The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah was one of the first of the late-night shows to return to television after the production shutdown.
The Comedy Central series, which airs weeknights at 11pm, returned on March 23, after initially launching on its online and social channels.
“We are built for this in some ways because we are so flexible and we can shift gears really fast,” showrunner and exec producer Jen Flanz tells Deadline.
The show has been a mix of interviews and clips from Daily Show correspondents as well as more light-hearted moments from Noah.
The stand-up comedian has had a range of guests including Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose first late-night interview has racked up more than 32M viewers, Bill Gates, Governor Gavin Newson and last night had basketball all-star and philanthropist Steph Curry. The show has helped the channel score the biggest year-over-year gains, up 33%, of any of the top 30 networks, excluding news channels, since mid-March, according to Nielsen.
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Flanz says that Fauci’s team approached The Daily Show, keen to reach the show’s young audience – the series is the number one late-night show with viewers aged between 18 and 34 as well as young men. “Dr Fauci came to us because he took note that our audience is a younger audience and the idea is to get the message out to younger people, who might not be taking the virus so seriously,” she says.
She adds that they made a conscious effort to speak to experts during the pandemic. “We’re a lot less of a celebrity stop and much more about information. It’s a fun informative interview. Even when we interview celebrities, we always ask, is there a cause that you care to discuss, even when they’re coming on to promote a movie, so it wasn’t that hard for us to make the shift. The Daily Show has always been a stop for politicians. We wanted to make sure that viewers were being informed.”
After many of the interviews, and at the end of the show, Noah has been promoting a range of charities and the show has implemented YouTube’s donate button on Daily Show and Comedy Central content. The show has now raised just under $500,000 for Coronavirus charities including City Harvest, No Kid Hungry, Feeding America, Save The Children and NYC Mayor’s Fund for First Responders.
There are obviously challenges to making the show under the circumstances. Flanz says that communication is the trickiest element, with staff no longer able to meet other than on Zoom, and that the team has moved forward filming to ensure a smooth post-process. It now tapes between 3:30pm and 5:30pm rather than between 6:30pm and 8pm. “It is a crunch,” she admits.
However, Flanz adds that they have settled into a routine. “[At the start], it felt like we would have never been able to do The Daily Show from all of our individual homes and now we’re doing it every day. In the wake of this whole thing, it’s small potatoes, but it’s been cool to figure out how we can all communicate and get it on the air. It’s definitely become a routine, albeit a very weird routine.”
There is also an issue of pacing as Noah has no audience to get feedback from. Flanz says that this puts more onus on the producers to ensure jokes land. She adds that the fact that The Daily Show has a busy social and digital media team, run by supervising producer and head of digital content and strategy Ramin Hedayati, helps. “The cool thing is that with our social digital team, we watch so much internet content, we were inspired to make the show a hybrid between a late-night show and the internet, because that’s what a lot of our fans are, the other stuff they’re watching is paced more similarly.”
Hedayati’s team has been creating a slew of content that airs both online and occasionally on the linear show. For instance, Roy Wood, Jr. and Michael Kosta have hosted a March-Madness-style bracket for Trump’s Best Word and they’ve run trailers for Pandumbic and Pandumbic 2,
Hedayati tells Deadline, “We are producing stuff all of the time, we’re not as beholden to the show schedule. We might have something finished the night before and post it online. We’re always going. On the digital side, it feels like Trevor is having as much fun as he can, messing around with how he goes to different cameras and different outfits, which is a fun departure.”
Flanz says the whole situation has forced them to come up with new ways of being creative. “We can’t make the show and fall back on what we normally do. It’s been fun to try and figure out how to make this show interesting for the viewers and Trevor.”
While New York is still in the middle of the pandemic, with Governor Cuomo recently extending the stay-at-home order until at least May 15, there’s no sign of getting back to the studio.
Flanz says that even though the current news output is relentless, she says it feels like this has been the case since the 2016 election when Donald Trump was elected President. “This is a lot of news, but I don’t think it’s that much different. We used to do the conventions and the election then we’d feel like we’d get a little break for a year to do other things that are interesting to us. It is relentless but I’m not sure that it’s much more relentless than it has been,” she adds. “I’m excited for when we’ll all be able to have meetings again, where we’re all in the same place.”
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