Suzanne Sena makes a point of talking fast in her satirical newscasts on the new Onion News Network show on IFC. I prepared for 15 minutes of questions and she finished it in 11. Sena plays Brooke Alvarez, the host of FactZone, reporting on stories like Sarah Palin leading early 2012 election polls, the alien who tops Octomom with thousands of offspring and telling her correspondents to wear more makeup. Sena has been in the real news business including a stint of Fox News, but I got to interview her after she presented ONN to the Television Critics Association.
CraveOnline: How is your day going?
Suzanne Sena: Oh, it started early. I’m a little tired.
CraveOnline: Are you used to early mornings in the news business?
Suzanne Sena: No. Gosh no.
CraveOnline: The ONN poll that said people would vote for Sarah Palin just to see the train wreck really scares me because that might actually happen.
Suzanne Sena: A little too close to home?
CraveOnline: Too logical.
Suzanne Sena: I know. That’s the beauty of it though. I thought that was a really smart story and I love our pundit who speaks on it and who says things like, “Yeah, really, they just kind of said if it doesn’t work out, it’ll be like a raft ride. It might be kind of crazy but a lot of crazy ass photos at the end.” Or most Americans polled say, “Gosh, I’m sorry but I’m just curious.”
CraveOnline: That’s where all the graphics that you didn’t speak still say something.
Suzanne Sena: I know. That’s one of the beauties of the show is that you almost have to go back and watch it again to try and catch all the brilliance in it because the crawls and the scroll below the crawls is crazy.
CraveOnline: Well, we have DVR now.
Suzanne Sena: Thank goodness, yeah, exactly.
CraveOnline: Is it hard to say sci-fi names like Zoyla Gorgalon?
Suzanne Sena: It was. Zoyla was not hard. There was one, I can’t remember what it was now, I don’t think the episode’s been released, that was very hard for me, that I had to have repeated over and over again. Made no sense, had some odd combination of letters but it’s never quite easy.
CraveOnline: Are you the Katie Couric of fake news? You could be the first female fake news lead anchor in prime time.
Suzanne Sena: I love how you say that.
CraveOnline: There are a lot of factors to qualify there.
Suzanne Sena: We actually feel that we are real news, just in sort of an alternate universe.
CraveOnline: But it was a big deal when Couric took the evening news anchor desk. There are of course women on Weekend Update and The Daily Show but are you the first prime time host?
Suzanne Sena: She’s a combination. I’m a combination of I think several news anchors, both male and female. I have to say I felt a little Bill O’reilly in some of my rants, a little Katie Couric in some of the interviews, a little bit of so and so, a little bit of so and so. A combination of some of the most prominent news personalities out there.
CraveOnline: Hmm, I can’t understand what my own notes mean there.
Suzanne Sena: I do that all the time.
CraveOnline: I wrote being in character versus just making fun. Oh, that means I want to ask you about the difference between being in character as Brooke Alvarez rather than just being Suzanne saying what she thinks of the news?
Suzanne Sena: Well, Brooke Alvarez is the undisputed most popular news anchor in the world, so she delivers news with confidence and occasionally there are missteps. I believe her fact checkers got some things wrong and one of our viewers was so kind as to point it out and she just took that person to task and basically obliterated them. I think that doing news, say I did news at CBS and I did weekend anchoring, and there wasn’t as much fun in that. We had a lot of the same situations that we cover at ONN but somehow we make it more entertaining.
CraveOnline: How do you perfect that tone of smug condescending to the viewers?
Suzanne Sena: Ah, it just kind of comes naturally after a while in the business. It’s funny because we talk about that being her lilt, her cadence in the tone. I don’t know where it comes from but once you get in the business it just appears. Then you can’t shake it. Brooke Alvarez is very charitable. She donates her time to inner city children teaching them the anchor dialect, useful skills that will help them in the world.
CraveOnline: How did you learn to talk so fast?
Suzanne Sena: I always have been a quick speaker. Usually people try to slow me down but at the Onion News Network, we’re very respectful of the viewer’s time and we try and put as much as we can into a newscast. Sometimes we have to do it. I think it comes back from my days doing voiceovers and someone handing me 60 seconds worth of copy and saying I have to do it in 30.
CraveOnline: How do you keep up the Brooke Alvarez look?
Suzanne Sena: Well, there was a team of experts that participated in the Brooke look, but Brooke is naturally attractive and does whatever it takes. She’s very guarded actually about her particular beauty secrets so she gets plenty of sleep and plenty of exercise. She’s very happy in her personal life and is paid so well from ONN that she’s got that fresh faced appeal.
