The Daily Show, known in its current incarnation as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is an American late night satirical television program airing each Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central in the United States. The half-hour long show premiered on July 21, 1996, and was hosted by Craig Kilborn until December 1998. Jon Stewart took over as host in January 1999, bringing a number of changes to the show's content. Under Stewart, The Daily Show has become more strongly focused around politics and the national media, in contrast with the more character-driven focus during Kilborn's tenure.
Describing itself as a fake news program, The Daily Show draws its comedy from recent news stories, satirizing political figures, media organizations, and often, aspects of the show itself. The show typically opens with a monologue from the host relating to recent headlines and frequently features exchanges with one or more of several correspondents, who adopt absurd or humorously exaggerated takes on current events against Stewart's straight man persona. The final segment is devoted to a celebrity interview, with guests ranging from actors and musicians to nonfiction authors and political figures.
The program has grown in popularity since Jon Stewart took over hosting, with organizations such as the Pew Research Center claiming that it has become a primary source of news for many young people, an assertion the show's staff have repeatedly rejected. Critics, including series co-creator Lizz Winstead, have chastised Stewart for not conducting hard-hitting enough interviews with his political guests, some of whom he may have previously lampooned in other segments; while others have criticized the show as having a liberal bias. Stewart and other Daily Show writers have responded to both criticisms by saying that they do not have any journalistic responsibility and that as comedians their only duty is to provide entertainment.
In 2005, Comedy Central launched a spin-off show, The Colbert Report, starring long-time Daily Show correspondent Stephen Colbert. The two shows run back-to-back and continue to have regular interaction with one another, and Stewart will often "toss" (create a bridge between shows) to Colbert at the end of an episode. A weekly Global Edition of The Daily Show has been created for overseas markets and airs on foreign networks as well as CNN International.
Each episode begins with announcer Drew Birns announcing the date and the introduction, "From Comedy Central's World News Headquarters in New York, this is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." The host, Jon Stewart, then opens the show with a monologue drawing from current news stories and issues. Previously, the show had divided its news commentary into sections known as "Headlines", "Other News", and "This Just In"; these titles were dropped on October 28, 2002. The monologue segment is often followed by a segment featuring an exchange with a correspondent—typically introduced as the show's "senior" specialist in the subject at hand—either at the anchor desk with Stewart or reporting from a false location in front of a green screen. Their stated areas of expertise vary depending on the news story that is being discussed, and can range from relatively general (such as Senior Political Analyst) to absurdly specific (such as Senior Anonymous Congressional Gay Public Restroom Sex Correspondent). The correspondents typically present absurd or humorously exaggerated takes on current events against Stewart's straight man. While correspondents stated to be reporting abroad are usually performing in-studio in front of a green screen, on rare occasions cast members have recorded pieces on location. For instance, during the week of August 20, 2007, the show aired a series of segments called "Operation Silent Thunder: The Daily Show in Iraq" in which correspondent Rob Riggle reported from Iraq. In August 2008, Riggle traveled to China for a series of segments titled "Rob Riggle: Chasing the Dragon", which focused on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Additionally, Jason Jones traveled to Iran in early June 2009 to report on the Iranian elections. Jones and Stewart inadvertently generated much comedic material when the protests in Iran corresponded roughly to the time immediately after Jones's reporting.
These correspondent segments feature a rotating supporting cast, and involve the show's members traveling to different locations to file comedic reports on current news stories and conduct interviews with people related to the featured issue. Topics have varied widely; during the early years of the show they tended toward character-driven human interest stories such as Bigfoot enthusiasts, but since Stewart began hosting in 1999 the focus of the show has become more political and the field pieces have come to closer reflect current issues and debates. Under Kilborn and the early years of Stewart, most interviewees were not aware or entirely aware of the comedic nature of The Daily Show. However, since the show began to gain popularity—particularly following its coverage of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections—most of the subjects now interviewed are in on the comedic element.
