My Own Jon Stewart Daily Show Episode
Jon Stewart and Team - America: The Book
Because of my association with Jon Stewart's production staff and their extraordinary kindness, I was able to give my wife copy of this book, signed by Stewart and most of his co-writers.
Recent Reflections 10/16/2010
Jon Stewart has been in the news more frequently lately, and that, coupled with a reader comment, led me to a little reminiscing. What is it exactly that make Stewart stand out among the legion of self-appointed experts on American culture?
He's a clearly decent human being and funny, of course. His writing team has always been great, but there is another thing he probably doesn't get enough credit for. I have a small story about is innate fairness, a rarity among the always percolating media.
After I'd been lucky to work with Jon's production team for a few years, his popularity grew until revenue generated by the show warranted a move to bigger, better quarters. The show had been produced in space inherited given up by Public Television and was, honestly, decrepit. Good enough for Colbert, though.
The Daily Show migrated to facilities a few blocks away that had been vacated by The Food Channel when the shuffled over to Chelsea Piers. That's a story in itself, but what was more interesting in perspective is that I finally got to visit "the writers' room," once they'd vacated. To house the new Colbert Report, the building was being renovated, including electrical rebuilds that were seriously needed.
My company was building out Colbert's computer network, and we went in early to make sure the cabling was right and that everything would set when we shipped in equipment. The hope was that everything would be plugged in and work, a situation that actually happened with only a minor snag or two.
I did a walk through with one of our engineers who'd been our primary support for The Daily Show, having provided tons of troubleshooting and even traveling with the show on location for conventions. Mike took me upstairs, pointing out where Colbert and Carrel and Bee had pumped out comedy. What caught my eye was one of the few remaining fixtures.
A photograph of George W. Bush, and a very flattering one. Every day, the team saw Bush's smiling face when they went to work. It was as if, in the midst of all the comedy, Stewart and his team kept anchored in the core reality that we had a leader who should be respected. You could skewer whoever you wanted, but when you went home, a country and a government that we elected had to have its dignity and respect in place. Some things are bigger than laughs.
That's what I call decency, decency above and beyond the call.
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End of a Personal Story
Jon Stewart Daily Show Personal Experience
Jon Stewart and the Daily Show on Comedy Central established themselves as symbols of intelligence, satire and liberalism in an neighborhood better known for lowbrow humor and mediocrity. In my episode, I'll tell you about my part in it. It was small, but I was proud to have been involved.
Jon Stewart Daily Show – Personal Experience First Meeting
When I first met the production team for the Daily Show, I'd never seen the show. In fact, I'd barely heard of it, having dropped network television as not worth devoting the time. Commercial pressures had pretty much crushed innovation and independence. Plus, the ads themselves were godawful to sit through.
But I was lucky enough to have Comedy Central as a customer in my work as a account executive for an IT consulting company. Joe, the IT manager at Comedy Central was aware of some dissatisfaction with the tech support available to Hello Doggie, the production company supporting the Daily Show, and offered to make an introduction and recommendation for my company.
On a sunny morning, we walked from Joe's office near Columbus Circle to the building the Daily Show inherited from PBS in Hell's Kitchen, an area in New York no longer well described by that title. The building is on a quiet - for New York - street, dwarfed below AT&T's massive Tenth Avenue facility and is now the home of The Colbert Report.
Our meeting with Georgia Pappas, the Line Producer, and Pam DePace, her assistant, was unlike any I've had out of hundreds while selling services. Georgia's office was more like a living room, complete with comfy chairs and a sofa. The television was on at all times.
Georgia was serious but warm, a little intimidating but easy to like. Pam's and her desks were the only concession to standard office requirements, and behind Georgia's rested a homey wall full of books. Big fan of Martha Stewart, as I recall, which made two of us.
"You'll have to excuse us in a few minutes," Georgia explained. "My dog walker will be back."
And sure enough, soon after we started discussing support concerns and considerations, Georgia's dog bounded into the living room – with the rest of his pack. If nothing else had occurred, this alone would have made it one of the most enjoyable meetings I've ever had.
Soon, the extra dogs were rounded up, Georgia's calmed, and we continued with the meeting. The only other interruption was when Mo Rocca poked his head in to ask a question about health insurance.
Satisfied with my answers to their questions about off-hours support, a critical issue for a show that tapes at 7:00 PM, and our references, we agreed on a contract not much later and began working together.
Then, I also became a fan. All my wife and I had to do was watch the show once before committing our recorder for a five day a week indulgence. Jon's humor, combined with that of a talented team that then included Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Sam Bee and Lewis Black, was irresistible.
Jon Stewart Daily Show – Personal Experience Working With The Daily Show
I never met Jon in person, although my company's techs worked with him and the rest of the creative team many times. As celebrities go, Jon is more private and reserved than most, and when I was in the building and saw him, I respectfully pretended he was invisible.
A genuinely nice, unpretentious guy, Stewart once asked one of our techs for his autograph after he fixed a glitch on his computer.
Because the show was an independent production affiliated with, not owned by, Comedy Central, it was maintained on short term contracts, typically covering three months, that gave the producers no guarantees of longevity. This also made it tough for them to invest in expensive technology, and consequently, their updates were piecemeal and considerably behind the latest and greatest.
The creative team shared some computers. Some provided their own laptops, and throughout the organization, the only new equipment was equipment bought as an unavoidable replacement. The replaced computers were often close to the point where they could be nudged through a side door to the Smithsonian.
