On his HBO show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver has been a frequent critic and champion of media, tackling issues like net neutrality and misleading marketing. But on last night’s show he used a lighthearted tone to celebrate a local news institution.
The story actually began in June, when one of Last Week Tonight’s “And now” segments focused on a controversy taking place at Scranton, Pennsylvania news station WNEP. There’s a train set in the background of the station’s newscast which residents have very mixed feelings about—some people encourage the station to “keep the train rolling,” while others want it to be blown up.
But when Scranton viewers saw Oliver’s report, some thought he was making fun of the train at the city’s expense.
“We’re not clowns for his entertainment,” one resident said.
They’re certainly not—and Oliver proved that last night.
He confirmed that he “fucking loves” the backyard train, and the only problem is that WNEP deserves a better one—indeed, an “almost irresponsibly large one.”
So Oliver used HBO’s money to do just that. He revealed a huge three-story train set which features “every Scranton landmark we could find on Google,” including the Scranton Electric Building, the Scranton Times building and radio tower and the Lackawanna Station Hotel (a former coal mine, which some residents say is haunted).
The train set also includes a tunnel shaped like the open mouth of basketball coach PJ Carlesimo, who was born in Scranton. And there’s even a nod to the Scranton-set TV show The Office—the Pennsylvania Paper building featured in the show’s opening credits is prominently displayed.
Even better, the train set spins and catches fire. Simply put, Oliver called it “the greatest backyard train the local news has ever seen.”
“This is yours now,” Oliver told WNEP. “You need to come and get it, it can’t stay here.”
Luckily it looks like the station is ready to take Oliver up on his offer.
Last Week Tonight responded to the station’s query with one word: “Big.”
They weren’t kidding: WNEP reporter Carmella Mataloni actually traveled to New York this morning to see for herself. The train is 18 feet wide and 16 feet tall—it’s currently boxed up in storage, awaiting transportation to Scranton.