‘The Daily Show’ at 25: The Creators Look Back
We’re watching excerpts from “Dateline,” and all of a sudden there is silence in the room. It was as if we had all said it at the same time. We said, “What if we pretend to be them?” What if we pretend to be them and take this really deceptively serious and smug attitude? Then we can be as dumb as we want as long as we always bring it home. This is when “The Daily Show” was born.
How was Craig Kilborn brought from “SportsCenter” to the host?
WINSTEAD Herzog was a huge Kilborn fan. He was someone the network loved. A lot of people were like, “Is he playing dumb or is he dumb?” He was a straight anchor, and people would always ask the question, “Is he a character, or is that really who he is?”
[Kilborn responded in an email: “Every place I’ve worked in television, I’ve mocked the format. At ‘The Daily Show,’ for the headlines I would play the thoughtful, virile news anchor. Then during the guest interview and ‘5 Questions’ I would be myself — affable, charming Craig.”]
SMITHBERG What we felt about Craig was that he was malleable. He had great timing. He read everything on the teleprompter, and he delivered the jokes very well. We thought of him as our Ted Baxter. The voice of “The Daily Show” was not Craig’s voice. He called the stories of war and politics on the front page. He said, “Can we get out of the first page?
[Kilborn: “I had an absolute blast hosting ‘The Daily Show,’ but there were major disconnects because the show was innocently set up in a flawed way — the host wasn’t hired first — so we inherited each other. I liked Madeleine a lot but she didn’t get me. Of course, there’s really no human being who could fully understand me, except for maybe the late Margaret Thatcher. And TNT’s Ernie Johnson.”]
How much has the show changed in its planning and early stages?
SMITHBERG I had the set built, and Kilborn didn’t even look at the designs or setup. We’re launching the following Monday, so I’m like, “Come on, Craig, we’re gonna sit you down and sit in your chair.” And he sits in his chair and says, “The whole thing is upside down. “What do you mean, it’s backwards?” He said, “That’s my good side.” We had to flip the set over the weekend so his good side could be in front of the camera when he spoke to guests.
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