There’s nothing new about “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” taking home a truckload of TCA nominations. But this year, the crix fave finds itself in the satisfying situation of competing against itself.
Or, rather, against its own offspring.
Host Stewart and former correspondents Steve Carell (“The Office”) and Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”) are all squaring off in the Individual Achievement in Comedy category, which Stewart has already pocketed twice. But regardless of who wins, the nominations are yet another salute to the reach and influence of one of television’s funniest, timeliest shows.
Or are they?
Despite an impressive list of accolades, the level of influence “The Daily Show” has exerted on the rest of TV development is marginal at best.
“It’s shocking,” says Barry Katz, president of Talent Management at New Wave Entertainment. “This show’s thriving, and no one seems to care about stealing the format or the thoughts or the way it’s run. Normally, you get a show on the air, and everyone steals everything. It seems crazy that people don’t do anything.”
Indeed, in an industry where derivativeness is accepted, it’s hard finding “The Daily Show’s” influence anywhere. Which may, of course, be what keeps the program relevant; it’s easy staying on top when there’s no competition.
“Comedy Central is a niche,” says Marc Hirschfeld, NBC Universal’s exec VP of casting. “Many of the shows that are successful, like ‘Reno 911,’ wouldn’t find the broad audience that NBC is looking for. (Broadcasters) look to capture the maximum amount of eyeballs.”
It was NBC, for instance, that originally developed “Dog Bites Man,” the TV news lampoon that it discarded as being “too niche.” The pilot was then picked up by Comedy Central, premiering this June to rave reviews.
The same is happening in the world of talent, where many Comedy Central performers know all too well the dead-ends of network development.
Carell was doing network pilots long before becoming a “Daily Show” correspondent in 1999. And Demetri Martin came off two years of an NBC deal before joining the show last December.
Broadcasters, after all, long for unique pieces of talent, but they also want talent that appeals to as wide an audience as possible, often diluting what makes performers distinctive in the first place. Comedy Central, however, revels in its nicheness, tailoring programs around each artist’s material.
“They’re not meddlers,” says Katz, exec producer of HBO’s “Tourgasm.” “They trust the artist’s instinct.”
One area of network television where “The Daily Show” seems to have impact is the news itself. A Pew Research Center poll found 21% of 18- to 29-year-olds get their news from programs such as “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live,” and a National Annenberg Election Survey suggests “The Daily Show” viewers are more educated and better informed than other latenight watchers.
“You see a different format in the Jon Stewart ‘Daily Show’ than in (the show’s previous incarnations),” says Steve Friedman, VP of morning broadcasts at CBS News. “There’s news there; it’s not all comedy. They make fun of the institution without making fun of the news, and a lot of journalists take themselves so seriously that the public likes when we’re poked fun at.”
Politicos and opinionmakers certainly do, and while “The Daily Show” may not be changing all of TV, it’s definitely doing what it set out to do: make people laugh.
“‘The Daily Show’ is a way of being,” chuckles Katz, “a way of life. You just want to hear someone say the shit you’d love to say.”