Some segments recur periodically, such as "Back in Black" with Lewis Black, "This Week in God" and "Are You Prepared?!?" with Samantha Bee, "Trendspotting" with Demetri Martin and "Wilmore-Oliver Investigates" with John Oliver and Larry Wilmore. Since the early days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a common part of the show has been "Mess O' Potamia", focusing on the United States' policies in the Middle East, especially Iraq. Elections in the United States have been a prominent focus in the show's "Indecision" coverage throughout Stewart's time as host. During the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections, the show was taken on the road to record week-long specials from the cities hosting the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. For the 2006 US midterm elections, a week of episodes was recorded in the contested state of Ohio. The "Indecision" coverage of the 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections all culminated in live Election Night specials.
In the show's third act, the host conducts an interview with a celebrity guest. Guests come from a wide range of cultural sources, and include actors, musicians, authors, pundits and political figures. Since Stewart became host, the show's guest list has tended away from celebrities and more towards non-fiction authors and political pundits, as well as many prominent elected officials. While in the show's earlier years it struggled to book high-profile politicians—in 1999, for an Indecision 2000 segment, Steve Carell struggled to talk his way off Republican candidate John McCain's press overflow bus and onto the Straight Talk Express—it has since risen in popularity, particularly following the show's coverage of the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2006, Rolling Stone described The Daily Show under Stewart as "the hot destination for anyone who wants to sell books or seem hip, from presidential candidates to military dictators", while Newsweek calls it "the coolest pit stop on television". Prominent political guests have included former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former British Prime minister Tony Blair, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Bolivian President Evo Morales and former Mexican President Vicente Fox. The show has played host to former and current members of the Administration and Cabinet as well as members of Congress. Numerous presidential candidates have appeared on the show during their campaigns, including John McCain, John Kerry and Barack Obama. On September 13, 2006, a new portion of the interview segment began called "The Seat of Heat", wherein the host would ask a guest one challenging or bizarre question to be answered. The segment was short-lived, and by the end of 2006 it had been discontinued.
In a closing segment sometimes referred to as the toss, Stewart has a short exchange with "our good friend, Stephen Colbert at The Colbert Report", which airs immediately after. This check-in first appeared following The Colbert Report's premiere in October 2005 and was initially featured daily, but in 2007 was cut back to twice per week, and, as of 2009, is now just once a week. After this, there is a segue to the closing credits in the form of "Your Moment of Zen", a humorous piece of video footage that has been part of the show's wrap-up since the series began in 1996.
The program features Stewart sitting at a desk on an elevated island stage in the style of a traditional news show. The show relocated from its original New York studio in mid-1998 to NEP Studio 54 in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood where it remained until 2005, when the studio was claimed by Daily Show spin-off series The Colbert Report. On July 11, 2005, the show premiered in its new studio, NEP Studio 52, at 733 11th Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets, a few blocks west of its former location.
The set of the new studio was given a sleeker, more formal look, including a backdrop of three large projection screens. The traditional guests' couch, which had been a part of the set since the show's premiere, was done away with in favor of simple upright chairs. The change was initially not well-received, spawning a backlash among some fans and prompting a "Bring Back the Couch Campaign." The campaign was mentioned on subsequent shows by Stewart and supported by Daily Show contributor Bob Wiltfong. The couch was eventually made the prize in a Daily Show sweepstakes in which the winner received the couch, round trip tickets to New York, tickets to the show and a small sum of money.
On April 9, 2007 the show debuted a new set. The projection screens were revamped (with one large screen behind Stewart, while the smaller one behind the interview subject remained the same), a large, global map directly behind Stewart, a more open studio floor, and a J-shaped desk supported at one end by a globe. The intro was also updated; the graphics, display names, dates, and logos were all streamlined.
The show's writers begin each day with a morning meeting where they review material researchers have gathered from major newspapers, the Associated Press, cable news channels and websites, and discuss headline material for the lead news segment. Throughout the morning they work on writing deadline pieces inspired by recent news, as well as longer-term projects. By lunchtime, Stewart—who describes his role as that of a managing editor—has begun to review headline jokes. The script is submitted by 3 p.m., and at 4:15 there is a rehearsal. An hour is left for rewrites before a 6 p.m. taping in front of a live studio audience. While the studio capacity is limited, tickets to attend tapings are free and can be obtained if requested far enough in advance.
