Covering Al Franken: Stuart Smalley Saves The Senate!

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) - When I ponder the legacy of U.S. Senator-to-be Al Franken, I find it hard not to laugh. And I mean that respectfully.

Originally, on "Saturday Night Live," Franken riffed with his comic partner Tom Davis in the late 1970s. Then Franken audaciously and hilariously, in his droll, scholarly style, proclaimed the dawn of "The Al Franken Decade." Best of all, he eventually morphed into the well-intentioned Stuart Smalley, the likable counselor who tried hard to make people realize their self worth.

Stuart, on the show and in Franken's well-received movie "Stuart Saves His Family," entertained viewers by earnestly telling America: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it...people like me."

(If you ever saw the "SNL" episode when he convinced basketball superstar Michael Jordan -- practically trembling as he tried to stifle his laughter -- to recite that feel-good mantra, you'll remember how funny that routine really was.)

Challenge

Franken began to carve out a more thoughtful persona in his best-selling books and, especially, during his show on left-leaning Air America Radio.

Still, I suspect that reporters who grew accustomed to laughing at Franken's antics and characters now have the challenge of accepting the notion that he seems poised to join the hallowed U.S. Senate, representing Minnesota.

Two months after Gopher State voters went to the polls to elect a senator, Franken finally has been declared the unofficial winner. While the outcome may continue to be tied up in lawsuits a bit longer, Franken has apparently defeated Republican Norm Coleman by a scant margin of a few hundred votes.

"Reporters will have to get past the celebrity aspect and his 'Saturday Night Live' characters," noted Michael Calderone, media reporter for Politico.com.

Calderone suggests that the lengthy recount actually helped Franken in his attempt to craft a weightier image with journalists and the American public.

"The Minnesota Senate race was so closely watched that people got to watch him throughout and some people are already comfortable with him as a political person," Calderone said.

Pondering earlier actors-turned-politicians, Calderone added: "I don't think political reporters will be star-struck. I wouldn't anticipate reporters will be more star-struck then they have been by [Calif. Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger and [former presidential candidate] Fred Thompson."

Fame

Being famous, of course, helps anyone make a name in our celebrity-driven culture.

Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of The Wrap News, a Web site about Hollywood that is set to launch later this month, has observed the political and pop culture scene and concludes that Franken will have an easy time winning over skeptical journalists.

"Being a celebrity of any kind in our culture helps you," Waxman told me. "It helped Al Franken get elected -- and will help him in the Senate, even though he won't win people over if they hate his liberal politics."

Waxman points out: "In every case, the celebrity gets a bump from the fact of being famous. It doesn't matter if they have a DUI or if they shot somebody -- or if they're running for office. As cynical as we in the media are, we're still as star struck as anybody. Having a famous name gives Al Franken a leg up. Plus, he is entertaining. He may make you laugh."

MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can the media take a professional comedian like Franken seriously?

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By Jon Friedman
  • CBSNews

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