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The Daily Show


In 1996, Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead created a fake news show for Comedy Central. It was intended to be a caustic parody of infotainment-laden television news programs.

"When we were developing the show, we wanted to reveal, as they did in Broadcast News with William Hurt and Ted Baxter [on The Mary Tyler Moore Show] that these people, these [news anchors], are merely shells of the people who work really hard and give them the info behind the scenes."

The host of the show, Craig Kilborn, was a pretty boy from Minnesota, by way of ESPN. One of the original correspondents, Beth Littleford, remembers him as being "dumb as wood." Which might explain why Kilborn thought it was a good idea to piss off one of the show's executive producers during an Esquire interview:

"There are a lot of bitches on the staff, and, hey, they're emotional people. You can print that! You know how women are -- they overreact. It's not really a big deal. And to be honest, Lizz does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would."

Years later, Beth Littleford would respond in an interview with the Toronto Sun: "NO one would give the man a blowjob! NO one who was in their right mind who was not on drugs or under coercion would give the man a blowjob! That's my opinion."

A little more than a year after the Esquire debacle, smarmy Craig Kilborn was replaced by the lovable Jon Stewart. And somehow, over the years, The Daily Show slowly transformed into an actual news show, gradually transforming itself bit-by-bit into the very thing it reviled.

Beginning in late 2002, the comedy program has been regularly visited by some of the nation's most powerful politicians:

Vice President Al Gore, Senator John McCain, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Bob Kerrey, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Arlen Specter, Representative Dick Gephardt, 2000 Green Party Presidential Nominee Ralph Nader, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Senator and 1996 Republican Presidential Nominee Bob Dole, who also served as Guest Political Commentator for the series' "Indecision 2000" election coverage, Senator John Edwards, who formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States on "The Daily Show" on September 15, and 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry.

Lizz Winstead touched on this in 2004 when she was interviewed for Mother Jones magazine:

REPORTER: Speaking of The Daily Show, I'm always impressed by how comfortably Jon Stewart interviews Kissinger or even Richard Perle.
WINSTEAD: Jon's tremendous. I feel, though, 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.
[...]
REPORTER: So did that disappoint you, when Jon Stewart was nice to Kissinger?
WINSTEAD: I don't mean that you would necessarily need to grill Kissinger. But to let it go...
REPORTER: So you should jokingly say, "Say, Dr. Kissinger, what about those 2 million dead Cambodians...?"
WINSTEAD: Exactly! As a way to say something. To me, it seems like the elephant in the room.


Timeline

Jul 1996 The Daily Show debuts on Comedy Central.
Sep 1997 In an interview with Esquire magazine, The Daily Show host Craig Kilborn jokes: "There are a lot of bitches on the staff, and, hey, they're emotional people. You can print that! You know how women are -- they overreact. It's not really a big deal. And to be honest, Lizz does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would."
15 Dec 1997 Comedy Central suspends Craig Kilborn for a week without pay, after which The Daily Show takes an unscheduled two-week hiatus.
Jan 1998 Co-creator Lizz Winstead quits The Daily Show.
May 1998 CBS announces that Craig Kilborn will inherit The Late, Late Show from Tom Snyder, even though Kilborn's contract with Comedy Central isn't up until summer 1999.
11 Jan 1999 Jon Stewart replaces Craig Kilborn as host of The Daily Show.
19 Dec 2002 Co-creator Madeleine Smithberg quits The Daily Show.
5 Jun 2003 Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright appears on The Daily Show to shill her latest book.
21 Sep 2003 The Daily Show wins an Emmy for Best Variety, Music or Comedy Series.
8 Oct 2003 Senator Hillary Clinton appears on The Daily Show to shill her latest book.
20 Oct 2003 Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger appears on The Daily Show to shill his latest book.
early 2004 The Pew Research Center for the People and Press reports that 21% of viewers aged 18-29 learn most of their presidential campaign news primarily from The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live.
4 Feb 2004 Former senator Bob Dole appears on The Daily Show.
30 Mar 2004 Former White House antiterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke appears on The Daily Show to shill his book.
26 Apr 2004 9-11 Commission member and former US Senator Bob Kerrey appears on The Daily Show.
27 Apr 2004 Congressman Roy Blunt complains: "Just two days before the 9-11 Commission is scheduled to question the President of the United States about intelligence failures that precipitated the loss of more than 3000 Americans, Senator Bob Kerrey asked a comedian for pointers... This is not a laughing matter. The 9-11 Commission has been charged with investigating exactly why September 11, 2001 happened. Kerrey's comedy show routine certainly makes me wonder whether he is interested in finding the truth about intelligence failures or staging a comeback tour."


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