The Daily Show typically tapes four new episodes a week, Monday through Thursday, forty-two weeks a year. The show is broadcast at 11 PM Eastern/10 PM Central, a time when local television stations show their real news reports and about half an hour before most other late-night comedy programs begin to go on the air. The program is rerun several times the next day, including an 8 PM Eastern/7 PM Central prime time broadcast.
With Craig Kilborn (1996 to 1998)
The Daily Show was created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg and premiered on Comedy Central on July 22, 1996, having been marketed as a replacement for Politically Incorrect (a successful Comedy Central program that had moved to ABC earlier that year). Aiming to parody conventional newscasts, it featured a comedic monologue of the day's headlines from anchor Craig Kilborn, as well as mockumentary style on-location reports, in-studio segments and debates from regular correspondents Winstead, Brian Unger, Beth Littleford, and A. Whitney Brown. Common segments included "This Day in Hasselhoff History" and "Last Weekend's Top-Grossing Films, Converted into Lira", in parody of entertainment news shows as their tendency to lead out to commercials with trivia such as celebrity birthdays. In each show Kilborn would conduct celebrity interviews, ending with a segment called "Five Questions" in which the guest was made to answer a series of questions that were typically a combination of obscure fact and subjective opinion. These are highlighted in a 1998 book titled The Daily Show: Five Questions, which contains transcripts of Kilborn's best interviews. Each episode concluded with a segment called "Your Moment of Zen" that showed random video clips of humorous and sometimes morbid interest such as visitors at a Chinese zoo feeding baby chicks to the alligators. Originally the show was recorded without a studio audience, featuring only the laughter of its own off-camera staff members. A studio audience was incorporated into the show for its second season, and has remained since.
The show was much less politically-focused than it later became under Jon Stewart, having what Colbert described as a local news feel and involving more character-driven humor as opposed to news-driven humor. Winstead recalls that when the show was first launched there was constant debate regarding what the show's focus should be. While she wanted a more news-driven focus, the network was concerned that this would not appeal to viewers and pushed for "a little more of a hybrid of entertainment and politics". The show was slammed by some reviewers as being too mean-spirited, particularly towards the interview subjects of field pieces; a criticism acknowledged by some of the show's cast. Describing his time as a correspondent under Kilborn, Colbert says, "You wanted to take your soul off, put it on a wire hanger, and leave it in the closet before you got on the plane to do one of these pieces." One New York Times reviewer criticized the show for being too cruel and for lacking a central editorial vision or ideology, describing it as "bereft of an ideological or artistic center... precocious but empty.”
There were reports of backstage friction between Kilborn and some of the female staff, particularly the show's co-creator Lizz Winstead. Winstead had not been involved in the hiring of Kilborn, and disagreed with him over what direction the show should take. "I spent eight months developing and staffing a show and seeking a tone with producers and writers. Somebody else put him in place. There were bound to be problems. I viewed the show as content-driven; he viewed it as host-driven," she said. In a 1997 Esquire magazine interview, Kilborn made offensive comments about his female coworkers, describing them as "emotional people" and "bitches" and making a sexually explicit remark about Winstead. Comedy Central responded by suspending Kilborn without pay for one week, and Winstead quit soon after.
In 1998 Kilborn left The Daily Show in order to replace Tom Snyder on CBS's The Late Late Show. He claimed the "Five Questions" interview segment as intellectual property, disallowing any future Daily Show hosts from using it in their interviews. Correspondents Brian Unger and A. Whitney Brown left the show shortly before him, but the majority of the show's crew and writing staff stayed on. Kilborn's last show as host aired on December 17, 1998. Reruns were shown until Jon Stewart's debut four weeks later.
With Jon Stewart, (1999 to present)
Comedian Jon Stewart took over as host of the show, which was retitled The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, on January 11, 1999. Stewart had previously hosted Short Attention Span Theater on Comedy Central, two shows on MTV (You Wrote It, You Watch It and an eponymous talk show), as well as a syndicated late-night talk show, and had been cast in films and television. In taking over hosting from Kilborn, Stewart retained much of the same staff and on-air talent, allowing many pieces to transition without much trouble, while other features like "God Stuff", with John Bloom presenting an assortment of actual clips from various televangelists, and "Backfire", an in-studio debate between Brian Unger and A. Whitney Brown, evolved into the similar pieces of "This Week in God" and Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell's "Even Stevphen". Since the change, a number of new features have been, and continue to be, developed. The ending segment "Your Moment of Zen", previously consisting of a random selection of humorous videos, was diversified to sometimes include recaps or extended versions of news clips shown earlier in the show. The show's theme music, "Dog on Fire" by Bob Mould, was re-recorded by They Might Be Giants shortly after Stewart joined the show.
