Comedy Central launched The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn on July 22, 1996, premiering one week after MSNBC's launch and less than three months before the debut of its archrival Fox News on Oct. 7, 1996. "And now for your moment of Zen: The Daily Show turns 25 years old on Thursday," says Saul Austerlitz. "The scrappy news spoof that debuted on a second-tier cable network has since become a staple of late-night television, a nearly unmatched comedy launchpad and a satirical extension of the thing it was created to mock: the TV news media. While most of the show’s huzzahs have been directed toward its hosts, like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah, and alumni like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Samantha Bee, it is worth remembering that The Daily Show was created by two women: Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead. The writers and producers, veterans of MTV’s The Jon Stewart Show, were brought in by Comedy Central in 1995 to put together a nightly news parody. Originally hosted by the former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn, The Daily Show began as a rejoinder to the excesses of mid-1990s TV news, in a pre-Fox News era when the worst of those extremes was CNN’s increasingly stagecraft-over-substance approach, and NBC’s ubiquitous Dateline was the model for TV smarm. The Daily Show didn’t begin to evolve into the institution it has become until Stewart took over as host in (January) 1999. By then, Winstead had already left the show; she departed in 1998 after clashing with Kilborn. She went on to co-found Abortion Access Front, a comedy-driven reproductive health organization, and she is set to premiere a weekly talk show on YouTube called Feminist Buzzkills Live this fall. Smithberg left The Daily Show in 2003 and went on to executive produce National Geographic’s Explorer, among other series. She now hosts a cooking show, Mad in the Kitchen, on YouTube." Winstead says she first got the idea for The Daily Show while on a blind date. "The guy was simply the worst," she says. "He showed up decked in Yankees gear head to toe, and I’m very wary of people who wear more than one piece of sports memorabilia. We go to a sports bar, and instead of sports being on, it was the night of the first Gulf War. There were all these hot young journalists on roofs in Baghdad, and there were graphics and a theme song. I said to myself, 'Are they reporting on a war or trying to sell me a war?' It felt so orchestrated. I kept watching, and five minutes later, the date was like, 'This is really awesome. I started watching the war coverage, and I became increasingly annoyed at what I felt was this party line that was being broadcast." When Doug Herzog became president of Comedy Central, "he had his own personal mandate that Comedy Central needed its own SportsCenter, in that any time anything happened in the world, he wanted people to need to watch Comedy Central," says Smithberg. After turning down Herzog's initial proposal, Smithberg and Winstead quickly "started rifling off ideas about how something no one had ever done before was to do a show that looks exactly like the news, but is satirizing the news," says Smithberg. Smithberg adds: "I always say that Stone Phillips should have gotten a created-by credit with me and Lizz. Because we studied that guy on Dateline. We studied the brow furrow; we studied the super-serious reaction shot. We studied the walk-and-talk, the camera turn."
TOPICS: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Comedy Central, The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Craig Kilborn, Doug Herzog, Jon Stewart, Lizz Winstead, Madeleine Smithberg, Trevor Noah, Late Night