Trevor Noah had never hosted The Daily Show without Donald Trump as President or running for top office until yesterday.
The comedian began hosting the Comedy Central show on September 28, 2015, two months after the former host of Celebrity Apprentice came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for office.
Jen Flanz, showrunner and exec producer, tells Deadline that the team is now hopeful to be able to have some time to cover stories that do not involve Donald Trump.
“The thing that we’re looking forward to, and I’m not positive that it’s going to happen but I think it will, is that the news cycle won’t be completely dictated by Trump’s Twitter or him firing someone,” she said. “That type of news is a total adrenaline rush but also exhausting and, at some point, becomes a little boring because it’s more of the same. We’re looking forward to being able to talk about a lot of different topics and having a little more time to be able to develop things.”
Flanz, who has worked on the show for over 20 years, says that there are plenty of issues, including racism, sexism and misogyny, that she would like Noah and its team of correspondents to get their teeth into in 2021.
For instance, she’d like to get Michael Kosta, a big fan of lakes and oceans, out to focus on environmental issues and do more segments such as If You Don’t Know, Now You Know.
“There’s so much for us to cover and I think we have been dying to cover a lot of those things… but we had less air time to do it,” she said. “We know what kinds of stories that we’re hoping to cover in the next year but obviously we do follow the news cycle so the stories we want to cover are going to keep getting bumped for the stories that we feel that we have to cover.”
She adds that there are plenty of things that they had planned four years ago when everyone expected Hillary Clinton to become President and a “run of the mill” Presidency would allow the show to talk about bigger issues.
But, she admits 2021 is a difficult year to plan for given the ongoing pandemic. “It’s a hard year to look ahead,” she said. “Even without Trump, things are changing every second because of Covid and where the country is at.”
Noah is still presenting the show from his home in New York and it is being produced remotely. Flanz said that they are constantly reassessing how they’re making the show but doesn’t expect this to change any time soon.
“Some shows have gone back and then had to go home again, which was part of my fear, confusing the viewer. We’ve chosen to do it to do it this way and I don’t fault anyone for doing it any way they’re doing it, I just think for us, we’ve figured out how to make a show that our fans like and it keeps everyone safe. That’s great until it’s safe to go back, which I think is when people are vaccinated,” she added.
The show, which was extended from a half-hour to 45 minutes in April, is performing well in spite of the pandemic.
A lot of this growth is happening online with interviews with the likes of Dr. Fauci and Gov. Cuomo getting close to 50M views with its best ever online performance in 2020 thanks to clips such as The Heroes of The Pandumbic and its latest viral video Saluting The Heroes of the Insurrection.
Ramin Hedayati, a supervising producer on the show who is in charge of its digital expansion team, said, “Any time we can synthesise what’s going on and put that out in a video and get people focused on a particular topic or focus, that’s ideal.”
One of the advantages that the digital team has is more of a fluid timeline than the linear show – they can put out content immediately, for instance, following a specific tweet, or let an idea percolate for a few days while they get it right. “When we have a couple of extra days to sit with something it benefits the piece that we end up putting out,” he added.
One of the show’s most viral stars is Jordan Klepper, who has spent much of the last four years spending time with Trump supporters. Clips such as him attending a Trump boat rally, a Covid rally and the Million Maga March as well as the recent Capitol insurrection, have secured hundreds of millions of views for the brand.
Hedayati said that you could sense in Klepper’s performance that the Capitol chaos had a different vibe and energy to other events he’s been to. Comedy Central provided the former host of The Opposition with Jordan Klepper extra security for that segment, which ran online first before airing on the show. “They weren’t messing around and you could feel it in the air,” said Flanz.
She added that the show will continue to use Klepper even though Trump is no longer President. “We’ll take it as it comes. I think there’s still going to be Trump rallies and we will want to know what people on that side are thinking. There’s a lot of stuff that Trump has touched in the last four years that is majorly messed up so how do we move forward from here? Things in this country are never perfect but they’re worse now so how do we get better and I think Jordan is a really good person to look into those kinds of things,” she said.
The digital growth has had an impact on how Flanz and her team put together the linear show. She said that it sometimes informs how they would structure an act of the show or break up a segment to make sure that each clip works as a standalone bit. “We [no longer] expect that somebody is sitting in front of their TV for 45 minutes and watching the show as one whole thing. It’s nice if they have that 45 minute experience but for the most part we assume it’s all going to be seen in clips all over the place.”
Last year, the producers were also working towards extending the show even further – moving from 45 minutes to an hour. However, this has become trickier in a Covid world so Flanz says that this plan is currently on hold. “It’s very hard to shoot with our correspondents in the field and it’s very hard to shoot a sketch where we can all be together because of Covid restraints so it’s hard to shoot as much content as we would want to for an hour. Right now, we’re sticking with 45 minutes. When we made that plan I think we thought we were going back to the studio. Like all plans, it’s become ‘let’s wait and see what happens’. Who’s making plans anymore? We’ll see. It would be a really hard lift given how we’re making the show right now,” she said.
Taking each day and week as they come seems to be The Daily Show’s mantra right now. “Everyone’s hopeful and optimistic but a little nervous about getting too excited about making all of these plans to do things on the show when you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s hard to think everything’s going to change now that Biden’s inaugurated and it will be sunshine and happiness. We are still dealing with a huge health issue that is going to roll over into a huge economy issue so I don’t think we’re dancing yet but hopefully one day we will be.”
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