Charles Petzold

An Afternoon at “The Daily Show”

September 25, 2006
New York, NY

I had never been to a taping of a TV show, so a few months ago Deirdre set into motion the process of obtaining tickets to The Daily Show. It involved going to the Web site, indicating a few dates, and then waiting for some email.

The date we got was today, and the email told us to show up at 11th Avenue between 51st and 52nd. The doors were supposed to open at 4:45, and the email said to show up an hour to an hour-and-a-half before then. To ensure a full house (about 200 seats) they overbook, so getting a confirmation email doesn't guarantee that you get in.

We arrived at the studio about 3:15 — we're "have books will wait" kind of people — and there were already about 50 people on line. They started letting people in at 5:10 and we were seated at 5:25.

And yes, it's true that the studio looks much smaller in real life than it does on TV. The desk is on a little platform, and the rest of the available floor space is available for three cameras on dollys. A fourth camera is on a boom. Three screens (approximately 8' by 10') fill up the background, and for the most part they actually display what you see on them on TV.

At about 5:45, a warm-up guy came out to ensure that we were capable of performing our function as a human laugh-track. A few minutes before 6:00, Jon Stewart appeared before his adoring fans and answered a few questions. Then the taping began.

The Daily Show works best, I think, as a critique of mass media, and particularly when showing the sheer mindless repetitiveness among CNN, Fox, and the networks, and that's what this show started out with. With these segments, Jon Stewart is basically reading from prompters that are mounted on the cameras.

When it was time for Samantha Bee to play correspondent, she stepped out onto the floor in front of the screen on the left, which became a green screen so the background could be filled in. She filed her report standing literally a few feet from Jon Stewart.

For the most part, the taping is done in real time with pauses where the commercials will go. A report from Dan Bakkedahl on the "Boy Crisis" was previously put together, of course, but Jon Stewart watched it along with the audience, chuckling to himself.

The guest was Pat Buchanan, hawking his book State of Emergency, which apparently claims that the U.S. is being taken over by Mexicans. The audience was very courteous, considering. (It's not like we'd be able to convince him not to be a bigot.)

The only thing that seemed to violate the "real time" nature of the taping was the chit-chat with Stephen Colbert at the end. It's apparently done by satellite link (the Colbert Report is taped about the same time somewhere else in the City) so they have to make sure it's working first. The first exchange they had (involving a ram's horn) was actually much funnier that what appeared to be the actual exchange.

And that's it. By 6:40 we were out on the street.