SATIRE

Comedy Central (Monday-Thursday, 11 p.m. ET)

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Jon Stewart didn't invent what he calls fake news. They've been doing a parody newscast in Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment for 29 years. Craig Kilborn did one as the original host of The Daily Show.

But Stewart has established himself as TV's most skilled lampooner since he replaced Kilborn at the Comedy Central anchor desk in 1999, and he's in top form this election year. Though I should be appalled at the thought that some of my fellow Americans may use The Daily Show as a primary news source, the fact is they could do worse.

A prime example of Stewart's acuity came in late July, when the show set up shop in Boston for the Democratic Convention. In the best piece of media criticism I've seen in a while, he presented clips of cable news commentators disdaining Al Sharpton's speech—and ignoring its content—then contrasted their reaction with the wild cheering on the convention floor. Addressing the pundits, Stewart asked, "What the [bleep] were you guys watching?" The Daily Show overdoes the deleted expletives, but I must say it was a damn good question.

Fans of this anchorman enjoy anticipating his jokes almost as much as hearing them. After he showed a clip of George W. Bush as a guest fisherman on the Outdoor Life Network, Stewart's expression of incredulity mixed with mischief was hilarious in itself. And he gets strong comic support from his team of correspondents—particularly the mock-pompous Stephen Colbert, whose suggested slogan for the upcoming Republican Convention is "a tax-free, less gay America."

Stewart plays host to politicians and journalists—Bill Clinton stopped by earlier this month—but sometimes his guests are actors plugging their projects. Though he chats with them easily, they seem like intruders to me. So what if Tom Cruise is here? He's not newsy enough.

SATIRE

Showtime (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)

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What is this country coming to? Here's a series that started with 10 citizens trying to prove who among them is most qualified to be President, and three are under 35. Forget the constitutional requirement-it's a demographic drag.

Legal quibbles aside, this is better than your average reality exercise. The first player who talked about forming an alliance wanted to do it along ideological lines. (Can you imagine anyone on Big Brother saying, "Be a good liberal and I promise not to betray you"?) And the series proved it was capable of surprises when the competitor who seemed to have the most political clout, former presidential candidate Dick Gephardt's daughter Chrissy, was eliminated in the Aug. 1 premiere.

The winner receives $200,000 and what host Montel Williams vaguely calls "a chance to address the nation." Too bad viewers don't get to vote till the series' last two weeks. Up to that point, each episode includes some sort of campaign challenge (a straw poll here, a focus group there), and the two competitors who perform least impressively must face off in an "elimination debate." The loser is determined by a vote of the other candidates. Sad to say, that makes American Candidate less democratic than American Idol.

REALITY

Summer Olympics (NBC, Aug. 22, 7p.m. ET) America's Laura Wilkinson hopes for her second gold medal in platform diving, while men's track features the final in the 100 meters.

Faking It BBC America, Aug. 22, 8 p.m. ET) It's a whole different ride: A bicycle courier has 28 days to pass himself off as a polo player as the reality show starts its third season.

Da Ali G Show (HBO, Aug. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET) Is this a man from Mars or what? The prankster talks to relationship expert John Gray and gets grammar pointers from Andy Rooney.

The Young and the Restless (CBS, Aug. 25, 12:30 p.m. ET) Survivor favorite Colby Donaldson has a guest shot as a new guy who digs Brittany (Lauren Woodland).

Al Roker Investigates (Court TV, Aug. 25, 10 p.m. ET) Roker looks at how faulty testing in a Houston crime lab skewed justice.

The Rubberband Man

WHO IS HE? Eddie Steeples, 30, the loose-limbed office supply guy who bops along to the 1970's Spinners hit "Rubberband Man" in the catchy OfficeMax commercials.

HOW HE WAS CAST At the 2003 audition, "I tried to be like Kevin Bacon in Footloose," says Steeples. Later, "I put on a shirt and tie and the character just came out."

IS THE HAIR REAL? Yes, the 'fro is his, but producers suggested the off-kilter part. "I like it because it's not a hairstyle I normally wear," says Steeples. "It helps form the character."

WHAT'S NEXT

Steeples, who previously appeared in a bit part in the movie Torque, hopes to turn his new fame—OfficeMax says they've received hundreds of fan e-mails-into an acting career. "It's good for the moment as long as a few years down the road they're not stiff calling me Rubberband Man," he says. In the meantime, "the ladies like it."

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Mary Green.