CraveOnline: How long does it take you to become Brooke?
Suzanne Sena: Oh God. How long does it take Suzanne? You know, there’s always room for improvement. That’s my best answer to that.
CraveOnline: What is your favorite Brooke Alvarez outfit?
Suzanne Sena: The leopard. It’s in the anniversary episode. Episode four, it’s the leopard. It just speaks command.
CraveOnline: Will Brooke visit the SportsDome?
Suzanne Sena: You know, that’s an excellent question. I think Brooke would be more than willing to visit the SportsDome and give her take on it. I will bring that up to the producers.
CraveOnline: Is FactZone less about daily topical stories and more about the social themes that news covers?
Suzanne Sena: Absolutely, absolutely. It isn’t a “what happened last night” kind of show. It’s definitely a “what’s happening in the world” kind of show. There are some everlasting topics, things that just don’t die, like the Sarah Palin thing. That’s just not going away.
CraveOnline: Will you be doing something on Wikileaks?
Suzanne Sena: I don’t know. I’d say anything is an open possibility.
CraveOnline: I have another question about “fake news” but you can talk around it if you don’t want to call it that. Can anyone do fake news better than a real newscaster?
Suzanne Sena: There are some people who assert that the current cable news stations often are fake newscasts. Some people wonder as to the validity of what they report. So I think that is a really blurred line but I think that nobody can find the humor in things as well as somebody who’s done it for real.
CraveOnline: Now I’m going to go there. Does Fox News know how ridiculous people think they are?
Suzanne Sena: Well, they report and that’s up for you to decide.
CraveOnline: But so much of the media discussed them, how much of a bubble are they in to be so certain that they are universally right?
Suzanne Sena: I would say, to be politically correct, which Brooke’s not but each news station has its detractors. Each have their fans. We are in the television business and it makes sense that if one station decides to offer the brainiest people and appeal to an audience of a liberal stance or a conservative stance then it makes sense for the other one not to do the same thing. Maybe they’re going to offer the more attractive anchors and put more emphasis on the opposite political party. At the Onion News Network, we just cover at all.
CraveOnline: But that certainty is so amusing.
Suzanne Sena: Isn’t it?
CraveOnline: No matter what evidence is presented, “No, that’s not true. This is what’s real.” And that’s not just Fox.
Suzanne Sena: No, I agree with you. That’s absolutely true. I think that’s the standard.
CraveOnline: It amuses me in real life too, people being certain about things that are factually wrong. I don’t have anything personally invested in it, but it’s documented, so okay Mr. Certain.
Suzanne Sena: I know, I know but again, taking a hard stance is what gets viewers. It gets one viewer or the other. It doesn’t bring everybody but the wishy washyness, if you’re just sort of in the middle, doesn’t really pull in the same kind of viewers and ratings. I think people do that partially to get their audience.
CraveOnline: Does Brooke have an ongoing rivalry with Jane Charmichael?
Suzanne Sena: Well, to say rivalry it would imply that Brooke is somehow intimidated by Jane and she’s just not. Actually, out of the kindness of her heart, she just is trying to give Jane a little bit of [help,] throw her a bone so to speak, help her out a little bit raising her appearance and her style.
CraveOnline: So she’s being helpful.
Suzanne Sena: She is being helpful. She’s generous that way.
CraveOnline: Were there any scenes where you broke up and had to retake?
Suzanne Sena: Our news makes us laugh and my news makes me laugh a lot, yeah.
CraveOnline: What was your background in comedy?
Suzanne Sena: Did I mention I was in the news business for a long time? You know, I’m not a trained comedian. One of the things I think that separates us from The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert is that they’re comedians. That’s a comical show. We take ourselves very seriously. I just think I have a comedic way of looking at the world.
CraveOnline: No one stays in character better than Colbert though.
Suzanne Sena: Isn’t he fantastic? He’s fantastic. I would love to see him come on the show, take him to task. Perhaps there’ll be a debate sometime between Stephen and Brooke. That’d be fun.
CraveOnline: But he only debates himself!
Suzanne Sena: That’s true, that’s true. Maybe I could visit him on the show sometime and talk about one of my books.
CraveOnline: What makes you laugh?
Suzanne Sena: I love Modern Family. I love innovative, creative television programming. 30 Rock, Modern Family, Onion News Network, things that push the edge, things that haven’t been done before. That’s what I like.
CraveOnline: As a journalist, how did I do?
Suzanne Sena: I think you’re fantastic. You’re having fun, you’re being thorough with your questions, you’re adapting on the spot and you made me feel attractive. So that always helps.
Photo credit: Karolina Wotjasik/IFC.