Behind The Scenes At “The Daily Show”

Ken AshfordPopular CultureLeave a Comment

Good article in the New York Times about how TDS is put together everyday. 

Here's the typical daily routine:

7 a.m.: About seven or eight producers start work, culling through video footage and material from the previous day, much of which is stored on a set of 15 to 20 TiVo digital-video recorders. Adam Lowitt, a producer who manages the studio production department, which keeps track of the footage, said that time is spent “gathering and finding these great gems that hopefully we can get on the show.”

Staff members will have e-mailed one another other the previous day about tidbits they saw on television and their approximate timestamps, as well as other ideas. Many of the most biting pairings footage were said to be the work of Adam Chodikoff, a researcher and “unsung hero” of the show, who was sitting in the audience. When asked if he watched a lot of television when he was a child, he replied, “The Brady Bunch.”

9 a.m.: Free breakfast (bagels from H & H, not Lenders). Then the staff member have their morning meeting, with the tidbits that have been pulled out by a rolling cast of writers, producers, graphics and researchers — many of whom have been working on ideas since the previous day, as news breaks. “We get specific about what angles we’ll be taking and we’ve all agreed to,” said Mr. Havlan, who has been working on the show since 1996. “We’re joking around from 9 to 10. Jokes from 9 to 10 frequently end up on the show.”

Jon Stewart sometimes joins in at the end. The staff members also keep in daily contact with the writers on "The Colbert Report” — also produced by Comedy Central — to see who is using what material, in what way, for that day’s shows.

10 to 11:30 a.m.: The writers write, using the themes and ideas discussed. It’s an intense but regimented routine. “We’re not at sea almost ever, as a writer on ‘The Daily Show,’” Mr. Ross said. “We know exactly what we need to get done at any period of time.”

He added: “We‘ve seen the video. We know there are four good sound bites for the story. It’s pretty laid out for you.”

Mr. Havlan said, “You get good at knowing what you need to attack.”

“They’re really fast and real good about it,” said Mr. Albanese, the producer, who said that comedy writing requires constant practice. “You get better at it. It’s a muscle and you work it out. It gets stronger.”

11:30 a.m.: The production staff members pop in and demand the material. The writers ask for five more minutes — which they are not given, but which they take, anyway.

11:37 a.m.: Hit print on the computer.

11:37 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: The first-draft jokes from the writers go to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Bodow, Mr. Albanese, Mr. Javerbaum and Josh Lieb, an executive producer. They pick the jokes and shape the narrative arcs of the segments. The day’s script comes together through a couple of writing/editing sessions with various combinations of producers and writers, as needed. This happens in parallel with production and graphics staff members culling and editing together the video and images as needed.

3 p.m.: The script is ready. Production, art, control room and everybody else is putting the material together until rehearsal.

4:15 p.m.: Rehearsal begins with a final rewrite and a first run by Mr. Stewart at 4:45 p.m., lasting roughly an hour.

6 p.m.: Taping.

Of course, this doesn't cover filmed pieces, which come about over the course of several days.

And the article does answer a question I was wondering about — the writers do coordinate with "The Colbert Report" so that they don't have the same angle on the same material.