Anchoring the Onion: A Brooke-worthy performance


Somewhere at the pinnacle of comedy -- up there in the Monty Python and "Daily Show" stratosphere -- is  the Onion. Anything it does -- weekly newspaper, books, cable show -- is terrific.

Now "Onion News Network" returns Tuesday. Here's the story I sent to papers, profiling Suzanne Sena, who is perfect as Brooke Alvarez, the full-of-herself anchor:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

At first, Suzanne Sena's career seemed
rather random .

Fresh from college, she was an actress,
a PR person, a newscaster, even an infomercial star. Was this leading
anywhere?

Yes, actually. It prepared her to
become Brooke Alvarez, the most powerful newscaster in the world.

Brooke is fictional, the anchor of the
satiric “Onion News Network,” originally Online and now on cable.
Portraying her requires someone who can act and who knows the quirks
of TV news.

“My two years at Fox News Channel
definitely prepared me to play Brooke, … just seeing some of the
large personalities there,” Sena said.

Brooke is the largest personality of
all. She may be reporting on the end of the world – which, indeed,
she does in the season-opener – but she maintains perfect hair,
diction and self-awareness.

TV seems to fit Sena, 48. “I've
always felt at ease, sitting around talking to people,” she said. A
college friend always tried to bring her to any party, because she
could start conversations with strangers.

In her high school days (Dearborn,
Mich., where her dad was a mechanic for Ford), she starred ub
musicals – “Mame,” “Carousel,” “Oklahoma.” Then came a
communications degree from Michigan State University, focusing on
public relations. She even started a PR company in Albuquerque. “I
was doing dinner theater on the side,” she said.

One night, after playing the young
lover in “The Fantasticks,” she met someone who pointed her
toward acting jobs. “I had a full career going, for a while, as an
actress,” she said.

More switches were coming. At the E
cable network, she did celebrity interviews – visiting the homes of
Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas and such – and worked the red
carpet. She became a serious news anchor at a Dallas station and then
at Fox. There was Sena, anchoring coverage of a mine collapse in
Utah, a terrorist attack in London, the funeral of the slain former
prime minister in Pakistan.

Then she went from serious news to a
mock version.

The Onion is a fake newspaper with a
dry, dark wit. Headlines announce: “Law gives all mistreated
Americans right to open casinos” or “Justin Bieber found to be
cleverly disguised 51-year-old pedophile” or “Tea Party
congressman calls for tax break to put out raging wildfire in
district.”

It's now based in Chicago and New York,
but its staffers reflect the Onion roots in Madison, alongside the
University of Wisconsin. “They look like a bunch of kids,” Sena
said. “But they bring this tremendous wit and great vocabularies ….
And they do have a real Midwestern sensibility.”

It's the ability to write darkly funny
things in a dry, matter-of-fact way. And it works well when those
things emerge from the mouth of the fictional Brooke Alvarez.

– “Onion News Network,” 10 p.m.
Tuesdays, IFC (Independent Film Channel), repeating at 1 a.m.

– Season-opener – reporting on the
imminent destruction of the world via giant asteroid – also airs
three times Friday night (11 p.m., 1:30 a.m., 2 a.m.) and twice
Sunday (11 and 11:30 p.m.)

– Online version – including some
“Brooke Alvarez” reports – at www.theonion.com