‘The Daily Show’ at 25: Creators Look Back

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We are watching the “Dateline” clips and suddenly there is silence in the room. It was as if we were all speaking at the same time. We said: “What if we pretend to be them? What if we pretend to be them and adopt this really fake serious, smug attitude? Then we can be as stupid as we want as long as we always bring it home.” That’s when “The Daily Show” was born.

How was Craig Kilborn brought in to host from “SportsCenter”?

WINSTEAD Herzog was a huge fan of Kilborn. He was a favorite of the network. Many people ask, “Is he playing stupid or is he stupid?” He was a straight anchor and people were always asking, “Is he a character or is he really this?”

[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 really good timing. He read everything on the prompt and conveyed jokes very well. We thought of him as our Ted Baxter. The voice of “The Daily Show” was not Craig’s voice. He called stories about war and politics to the front page. “Can we get off the front page?” said.

[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 the setup. We’re starting next Monday, so I said, “Come on, Craig, let’s get you down and in your seat.” And he sits down in his chair and says, “She’s behind on the set.” “What do you mean, back?” “This is my good side,” he says. We had to turn the set over the weekend so she could look at the camera on the bright side while talking to the guests.

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