These days, comedy news shows have become essential viewing by giving accurate information to viewers with a much-needed dose of levity. But aside from working remotely, how many shows have drastically altered their format to deal with the current situation? That was the case with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.”
The long-running series, which celebrates its fifth anniversary with Noah as host this September, altered their runtime, their information, and their intimacy levels in order to create a beacon of light in the darkest of times.
“We basically made a new show with the old show’s DNA in it,” long-time head writer Dan Amira said to IndieWire. Working from home to create a “socially distanced” interpretation of the show was just the start, and for showrunner and executive producer Jennifer Flanz that was enough to make her think it would be impossible.
But in being the first late night show to come back in the midst of the pandemic, “The Daily Show” stripped the series down to the bare essentials. Gone were the flashy graphics and in their place was a camera on Noah’s face. Interviews with famous guests and the show’s correspondents took place via Zoom. The series also realized there was so much to say that they expanded the typically 30-minute series to 45-minute episodes.
The result has been six Primetime Emmy nominations and a grander impact on audiences and the crew itself.
“I would love to act as if doing the show during the pandemic has been an altruistic act meant only for the people, but the truth is that I’m also using the show to cope,” Noah said to IndieWire via email. “I’ve spent five months in my apartment, and I, too, have scoured every news story for hope during these times. So if anything, I’m using the show as a group therapy session to connect me with my fellow humans who are experiencing the same thing.”
Director David Paul Meyer champions Noah as well for his ability to balance levity and the news in a way that has made the show a safe space for people who might be confused and scared.
“A lot of this is Trevor reaching deep down and being so honest, and authentic, and real,” he said. The emphasis has become less on jokes, though those are always important, and more on putting the camera on Noah to let him talk. “You’re literally getting Trevor Noah sitting and thinking about this for days. He needs to say something and he’s just speaking to it,” Meyer said.
When the global pandemic hit full-force in America, “The Daily Show” was the first late-night show to host a conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health. “We were very lucky that Dr. Fauci wanted to come on our show,” Flanz said. In fact, Fauci actually approached the show about doing an interview because he knew the target demographic of diverse youth were the ones who needed to know the facts.
But it’s one thing to nab an interview like Dr. Fauci’s; it’s another to record it in the early days of a global pandemic. As Meyer recalled, who secured an Emmy nomination for his work directing the episode, “things were changing every day.” The original plan, as he told it, was that a team working in D.C. with Fauci would record inside the NIH federal building, shoot the footage, and then send it to “The Daily Show” crew for editing. But the day before recording, the building itself shut down, and no one was allowed inside. The group then had to transition to recording the entire conversation via Skype.
“I went to film school and they taught us that it’s nice when you have these big budgets, and full crews, and everything, but can you make a film if it’s just yourself?” Meyer said. “Even though film school was incredibly expensive for me and I’ll be paying off those student loans forever I should grudgingly email some of my professors and tell them they were right about that whole ‘getting thrown into the fire makes you a real filmmaker.'”
Regardless of the struggles, the interview with Fauci was a seminal moment for everyone.
“When we first spoke to Dr Fauci, I knew what a big deal this pandemic was but I had no clue how hard it would be to contain,” Noah said. “I thought a few weeks of good behavior would have us back in the streets living our normal lives, but that dream has been thoroughly shattered. In many ways, that experience has shaped how I’ll treat the rest of the year — taking it one day at a time and loving as if this is the only reality I’ve ever known.”
Even Meyer was struck by the power of the interview. His own parents, who weren’t regular “Daily Show” viewers, texted him after to let him know how helpful the interview was during such uncertainty.
On top of the pandemic itself, the show has also had to navigate ongoing racial strife and police brutality discussions. In the wake of several shootings of unarmed Black people, the series, which has always praised diversity, had to figure out a way to approach it.
“Trevor had a conversation with us, and we were actually on a break when the process started, and it was, ‘How are we going to address this?'” “Daily Show” correspondent Dulcé Sloan said.
On top of that, Sloan has also been at the forefront of talking about our new Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. “This is a historical moment,” Sloan said. “I never thought it would happen. I didn’t think that there would be a Black woman as the vice presidential candidate.”
“The Daily Show” airs weeknights at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.
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