Unlike Kilborn, whose dialogue and character were written entirely by others, Stewart served not only as host but also as a writer and executive producer of the series. Instrumental in shaping the voice of the show under Stewart was former editor of The Onion Ben Karlin who, along with fellow Onion contributor David Javerbaum, joined the staff in 1999 as head writer and was later promoted to executive producer. Their experience in writing for the satirical newspaper, which uses fake stories to mock real print journalism and current events, would influence the comedic direction of the show; Stewart recalls the hiring of Karlin as the point at which things "[started] to take shape". Describing his approach to the show, Karlin said, "The main thing, for me, is seeing hypocrisy. People who know better saying things that you know they don't believe."
Under Stewart and Karlin The Daily Show developed a markedly different style, bringing a sharper political focus to the humor than the show previously exhibited. Then-correspondent Stephen Colbert recalls that Stewart specifically asked him to have a political viewpoint, and to allow his passion for issues to carry through into his comedy. Colbert says that whereas under Kilborn the focus was on "human interest-y" pieces, with Stewart as host the show's content became more "issues and news driven", particularly after the beginning of the 2000 election campaign with which the show dealt in its "Indecision 2000" coverage. Stewart himself describes the show's coverage of the 2000 election recount as the point at which the show found its editorial voice. "That's when I think we tapped into the emotional angle of the news for us and found our editorial footing," he says.
During Stewart's tenure, the role of the correspondent has broadened to encompass not only field segments but also frequent in-studio exchanges. Under Kilborn, Colbert says that his work as a correspondent primarily involved "character driven [field] pieces—like, you know, guys who believe in Bigfoot." However, as the focus of the show has become more news-driven, correspondents have increasingly been used in studio pieces, either as experts discussing issues at the anchor desk or as field journalists reporting from false locations in front of a green screen. Colbert says that this change has allowed correspondents to be more involved with the show, as it has permitted them to work more closely with the host and writers.
The show's 2000 and 2004 election coverage, combined with a new satirical edge, helped to catapult Stewart and The Daily Show to new levels of popularity and critical respect. Since Stewart became host, the show has won thirteen Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards, and its ratings have dramatically increased. In 2003, the show was averaging nearly a million viewers, an increase of nearly threefold since Stewart replaced Kilborn as host. By September 2008, the show averaged nearly 2 million viewers per night. Barack Obama's interview on October 29, 2008 pulled in 3.6 million viewers, the show's highest to date.
The move towards greater involvement in political issues and the increasing popularity of the show in certain key demographics have led to examinations of where the views of the show fit in the political spectrum. Adam Clymer has argued that The Daily Show is more critical of Republicans than Democrats. Stewart says that while the show does have a more liberal point of view, it is not "a liberal organization" with a political agenda and its duty first and foremost is to be funny. He acknowledges that the show is not necessarily an "equal opportunity offender", explaining that Republicans tended to provide more comedic fodder because "I think we consider those with power and influence targets and those without it, not." In an interview in 2005, when asked how he responded to critics claiming that The Daily Show is overly liberal, Stephen Colbert said likewise: "We are liberal, but Jon's very respectful of the Republican guests, and, listen, if liberals were in power it would be easier to attack them, but Republicans have the executive, legislative and judicial branches, so making fun of Democrats is like kicking a child, so it's just not worth it."
Stewart is critical of Democratic politicians for being weak, timid, or ineffective. He said in an interview with Larry King, prior to the 2006 elections, "I honestly don't feel that [the Democrats] make an impact. They have 49 percent of the vote and three percent of the power. At a certain point you go, 'Guys, pick up your game.'" He has targeted them for failing to effectively stand on some issues, such as the war in Iraq, describing them as "incompetent" and "unable... to locate their asses, even when presented with two hands and a special ass map."
