murder which, first of all, don’t knock it ’til you try it — and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.”
None of those were actually funny, just offensive. But then, it’s unclear that Wolf recognizes the difference between the two and prefers the latter when given the chance. After all, when she got the series, she said that you could “expect the types of jokes my former bosses would tell me we couldn’t do on TV.” Her former bosses, in case you’d forgotten, are the people responsible for “The Daily Show,” so if they’re telling you that you can’t do stuff on TV, there’s actually a darn good reason.
But hey, here’s a list of things she couldn’t do on TV that really brought a thoughtful, non-divisive voice to the cultural discussion:
Dressing up in star-spangled garb and singing a ditty about “God bless abortions!”
“Look, access to abortion is good and important. Some people say abortion is ‘killing a baby.’ It’s not. It’s stopping a baby from happening. It’s like ‘Back to the Future’ and abortion is the DeLorean. And everyone loves DeLoreans.”
“It’s so ironic that Trump could be the guy who ends legal abortion. That dude has been responsible for more abortions than the invention of back alleys.”
“Abortion shouldn’t be a luxury … it should be on the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s! ‘Hey, I’d like a large diet Coke, and can you get this egg out of my McMuffin?’”
Posting a skit in which she compared Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Islamic State group: “No organization is better than ICE is,” she said in one skit as agents marched around with a flag designed to look like the ISIS banner.
You may perhaps notice a theme developing here; aside from Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ looks and a few racial slurs and terrorism nonsequiturs, the only subject matter seemed to be abortion. Which is a great raison d’être for a late-night show since, you know, killing babies is uproarious. I can’t tell you how many laughs I get out of Kermit Gosnell jokes.
Alas, the name of the streaming service isn’t Planned Parentflix, and they actually demand like, entertainment. Thus, I guess she’ll have to go back to being the national abortion correspondent on “The Daily Show,” except there are roughly 20 of those and most of their voices fall within normal human registers.
Oh well. Cheer up, Michelle Wolf. You still outlasted “Turn-On.” In fairness, though, there weren’t any commercial breaks on Netflix during which they could unceremoniously dump your show.