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Why We Switched Gears for the Election (Column)

Why We Switched Gears for the Election (Column)

Elections are a special time at The Daily Show. When I joined the show in 1998, we were anticipating the 2000 election. Bush v. Gore would later be called  “the most consequential election of our lifetime,” but for us, it was also the most important one in the short history of the show. It was Jon Stewart’s first election year as host and the kickoff to our “Indecision” coverage. It was also the first time we traveled our entire show to the conventions, sent our news team of hilarious correspondents to cover key states and races, and invited candidates from both parties to make their case — all of which defined what audiences have come to expect from The Daily Show. At the time, I was a production coordinator, where my first road trip duty was making sure the UPenn dorms we bunked didn’t smell like … well, what they smelled like. I took this very seriously, so, of course, I bought every single air freshener I could find within a 20-mile radius of our production office. We were the best-smelling show in late night and a show with newfound purpose. 

Nearly twenty-five years later, my job looks very different: I’m privileged to lead the team into our hallmark “Indecision” coverage of presidential and midterm elections — a tradition that has defined The Daily Show since those early dorm days. We were first in late-night to originate a full week of shows from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions — something we are doing again this summer — but this time I’m hoping it doesn’t smell like a college dorm. For the midterms, we have traveled to battleground states like Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois. Whether it’s the big midterm senate race or the presidential candidates that year, these elections have real-world implications, and the show uses these characters and storylines to inform our audience while making politics fun and entertaining. 

We have one of the most politically engaged audiences, making The Daily Show an attractive stop on the campaign trail for many presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Nikki Haley, Kamala Harris, John McCain, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Tim Scott among many others. In 2004, Senator John Edwards even announced his candidacy for president on the show and I’ll never forget when Jon said: “I should tell you now, this is a fake show … so this may not count.” 

Each election season is challenging and memorable. In 2008, after a long election season, Jon was able to call America’s first Black president live on air. In 2016, at about 10 p.m. while watching the results come in during rewrite, we had to quickly pivot to the idea that Trump had taken the lead. The 2020 election coverage was all done in quarantine from our homes on many, many iPads, where we found ourselves trying to provide normalcy for our audience (and ourselves!). I am so fortunate to have experienced each of these historic moments with people I respect and am impressed by every single day.  

As we entered 2024, we were honored to receive the Emmy for Trevor Noah’s final season and thrilled about Jon’s return. Getting ready for Jon’s first show back was such a whirlwind. When the lights came up and we all roared seeing him behind the desk, I knew the audience had an exciting year ahead. Personally, I was so thrilled that Chris (McCarthy) and Nina (Diaz) had gifted us this amazing opportunity. In addition, we were incredibly lucky that Jon had so much confidence in the show, the process, the desk and in me that he would even consider coming back. In that moment, I was moved by the comfort of the familiar paired with the challenge of a new era.

What’s new for us is having our news team host along with Jon — the first time we changed format in the show’s nearly 30-year-long history. It was a natural shift given the level of talent in the building and the space in late night for different points of view. I’ve worked closely with Ronny Chieng, Jordan Klepper, Michael Kosta and Desi Lydic for years and have complete confidence in their ability to share the anchor responsibilities, to be funny and thoughtful and to make Jon proud to share the legacy of the show with him.

We have so many creative streams going at once, I see my role as guiding the talent, writers, producers and production teams to bring all of our ideas to life. After being here for more than 27 years, holding several different positions and seeing it through multiple hosts, I prioritize keeping the infrastructure of the franchise durable and flexible so we can operate on all cylinders without missing a beat. Our mantra is: If we’re having fun making the show, it will come across on the screen (whichever screen that is these days!) and the audience will have fun watching. The variety of ways we cover different topics is one of the most unique parts of making The Daily Show. Whether a topic is best covered in a conversation (like Jon’s interview with the Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan) or by going into the field (like Jordan Klepper heading to a Trump rally) or on our social feeds (like a quick reaction to the latest George Santos alias) or even sending our correspondents to a Russian ice floe (through the magic of green screen), all of our decisions are made with intent and laughs in mind. Some topics even warrant building entire specials or live activation spaces around them, such as Desi’s tribute to RBG or satirical political events like building physical monuments honoring the “Heroes of the Freedomsurrection” to mark the first anniversary of January 6. 

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There’s no doubt this election year has unpredictable dynamics with the Biden v. Trump rematch coupled with volatile new issues about which voters and our audiences care deeply. It’s the most consequential and important election we’ve had in a generation. But, so was 2000. And, so was 2008. And, definitely 2016. And, of course, 2020. So yes, all of these elections are really important to the fate of the nation — each one in its own way. We’re already 87,209 jokes deep into covering this one. And if I’m lucky, we’ll be covering the 2028 election with our show and amazing cast, staff and crew. Or as we’ll be calling it in 2028: The most consequential and important election we’ve had in a generation.

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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