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Tv Preview: 'Daily Show' viewers delight in skewering of newsmakers

Sunday, February 01, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- Forget about the earnest reporters with deep thoughts about covering the campaign. For the politically jaded, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is a funnier, better bet. The Comedy Central series skewers both the news media and public figures in the news.

 
 
"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"

When: 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday on Comedy Central.

Starring: Jon Stewart

   
 

From correspondents who cover the Academy Awards as if they were embedded with troops in Iraq to an anchor who takes "Saturday Night Live's" "Weekend Update" segment and makes it a daily occurrence, "The Daily Show" has garnered a higher profile in the past year thanks largely to its war "reports."

Stewart even landed on the cover of Newsweek, much to his chagrin.

"We're very pleased when nice things are said about us, but we also recognize the fact that the only time we should be on Newsweek is if we pay for it ourselves at a boardwalk booth in Jersey and it's sort of one of those gag things," Stewart said. "It's a little daunting."

That's especially true when you consider he's doing a comedy show, not a legitimate newscast.

"Our responsibility, hopefully, is purely to be the smartest, funniest show we can possibly be," Stewart said at a news conference last month. "When a candidate comes here, all we want is one human moment."

Stewart pointed to an interview with U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, who talked about how having so many Democratic presidential candidates early in the election cycle offers a great opportunity for debate. Stewart reacted with surprise, saying it seemed like a grind that was crushing Daschle.

"At that moment he just kind of stopped and he started to giggle," Stewart said. "That's the moment that you look for, where they're showing you their humanity, if it still exists, which in many cases, as you know, it does not.

"We're honestly the losers who didn't take their Ritalin and can't shut up and want to come up with jokes," he said. "That's really all we're doing and if we ever forget that, and I pray we don't, it will become tedious really fast."

But try as Stewart might to avoid any semblance of credibility, "Daily Show" co-executive producer Stewart Bailey said ratings prove otherwise.

"Even in our own bizarro fake news world, we get a spike [in the ratings] when there's a real big news story that people actually care about," Bailey said. "So we kind of hope this is a close election because people will genuinely care. That's why Iraq was so good for us."

"I'm just hoping for another war," correspondent Rob Corddry joked. "That would be great."

For "Indecision 2004," "The Daily Show's" jokey title for its coverage, Stewart and crew will continue to interview candidates both in the studio and on the campaign trail. Four years ago, correspondents had no idea whether they'd be able to get close to candidates.

"We learned that against all their better judgement, people will talk to us," said correspondent Stephen Colbert. "So we can actually get people. In 2000 we weren't sure whether we could."

Another lesson from 2000: Getting the candidates to come on the program didn't matter to "Daily Show" viewers.

"The nice part is when you're not an actual organization that has a news-gathering capability, you can just put a picture up and say you're someplace. And that saved us an awful lot of money," Stewart said, referring to the show's routine practice of standing reporters in front of a blue screen that puts any background they choose -- New Hampshire, Baghdad -- behind the reporter. "I think in many respects CNN could learn a thing or two about that."

Just last month, Stewart said it felt as if Howard Dean was the pre-ordained Democratic frontrunner. That's no longer the case, but even then, Stewart said the early primaries may not portend the eventual anointed one.

"As we know, Iowa and New Hampshire are bellwethers of this country. Anytime you have two areas that are 99.9 percent white and farmers, it really gives you a window into the soul of America," he joked. "So I'm waiting until Super Tuesday [on March 2]. I think that's when everything really shakes out."

Stewart said the Democrats have provided the most fodder recently because the primaries are "what's most relevant, what's most visceral. Although Bush just announced we're going to Mars. If I can't eat off of that for six months, I'm not worth my salt.

"Literally, he has announced we're going to Mars. He has officially given up on Earth!" Stewart said. "How exciting is that?"

When not poking fun at current events and people in the news, Stewart and Co. are only too happy to lambaste mainstream media, especially cable news networks, which he calls "relatively atrocious."

"Not that we shouldn't know when someone's been kidnapped. I think we should. We just don't have to wait until they come back for them to go talk about another story," he said. "It's become a train wreck. ... I'm of the mindset that 24 hours a day is just not enough. It's good now they have 24 hours of news and then the crawl [across the bottom of the screen] giving you another 24 hours, so, basically [you get] 48 hours of news. It's important I think, to read the news while you're watching the news.

"Hopefully they'll also have a town crier in the corner yelling. And maybe another guy in the other corner reading."

Colbert said there's no more news now than in the past, so networks have learned to fill with so-called "analysis" and speculation.

"Analysis is like the essay question on a test: that's where you can really [B.S.]," Colbert said, adding that when a semi-cogent thought breaks through, the analysis becomes accepted dogma. "They can speculate like you wouldn't believe, and then they'll just change it the next day because there's such an incredible volume of material out there [and] no one's held accountable for that speculation."

Stewart, poking fun at CNN, which airs a "global edition" compilation of "Daily Show" episodes each week on its international channel overseas, said the network can only call on its doctor-reporter so often.

"Every now and again, like when SARS comes out, they're like, 'Paging Dr. Gupta,' and then he walks in and it's like, 'We're all gonna die!' and then he walks away again.'"


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.

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