Pam, responsible for keeping the network running, did an impressive job of it with the budget she had to work with. Rarely was their a major breakdown. I helped by finding the least expensive equipment that met their requirements, uncovering deals whenever I could, but it must have been nerve-wracking for her, dealing with daily deadlines on a shoestring.
Jon Stewart Daily Show – Personal Experience Jon's Million Dollar Deal
After four years as Daily Show host and consistently improved ratings, Jon finally hit it big with a new contract for himself and his production company, this one lasting for more than three months.
The line production group immediately announced that they were doing a top to bottom technology upgrade, the salesperson inside me was happy to hear, and unfortunately, at the same time, Viacom – which now owned all of Comedy Central – announced their intention of handling it themselves with their partner, Dell.
Hello Doggie, still in charge, with some independence, of production, insisted on a fair competition. Because the complete upgrade had to be done during an upcoming hiatus, including replacing all of their servers, desktops, switches and most of the printers, it had to be planned carefully and the proposals made and considered in a short timeframe.
Sales jobs involving large size purchases are characterized by highs and lows and valleys of stress between. This was one of the most accented. Not only was The Daily Show a regular source of income for me, it was a high profile account, becoming more so every year.
I enjoyed the bragging rights for retaining a customer many others vied for. But now, my competition was one of the largest corporations in the world and their partner, another enormous corporation with a cheesy reputation for commoditizing everything they laid their hands on.
We did win the contract, I'm happy to say, one of the biggest of my carrier, and we did so because, unlike the top-heavy corporate competition, we were able to sit down with Georgia and her team and convince them that ours had the greatest likelihood of having them in full operation when the troops returned from hiatus.
The Viacom/Dell attitude was, "If it's not working right, we'll fix it," while ours was, "Everything will be working as it should on your first day back."
An hour or so after a deadline we felt was necessary for getting all the necessary equipment and schedules in place, Pam called and lifted me out a pre-suicidal depression by saying, "Watch your fax machine." It had already lit up with the first in a series of purchase orders, signed by Georgia.
During the next week, while we were making specific plans, we were told, "Oh, by the way, some of the writers will be working during the shutdown," a minor inconvenience we had to plan for. The writers, it turned out, would be doing the work required for completing America: The Book, The Daily Show's major bestseller, of which I was able to give my wife a first edition copy signed by most of the writers.
Jon Stewart Daily Show – Personal Experience The Lows
Not long after The Daily Show packed up and moved to space a couple of blocks away that had been vacated by The Food Network, Jon was given the job of hosting the Academy Awards, an impressive assignment that brought a new level of tension to the operations, two time sensitive productions going on under the same roof with many of the same people.
Adding to the stress, their internet suddenly began to crawl every day, late in the afternoon, right about the time when Jon was trying to work on scripts for both shows. The experience was weirdly unpredictable and hard to explain. Then, a minor disaster struck. Minor to everyone but Ben Karlin, who made it major for himself and everyone else.
On a Thursday morning, I wrapped up a meeting in Long Island and got the following message on my cell phone as I was walking to my car: "Dave, this is Georgia. I just want to tell you that I'm being fired and you're being fired unless this network is running perfectly by three o'clock." The deadline had been set by Ben Karlin.
What ignited the crisis was their internet connection's having gone from slow to dead that morning. Before getting back to the city and through another appointment, I took several more calls and agreed to be the "somebody in a suit" that our onsite tech team demanded.
Karlin's screaming fit had everyone believing they were about to lose their jobs, regardless of the cause of the problem, and we were eager to help in any way we could.
We soon discovered that the cause for the outage was a decision by Time Warner Cable to shut down a whole section of users, including The Daily Show, for maintenance, a decision not accompanied by another to communicate it to anyone.
As for the afternoon slowdowns, our best guess was that someone was scheduling that time to download or upload video, using Limewire, and it was eating up most of the bandwidth. Their employee population being the free spirits they were, The Daily Show had always insisted on the fewest controls possible. Freedom has risks. I never learned whether Ben took the trouble to scream at Time Warner as he had at the female staffers.
Jon Stewart Daily Show – Personal Experience Times Change
Just as talented people like Steve Carrel and Mo Rocca moved on, it was inevitable that The Daily Show would spring a child, and it did when Jon's company, Busboy Productions, launched The Colbert Report with my favorite from the show, Stephen Colbert.
I am proud to say, we set their technology up from scratch with what they could afford under a three month contract and, then, brought them a modern network when Colbert's success earned him a full year deal. I am unhappy to report that this led to the end of our work with The Daily Show.
Having grown and expanded with a second show, Jon's operation was now able to hire staff of their own and found that, as most do, more cost effective than paying third-parties for support. We even advised them on the hire. But by then, it was over. A little bit of work for Colbert continued, but having seen both shows grow into model successes, we weren't really a part of the success anymore.
Occasionally, I used my contacts at the shows to help friends get VIP seats at both tapings. Whenever that happens, I take the extra step of meeting them there to make sure there are no mix ups.
But I also take some time to soak up the memories that come while standing where I stood on the morning of our first day, watching for our technician to walk down the street, initiating a great ride with a great group of people, and the chance to be nearby as they grew and flourished.
A Biography of Jon Stewart
Lisa Rogak's new biography, the first detailed look at Jon Stewart's life and career, is fresh on the shelves.
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