Road to the Emmys 2012: Variety, Music or Comedy

Since “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” was first nominated for a variety series Emmy in 2001, the show has seen 21 correspondents — and that’s not including such special contributors as John Hodgman and Kristen Schaal.

Some, such as Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, will forever be a part of the comedy landscape. Others, like Samantha Bee, John Oliver and newcomer Jessica Williams, are making their own mark as we speak.

As “The Daily Show” has evolved, so too has the nature of its correspondents. There’s been turnover, sure, but the quality has been steadfast. After all, the show this year could potentially win its 10th Emmy in a row.

In fact, exec producer Rory Albanese says there’s no way the quality of the correspondents couldn’t increase as time passed.

“(Early correspondents) set a high bar, then the next batch raise our standard of who we’d want to come in,” he says. “Anyone who comes in now is going to be performing at a standard set by extremely talented people.”

He mentions that, sure, it’s obvious some people who audition are doing a version of Colbert, or another correspondent. Potential correspondents are asked to read two desk pieces, so it might be hard to not do a Samantha Bee impression if she’s the one who first performed the piece.

But they’re also asked to write an original one, even if they’re not up for a writing job. (Wyatt Cenac nailed this part, so was hired as both a writer and on-air correspondent.) This ensures the casting people see the comic voice of the auditionee and that they’re bringing in people who are totally unexpected — especially given who’s come before.

“When we first started, our correspondents fell into unidimensional types, with everyone sort of doing the same arch-parody take on the classic white guy newsman,” Stewart says. “As we got more comfortable with our voice, we’ve been able to bring in more interesting voices — that in itself broadened our ability to handle different bits.”

“In the old days we had a switchblade. Now we have a Swiss Army Knife.”

The variety of perspectives also lends fresh energy to the writing staff, who look forward to playing with their new multipurpose cutlery.

“Rob Riggle had active military experience and knew a lot about that world, so it was a real treat writing for him,” says Jason Reich, a writer on the show from 2002-07. “They all brought something different to the table. We weren’t starting from a blank slate.”

There seems to be little preciousness coming from the correspondents about their particular niche either. Albanese says when new people are cast, the veterans are eager to step in as mentors. Plus, the family remains tight: Past correspondents come on as guests from time to time; Rob Corddry appeared Aug. 16.

“I feel like the sixth-grade teacher: I’m always here,” Stewart says. “Every now and again, a student comes back. While they were in class, they were like, ‘Wow, this is the cool teacher! He’s doing science experiments with Mentos and Diet Coke!’ Then they come back and are like, ‘You’re a loser.’

“We’re lucky to have these people as long as we do,” he adds, realizing turnover is inevitable. “The difficulty in doing show on cable is that we find people — we really dig around — then once you put them on TV, everyone else can easily see how good they are. Then they go, ‘Hmm, I see, that’s very interesting, What if we paid them more money?’”

Road to the Emmys 2012: Variety, Music or Comedy
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Series | Specials
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