The Daily Show isn’t nearly so fake as it seems

On tour around the U.S. while promoting his new book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times found something he didn’t expect:

…many educated people seem to be getting their news from Comedy Central. Say what? As any author will tell you, the best TV book shows to be on have long been Don Imus, Charlie Rose, C‑Span, Tim Russert on CNBC, “Today,” Oprah and selected programs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. They are all still huge. But what was new for me on this tour was the number of people who also mentioned getting their news from Jon Stewart’s truly funny news satire, “The Daily Show.” And I am not just talking about college kids. I am talking about grandmas. Just how many people are now getting their only TV news from Comedy Central is not clear to me — but it is a lot, lot more than you think.
This kind of “shock” is being expressed more and more, and much has been written about what will happen to our poor children if they’re raised on news from a comedy program.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a symbiote that feeds off its host. It’s a caricature of television news, which has — during the last decade or so — become a caricature of itself. That the program is a huge success is no surprise to me, and I’ve felt that way from the beginning. The program’s writers and producers — and certainly Stewart himself — use the preconceptions of TV news that exist in the minds of viewers as a vehicle to communicate current events. It’s funny as hell, but beneath it all is an honest portrayal.

In their groundbreaking book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Ries and Trout wrote that the trick to mass marketing is to enter the mind at a place that already exists. That’s where you plant your message. Jimi Hendrix once said, “When people are into my music, I can tell them anything.” Whether deliberate or otherwise, this is what makes The Daily Show so effective, and it’s a point most people miss.

What makes the program funny is the reality of the caricature. It’s right there in front of us every night on the evening news. What we fail to see is that people have known all about the blue smoke and mirrors, the hype and the teasing, the stupid questions and the meaningless liveshots, the blood and guts emphasis, and the egos of anchors for a long time. They see through it all, yet we behave as if they don’t. That’s what makes The Daily Show successful. Take away the caricature, and the show would fade into the distance.

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