`DAILY' TAKES SHOT AT THE WHOLE YEAR

ROB OWEN TV/Radio writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D6

Date: Tuesday, December 9, 1997

Tired of ``live, local, late-breaking'' news that ``reports to you''? Want more laughs than ``Headline News'' provides?


Check out Comedy Central's ``The Daily Show'' (11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, repeats 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday), a snarky affair that's comparable to a daily version of ``Weekend Update'' from ``Saturday Night Live.''


This newscast parody is by no means perfect. Anchor Craig Kilborn fires off as many comedy hits as misses while skewering current events, and the laughter from the studio audience sometimes sounds forced. But the show is almost always entertaining during its fact-free reports on the day's events, feature segments (i.e. trip to a ventriloquist's convention) and when celebrities drop by to answer five ridiculous questions (i.e. ``Best place to gawk at the Amish?'').


Be warned, the humor is sophomoric, sometimes sex-obsessed and always mocking. Last week a report on a woman who has a pet squirrel turned embarrassingly funny when ``reporter'' Brian Unger kept asking her to imitate the noise the animal makes.


Wednesday at 11 p.m. the show offers an hourlong ``Year-End Spectacular'' that sends up the cliches TV news creates. ``The classic lonely swingset shot can only mean one thing -- tragedy,'' says Kilborn during a segment on how TV news has covered the JonBenet Ramsey case.


Kilborn says 1997 was the year ``the legitimate media showed no difference from the tabloids and which stories they chose to cover and cover and cover.'' Shots of Marv Albert, Princess Diana, Andrew Cunanan and Ramsey fill the screen.


Correspondent Beth Littleford, frequently filmed in soft-focus light as a swipe at some blond network news mavens, contributes an encore of her interview with Kato Kaelin, calling him ``cabana boy to a murderer.''


``Some people would say you epitomize Los Angeles,'' Littleford says to Kato. ``Do you know what the word epitomize means?''


For the year-end ``Five Questions'' segment ``ABC World News Tonight'' anchor Peter Jennings drops in. Kilborn asks, ``Did you guys call Paula Jones a mall tramp or was that us?''


``I think that was you,'' Jennings responds.


While this hourlong ``Daily Show'' may be a little too much (almost every TV show designed as a half-hour is better when it remains a half-hour), there are enough sharp barbs to make it worth the time invested.


Since most mainstream newscasts have started down the infotainment path, why not skip the hesitancy and go all the way? ``The Daily Show'' doesn't purport to inform, but it does entertain. Performed in front of a live audience, tickets for a taping of ``The Daily Show'' in New York are available by calling (212) 560-3135. New station update: The not-yet-on-the-air station formerly known as TV-25 finally has call letters: WVBG (stands for Vision 3 Broadcasting Group, the station's owner).


Although its launch date has been pushed back several times, station manager Dan Viles said one portion of WVBG went on the air Monday with color bars.


A low-power station, WVBG will show up on three different over-the-air channels. The first on the air was Channel 39 (serving Saratoga Springs/Glens Falls/Hudson Falls). Its antenna is located on top of Willard Mountain and the signal should reach to Amsterdam and Schenectady, Viles said, adding that a ``sampler tape'' of the station's programs will be on the air by the end of the week. Albany viewers who aren't hooked up to cable will have to turn their antennas to the Northeast to improve reception.


Channel 49 (serving Manchester/Bennington) is expected to be on the air by the end of December.


The last station up and running will be the one intended for Albany/Schenectady/Troy. Channel 25 will have an antenna on the Helderberg escarpment with the antennas for most of the other full-power local stations, but it won't be in operation until February at the earliest.


Viles said Channel 25 was the last to be approved by the FCC, which is why it will be the last on the air.


So far none of the local cable systems have announced plans to carry WVBG, which isn't a surprise. It's unlikely any cable system will add WVBG until it's fully on the air.