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Revealed: Stone Phillips’ Essential ‘Daily Show’ Ties

The show’s name, chosen by network executives at Comedy Central, was intended to be a place-holder until they could come up with a better title. That’s according to show co-creator Madeleine Smithberg.

Smithberg, who teamed up with friend and fellow producer Lizz Winstead in 1995 to help Comedy Central create a late-night show, adds she had no idea the impact it would have.

Jon Stewart wearing a suit and tie

More surprisingly, Smithberg says the show wasn’t originally intended to be the headline-making juggernaut it became under Jon Stewart. Rather, it was merely meant to mock TV news.

The sudden proliferation of 24-hour news channels made the correspondents the focus of stories, rather than the events themselves.

Smithberg spoke about the show’s origins and her thoughts on how it has evolved over its two-decade run as she prepared to come to Pasadena, Calif., this weekend for the massive comedy/politics/media event Politicon. There, she’ll preside over the largest reunion of “Daily Show” cast members ever assembled.

“’Dateline NBC’ was on five times a week, and other news shows were on four times on CBS and twice on ABC, plus new 24-hour news networks were on and we saw journalists were making the story about themselves because there  wasn’t enough news to fill it all,” Smithberg recalls.

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“So we saw Stone Phillips of ‘Dateline’ always putting himself into the stories. We learned so much from him: the way he would furrow his brow, tilt his head and look very serious. He had a really terrific way of walking as he was talking for no particular reason in the studio. We had a tutorial for all our on-air talent to act like him.”

NBC "The More You Know" Anti-Drinking PSA - with Stone Phillips (1994)

Smithberg noted that the show turned into a much more pointed program under Stewart, not simply because he had an agenda to push. The sheer madness of the 2000 presidential election changed everything. It was actually just amazing timing that Stewart happened to take over in a year that merited so much outrage.

“I wish I could tell you it was a decision, but it was an organic growth process,” says Smithberg. “The 2000 election solidified the ‘Daily Show’ as the ‘Daily Show’ because the world had gone crazy and politics was disgusting. The ‘general media’ had to pretend it was normal and it wasn’t normal at all. We went 34 days without a president until the Supreme Court gave it to Bush. We had hanging chads. The process stopped functioning.”


To hear more of Smithberg’s interview, including more about how ‘The Daily Show’ came together, and her opinions of Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee, visit the “Kozversations” page.

One Comment

  1. For his first few years on TDS, Jon Stewart actually did continue the show’s original mission of mocking the mainstream media (and did so brilliantly, I might add.) It was only after he got comfortable there that he started using it to essentially join the media in attacking conservatives. What a shame.

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