Election 2012: 9 Television Shows to Watch This Political Season

Wondering which TV shows to watch to stay informed as the election approaches? Here’s a tip: Avoid the news. Stick with the comics and commentators.

Here’s why: The news is just the starting point of the conversation. So you won’t get much of that from the standard newscasts. Nor will you get much from the Sunday morning pundit shows. (Sure, all they do is talk about the news, but these shows have become predictable echo chambers where Washington insiders talk only to each other, not to viewers. And they focus too much on the horse-race aspect of who’s ahead or behind this week, as if that matters more than issues that affect the lives of, you know, real people.)

So we’ll go with either the super-opinionated commentators on Fox News or MSNBC (at least they address issues, not just tactics), or the late-night comics, since, when it comes to holding politicians’ feet to the fire, they’ve taken up the job that traditional newscasters have abdicated.

Here, then, are nine shows that will not only keep you informed about the election, but may also keep you entertained in the process.

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central, 11:30 PM Monday through Thursday). In skewering politicians and media pundits by adopting the persona of a Bill O’Reilly-esque talking head, Stephen Colbert pulls off a tricky balancing act that teeters between tribute and evisceration. Somehow, he manages to interview heavyweight authors in ways that allow them to tout their books (or, alternately, let slip how poorly premised their books are) without breaking character.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central, 11 PM Monday through Thursday). Conservatives often dismiss Stewart as a liberal clown, but this season, he’s proved perfectly willing to criticize Democrats for their ineptitude. His simple trick, tripping up politicians and media stars alike by digging up video of their contradictory past statements, remains brutally and hilariously effective. Like Colbert, he’s also one of the few hosts who’ll interview authors of substantive books on policy or history.

Hannity (Fox News Channel, 9 PM weeknights). As Team Romney’s most vocal supporter on TV, Sean Hannity offers viewers TV’s most forceful case for the Republican’s election.

The Late Show With David Letterman (CBS, 11:35 PM weeknights). Sure, Dave’s a genial buffoon, mocking candidates left and right (mostly right), but when they show up to be interviewed, which is often, Dave asks surprisingly probing questions (in his explain-it-to-me-like-I’m-an-idiot mode) that seasoned political journalists never ask.

The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, 9 PM weeknights). As Team Obama’s most vocal supporter on TV, Rachel Maddow offers viewers TV’s most forceful case for the Democrat’s re-election.

Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO, 10 PM Fridays). Maher is one of the few hosts who’ll allow conservatives and liberals a space on his show for debate. He’s also one of the few hosts on TV who’ll call BS on any guest who’s lying or being disingenuous.

Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11:30 PM Saturdays). Jim Downey, who has been writing the political sketches for SNL since the days when Dan Aykroyd couldn’t even be bothered to shave off his mustache to play Richard Nixon, has run out of things to say. This season’s re-enactments of the debates have been just that: re-enactments, without much in the way of jokes or a point of view. Still, even if the show’s satire has become toothless, its interpretation of the week’s political news is still the spin everyone talks about and shares via viral video.

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (NBC, 11:35 PM weeknights). Leno provides a friendly forum for all candidates. As it was with Johnny Carson before him, Leno’s monologue is the voice of conventional wisdom and as good a barometer as any of the public mood.

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The View (ABC, 11 AM weekdays). Still the place to go for a discussion of political issues from women’s points of view (even if Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck are more passionate than articulate about their positions).

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