The Daily Show (known in its current incarnation as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning American satirical television program airing each Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central in the United States. The half-hour long show premiered on Monday, July 22, 1996, and was hosted by Craig Kilborn, who acted as its anchorman until his departure in 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 and media organizations. 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 act is reserved for a celebrity interview, with guests ranging from actors and musicians to nonfiction authors and political figures.
The program has increasingly grown in popularity since 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 frequently "toss" 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 voiceover artist 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 of news headlines. Previously, the show divided its news commentary into sections known as "Headlines", "Other News", and "This Just In"; these titles were dropped sometime around 2003. The monologue is often followed by 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 Child Molestation Expert"). 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 ongoing Beijing Olympics.
The news portion is often followed by correspondent field pieces and interviews, the order of which varies from episode to episode. These field 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 midterm elections, a week of episodes was recorded in the contested state of Ohio. The "Indecision" coverage of the 2000 and 2004 elections culminated in a live Election Night special.
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, U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Second Lady of the United States Lynne Cheney. The show has played host to former and current members of the Administration and Cabinet as well as members of Congress and presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, John McCain, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Howard Dean, Ron Paul and Ralph Nader have each appeared on the show while running for president. 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. 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 offices 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 at 733 11th Avenue, between 51st and 52nd Streets, a few blocks west of its former location. NEP Studio 52 is owned by NEP Broadcasting which is New York City's largest production facility owner and also owns the show's previous NEP Studio 54.
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 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 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 primetime broadcast.
The Daily Show was created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg and premiered on Comedy Central in the summer of 1996, having been marketed as a replacement for Politically Incorrect (a successful Comedy Central program that had moved to ABC earlier that year). Aimed to parody conventional newscasts, it featured a comedic monologue of the day's headlines, mockumentary style on-location reports, in-studio segments, guest commentary, and debates. Parodying the habit of entertainment news programs to lead out to commercials with trivia such as celebrity birthdays, the show featured such segments as "This Day in Hasselhoff History" and "Last Weekend's Top-Grossing Films, Converted into Lira". 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 was capped off 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. Regular correspondents included Winstead, Brian Unger, Beth Littleford, and A. Whitney Brown.
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 as to how political the show should be, with the network pushing for "a little more of a hybrid of entertainment and politics". There was concern that the more news-driven focus Winstead wanted would not be as appealing to viewers. The show was slammed by some reviewers as being too mean-spirited, particularly towards the interview subjects of field pieces; a fact 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 the focus of the show should be. "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 was able to claim 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 was aired on December 17, 1998. Reruns were shown until Jon Stewart's debut four weeks later.
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 writer 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. Former correspondent Stephen 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. 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.
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 ten 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.
The show's correspondents have two principal roles: "experts" with satirical "senior" titles that Stewart interviews about certain issues, or hosts of field reporting segments which often involve humorous commentary and interviews relating to a current issue. The current team of correspondents includes Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, John Oliver, Rob Riggle, Aasif Mandvi, and Wyatt Cenac. Contributors such as Lewis Black, Demetri Martin, John Hodgman, Larry Wilmore, and Kristen Schaal appear on a less frequent basis, often with their own unique recurring segment or character. Ben Karlin says that the on-air talent contribute in many ways to the material they perform, playing an integral role in the creation of their field pieces as well as being involved with their scripted studio segments, either taking part early on in the writing process or adding improvised material during the rehearsal.
The show has featured a number of well-known comedians throughout its run and is notable for boosting the careers of several of these. Scott Dikkers, editor-in-chief of The Onion, describes it as a key launching pad for comedic talent, saying that "I don't know if there's a better show you could put on your resume right now. Steve Carell, who was a correspondent between 1999 and 2005 before moving on to a movie career and starring television role in The Office, credits Stewart and The Daily Show with his success. In 2005 the show's longest-serving correspondent, Stephen Colbert, became the host of the spin-off Colbert Report, earning critical and popular acclaim.
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.
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!
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 is puppets making crank phone calls! What is wrong with you? Media critic Dan Kennedy says that Stewart came off as disingenuous in this exchange because "you can't interview Bill Clinton, Richard Clarke, Bill O'Reilly, Bob Dole, etc., etc., and still say you're just a comedian."
A 2004 study into the effect of The Daily Show on viewers' attitudes found that participants had a more negative opinion of both President Bush and then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry after watching Stewart's show. Participants also expressed more cynical views of the electoral system and news media. However it is unclear whether the program truly increases cynicism or whether already cynical people are just more drawn to this type of satirical television program. Political scientists Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris, who conducted the study, state that it is not clear how such cynicism would affect the political behavior of the show's viewers. While disillusionment and negative perceptions of the presidential candidates could discourage watchers from voting, Baumgartner and Morris say it is also possible that discontent could prompt greater involvement and that by following the show, viewers may potentially become more engaged and informed voters, with a broader political knowledge.
Rachel Larris, who has also conducted an academic study of The Daily Show, disputes the findings of Baumgartner and Morris. Larris argues that the study measured cynicism in overly broad terms, and that it would be extremely hard to find a causal link between viewing The Daily Show and thinking or acting in a particular way. Bloggers such as Marty Kaplan of The Huffington Post argue that so long as Stewart's comedy is grounded in truth, responsibility for increased cynicism belongs to the political and media figures themselves, not the one who satirizes them.
Stewart himself says that he does not perceive his show as cynical. "It's so interesting to me that people talk about late-night comedy being cynical," he says. "What's more cynical than forming an ideological news network like Fox and calling it 'fair and balanced'? What we do, I almost think, is adorable in its idealism. Stewart has said that he does not take any joy in the failings of American government, despite the comedic fodder they provide. "We're not the guys at the craps table betting against the line," he said on Larry King Live. "If government suddenly became inspiring... we would be the happiest people in the world to turn our attention to idiots like, you know, media people, no offense."
The Daily Show airs on various networks worldwide; in addition, an edited version of the show called The Daily Show – Global Edition was devised specifically for overseas networks in late 2002. The Global Edition has been run outside of the U.S. on CNN International once a week on several weekend time slots. This edition runs for half an hour and contains a selection of segments including one guest interview from the preceding week's shows, usually from the Monday and Tuesday episodes. Stewart provides an exclusive introductory monologue in front of an audience, usually about the week's prevalent international news story, and closing comments without an audience present. When aired on CNN International, the broadcast is prefaced by the following announcement, which is also displayed in written form: "The show you are about to watch is a news parody. Its stories are not fact checked. Its reporters are not journalists. And its opinions are not fully thought through." Between 2001 and 2006, Westwood One broadcast small, 90-second portions of the show to many radio stations across America.
Comedy Central announced in October 2007 that it had picked up another series from Busboy. Important Things with Demetri Martin features the Daily Show contributor but is not a spin-off.