Onion News Network is a parody television news show that ran for two seasons of ten episodes each, both during 2011, on the Independent Film Channel.
In March 2007, The Onion launched The Onion News Network, a daily web video broadcast that had been in production since mid-2006. The Onion invested about $1 million in production and hired 15 staffers to focus on the venture. Carol Kolb, former Editor-in-Chief of The Onion, was the ONN’s head writer, and Will Graham and Julie Smith were the executive producers. Season 1 aired on Friday nights at 10pm. It was implied on-air that the ONN show “FactZone with Brooke Alvarez” is “simulcasted” on IFC Friday nights at 10pm ET.
For Season 1, the series was the only scripted live-action comedy series in the US to employ non-union writers. However, the writers unionized between Seasons 1 and 2 in the midst of a strike threat.
IFC renewed Onion News Network for a second season, which was sponsored by Acura. Season 2 aired on Tuesdays for the first three episodes, and then moved back to Friday nights beginning with the November 18, 2011 episode. In March 2012, IFC publicly announced that they had not renewed ONN for a third season. Some time after the show’s cancellation, a pilot for a new Onion Studios series titled Onion News Empire premiered on Amazon.com, which presented a fictitious “behind-the-scenes look” of The Onion’s “newsroom”. It was not successfully picked up for a full series.
Oberg was the only actor to appear on two different television shows produced by The Onion. Oberg portrayed Mark Shepard in Onion SportsDome, which aired on Comedy Central until its cancellation in June 2011, and portrayed the “tenth” Tucker Hope on Onion News Network.
Rachel Maddow and Mike Huckabee appeared as themselves in the fourth episode.
Ben Stiller appeared as himself on episode 9, in a fake PSA for “Shaken Man-Child Syndrome”.
Glenn Beck appeared as himself on the November 1, 2011 episode involving a fictional PBS Frontline documentary about Brooke Alvarez’s checkered past which in part may explain her on-air icy demeanor. Beck stated that while auditioning for the part of anchor of FactZone, he implied that Alvarez cut off his brakes and his car ended up in a ditch. Ted Allen appeared on the “Today Now!” special, showing how to cook a dish from his “new book” Pretentious Foodie Bullshit.
To further invoke the atmosphere of a 24-hour network, The Onion produces the following video series:
It was announced on March 22, 2011 that IFC had picked up the show for a second season due to premiere on October 4, 2011.
Onion News Network received generally positive reviews from television critics. Michael Deacon of The Daily Telegraph described it as one “glorious blizzard of absurdity and bathos”, while Jack Seale from Radio Times called it a “densely packed, highly intelligent comedy you’ll want to watch for a second or third time”. Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times wrote that Onion News Network makes other satirical news programs “sluggish by comparison”, before going on to say: “If the longstanding SNL segment is a sort of introductory course in wringing humor from headlines, and Mr. Stewart’s Daily Show is the advance-level class, Onion News Network is graduate school, requiring much quicker thinking and a greater tolerance for comfort-zone invasion.
Zoe Williams of The Guardian gave a mixed review of the first episode, stating that, “even by the opening credits I was smiling so much I had a sore face”. However, she was critical of the content. “Persistently, where the programme could rip into one thing, it instead chooses something more peripheral, more candyflossy,” Williams wrote. Williams criticized a sketch relating to racism in the US judicial system, saying: “This is the kind of thing Jon Stewart could say with one eyebrow or the judicious rolling back of his wheelie presenter’s chair. It’s true, racism in the American judicial system is certainly worth lambasting, but there just isn’t the complexity in the issue to warrant a satirical news story that goes on for four minutes.”