The Daily Show
Goodbye Jon Stewart

While we are mourning the loss of Jon Stewart, we remember our role in making the show sharper, more focused and, to Jon Stewart, more confusing...

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was an institution. And one has to be very careful when altering a beloved cultural phenomena.

When Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn the world axis shifted just a little. The cute celebrity and culture jam took a turn toward serious satire as Stewart exposed the hypocrisy of modern politics to an increasingly significant audience.

When Stewart began as host only 2 years after The Daily Show premiered, he used the set left by Kilborn, with a few small changes. 5 years later the show had evolved to a sharp tongued commentary so powerful that even ‘real’ news programs were commenting on the show. Yet it still had the rather unsophisticated set dressing of a ‘talk show’; the couch, the scenic backdrop, the interview style were all at odds with the show’s new prestige. The studio was ready to move to new quarters nearby when they called us to redesign the set. We were fans and we were ready with lots of opinions.

First, get rid of the couch. The couch signaled softball questions tossed to celebrities promoting their last movie project, but Stewart was more likely to be talking with an author of a book on Iran than on the latest Big Momma movie.

Second, a virtual set. The various ‘offsite reports’ are, of course, done in front of green screens. With large projection backgrounds we could create sets that had real depth and no green reflections (Samantha Bee’s hair was so light that it often glowed a bit green).

Third, neutrality. In the old days of news, the sets were simple and modern. In this case we offered a blank canvas with Jon Stewart at the center of a virtual environment; in command at the focus of a finely tuned satire. The ‘Jon’ Swift of today.

The interviews were conducted across a desk, shaped and screened to allow turns, multiple camera angles and flexibility. The background is entirely generated by computer, projected on three massive screens (moveable to reconfigure the studio) except for a few ‘gaps’ in which there is a collage of image, scrim, odd materials and other clearly ‘background’ materials.

Though the set was a huge shift, it lasted only as long as the Producer who hired us. Eventually all the trappings of ‘newsroom’ were reinstalled, though the chairs, projection screens and platform remain. Jon’s final verdict:
“Our experiment in post-modern, surrealist, neo-existential, Waiting for Godot fake news show shit is over! And now we’re back baby!”

Maybe, but we did get rid of that fucking couch.