The Daily Show’s first episode aired in 1996. Hosted by Jon Stewart, it began to assemble a community of followers, with deliberate and conscious strategizing on the producer’s part. Subsequently, the show, though undoubtedly impacted by industry platforms, has also molded the platforms to fit its own unique brand of community. Defining what that community is and how a television show circumvented platforms that are seemingly at odds, that is, Hollywood vs. Indie; network vs. cable is what is examined in this paper.
What is a community within the context of a television show? According to a study conducted at the University of Iowa titled Hollywood and Understandings of Contemporary American Community, the place of Hollywood “…create(s) a sense of connection through a shared experience of media” (Ono 6). Using this definition of community via media, the model that would organically emerge would be a passive program whose very existence would be shackled to the whims of advertising, consumerism, and tame, mainstream entertainment.
Obviously, Stewart and his team had nothing mediocre in mind. In order to remain true to its edgy roots, the program had to remain accessible, so they chose an Indie platform over a more conservative Hollywood platform; and a cable platform over a mainstream network platform. Basically, the program did not want to share anything using the intermediary model that Ono describes. They wanted a sense of connection, but not within the boundaries of the mainstream media. However, it must be noted that The Daily Show really did “create a sense of community” (Ono 6). Systemically, The Daily Show team does not operate on “sense,” but on a visceral, tangible stability of place as connection. The place is not Hollywood, it is New York City, which is its own entity and therefore it barely needs the impact of platforms—either the positive or negative effects—that Hollywood offers.
For a creative show with a much smaller community following, the positive impact of platforms and trends is obvious. In this case, venturing down a path that would lead straight to a Hollywood platform and/or a network platform would probably be wise. According to the book, Critical Media Studies, the objective of media, in general, is that its communicative “technologies … have the potential to reach a large audience in remote locations” (Ott 2). The gamble with the potential is seductive enough to keep the place/connection that is Hollywood in business.
But these tried and true methods of reaching a large audience are becoming more and more obsolete. The Daily Show used what Ott characterizes as “new media”(Ott 7). It used, as described in Critical Media Studies, what transformed “the common network protocols … into the hypertextual platform we know now as the World Wide Web” (Ott 7). This, of course, would fall under the category of a trend, yet a constantly changing trend. The fact that The Daily Show is streaming proves that now we have a “new media” whereby there is convergence, or, “the tendency of formerly diverse media to share a common, integrated platform” (Ott 9). This integrated platform is global in scope and so has both positive and negative impacts, particularly with regard to politics.
If you consider social activism and engaging in the political process as a positive reaction to social media, then The Daily Show has proven itself beyond question. In their paper Political Advertising on Social Media in the 2012 Presidential Elections, Wei and Golan explore what level of intensity a platform that has indirect political endorsements as its focus has on viewers. In view of the fact that The Daily Show was able to circumvent mainstream Hollywood platforms, it is not hard to imagine them tipping the scales in either direction for a presidential candidate. Much like Obama's presidential Youtube campaign didn't tip the scales.
The other avenue by which The Daily Show bypassed mainstream Hollywood platforms (radio, newspapers, magazines, other print matter) was to become adept at social media. In the instance of The Daily Show, social media’s natural and organically driven platform consists of nothing more profound than word-of-mouth. Wei and Golan note that “Although content distributed via traditional … platforms … is selected by professional producers and editors, the content distributed via social media represents a form of word-of-mouth distribution which can include user-generated content” (Wei & Golan 225). In other words, platforms are increasingly becoming democratic and socially desirable. However, all of this is worth a warning, as well. There will be a degree of backlash as people grapple with the ethics of whether or not a good friend’s endorsement of a particular political stance might not be just this: a good friend will always back you up, and the fact that it is a persuasive advertisement makes the program “socially undesirable.” (Wei & Golan 226)
Is running the risk of creating a socially undesirable product worth everything? To trendsetters, movie and television producers, yes. To the viewer, the gamble of going too far outside of the traditional box can be a threat to their level of comfort; too much thinking can be disconcerting to some! And the greatest risk of all: that an endorsement is not to be taken seriously because it seems oddly incestuous. In the case of The Daily Show, the gamble was astounding and the impact the show had on commercial platforms was more or less, historic.
Ono, Sarah Sachiko. “From Redfield To Redford: Hollywood and understandings of contemporary American community.” Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 2010. P. 6. Web. 3 March 2014.
Ott, Brian, and Robert Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. John Wiley & Sons. West Sussex, United Kingdom, 2010. Chapter 1. pp. 2, 7, 9. Print.
Wei, Ran and Guy Golan. “Political Advertising on Social Media in the 2012 Presidential Election.” School of Journalism & Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. 2013. Electronic News. Vol. 7 (4) pp. 223-242. DOI: 10.1177/1931243113506903. 3 March 2014.