Karlin, then the show's executive producer, said in a 2004 interview that while there is a collective sensibility among the staff which, "when filtered through Jon and the correspondents, feels uniform," the principal goal of the show is comedy. "If you have a legitimately funny joke in support of the notion that gay people are an affront to God, we'll put that motherfucker on!”
Television ratings show that the program generally has 1.45 to 1.6 million viewers nightly, a high figure for cable television. In demographic terms, the viewership is skewed to a relatively young audience compared to traditional news shows. A 2004 Nielsen Media Research study commissioned by Comedy Central put the median age at 35. During the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the show received more male viewers in the 18-34 year old age demographic than Nightline, Meet the Press, Hannity & Colmes and all of the evening news broadcasts. Because of this, commentators such as Howard Dean and Ted Koppel posit that Stewart serves as a real source of news for young people, regardless of his intentions.
The show's writers reject the idea that The Daily Show has become a source of news for young people. Stewart argues that Americans are living in an "age of information osmosis" in which it is close to impossible to gain one's news from any single source, and says that his show succeeds comedically because the viewers already have some knowledge about current events. "Our show would not be valuable to people who didn't understand the news because it wouldn't make sense," he argues. "We make assumptions about your level of knowledge that... if we were your only source of news, you would just watch our show and think, 'I don't know what's happening.'"
In late 2004, the National Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania ran a study of American television viewers and found that fans of The Daily Show had a more accurate idea of the facts behind the 2004 presidential election than most others, including those who primarily got their news through the national network evening newscasts and through reading newspapers. However, in a 2004 campaign survey conducted by the Pew Research Center those who cited comedy shows such as The Daily Show as a source for news were among the least informed on campaign events and key aspects of the candidates' backgrounds while those who cited the Internet, National Public Radio, and news magazines were the most informed. Even when age and education were taken into account, the people who learned about the campaigns through the Internet were still found to be the most informed, while those who learned from comedy shows were the least informed.
A more recent survey, released by the Pew Research Center on April 15, 2007, indicates that regular viewers of The Daily Show tend to be more knowledgeable about news than audiences of other news sources. Approximately 54% of The Daily Show viewers scored in the high knowledge range, followed by Jim Lehrer's program at 53% and Bill O'Reilly's program at 51%, significantly higher than the 34% of network morning show viewers. The survey shows that changing news formats have not made much difference on how much the public knows about national and international affairs, but adds that there is no clear connection between news formats and what audiences know. The Project for Excellence in Journalism released a content analysis report suggesting that The Daily Show comes close to providing the complete daily news.
A 2006 study published by Indiana University tried to compare the substantive amount of information of The Daily Show against prime time network news broadcasts, and concluded that when it comes to substance, there is little difference between The Daily Show and other news outlets. The study contended that, since both programs are more focused on the nature of "infotainment" and ratings than on the dissemination of information, both are broadly equal in terms of the amount of substantial news coverage they offer.
As the lines between comedy show and news show have blurred, Jon Stewart has come under pressure in some circles to engage in more serious journalism. Tucker Carlson and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead have chastised Stewart for criticizing politicians and newspeople in his solo segments and then, in interviews with the same people, rarely taking them to task face-to-face. Winstead has expressed a desire for Stewart to ask harder satirical questions, saying, "When you are interviewing a Richard Perle or a Kissinger, if you give them a pass, then you become what you are satirizing. You have a war criminal sitting on your couch—to just let him be a war criminal sitting on your couch means you are having to respect some kind of boundary." She has argued that The Daily Show's success and access to the youth vote should allow Stewart to press political guests harder without fearing that they will not return to the show. Stewart has said that he does not think of himself as a social or media critic and rejects the idea that he has any journalistic role as an interviewer.
During Stewart's appearance on CNN's Crossfire, Stewart criticized that show and said that it was "hurting America" by sensationalizing debates and enabling political spin. When co-host Carlson argued that Stewart himself had not asked John Kerry substantial questions when Kerry appeared on The Daily Show, Stewart countered that it was not his job to give hard-hitting interviews and that a "fake news" comedy program should not be held to the same standards as real journalism. "You're on CNN!" Stewart said, "The show that leads into me