By Brian Flood, ,
Published July 17, 2018
The premiere of "Who Is America?" ─ controversial comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Showtime series ─ struggled for viewers on Sunday night, with a disappointing audience despite free publicity from the program's provocative stunts.
The debut of "Who Is America?" attracted only 327,000 total viewers and a 0.1 rating among the key demographic of adults age 18-49, according to Deadline.
While the network is banking on digital viewers to lift these totals, the low turnout is likely disappointing for the “Borat” actor, who pranked a variety of political figures including Bernie Sanders, Roy Moore, Joe Arpaio and Trent Lott for his show.
Cohen and Showtime remained tight-lippped on the details of the series, in which the comedian disguised himself to pull off his elaborate prank interviews, but the lack of promotion may be a root cause of the disappointing viewership figures.
"Showtime relied on outrage and word of mouth. It didn’t work."
“There was no premiere, no screenings, no buildup. Showtime relied on outrage and word of mouth. It didn’t work,” Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman wrote.
"Who Is America?" did succeed in the outrage department, though, causing a stir before ever airing. Cohen has been accused of posing as a disabled military veteran in a wheelchair — a stunt the network denies despite headlines across the country.
“That put the secretive and controversial ‘Who Is America?’ in the hinterland of the 70th highest-rated original show on cable on July 15,” Deadline’s Dominic Patten wrote.
Showtime’s highly popular “Billions” delivered 1.4 million viewers when it launched in 2016, according to Deadline. The network’s anti-Trump “My Cartoon President,” an animated lampooning of the administration, averages roughly 310,000 viewers, according to Variety, which puts it in the same league as "Who Is America?"
Last Tuesday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted on Facebook that Cohen had duped her into a fake interview by posing as a disabled vet. Palin wrote, “I join a long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to the evil, exploitive, sick 'humor' of the British 'comedian' Sacha Baron Cohen, enabled and sponsored by CBS/Showtime.”
Cohen responded to Palin by posting a handwritten letter on Twitter saying he'd never called himself a war vet. He said he was in the service – United Parcel, not military.
Showtime released a statement supporting Cohen and the series, declaring that indeed, “Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran.”
A Georgia state lawmaker said Monday he was also tricked by Cohen’s new series and is considering legal action. Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer said the producers of “Who is America?” got him to appear on the show by having him participate “in bogus self-defense and antiterrorism training.”
Spencer, a controversial figure in Georgia politics, said he was made to “shout provocative language” during the filming.
“They exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety. This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected,” Spencer said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Cohen also pranked veteran journalist Ted Koppel, posed as an antiterrorism expert and mocked Trump for the series.
"Who Is America?" is billed as a seven-part series that will “explore the diverse individuals, from the infamous to the unknown across the political and cultural spectrum, who populate our unique nation.”
Leading up to the debut. Showtime's president, David Nevins, called Cohen a “comedic genius” and “the premier provocateur of our time.”
Fox News’ Michelle Pollino and Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.