‘Daily Show’ Delays Election Results: Why We Can’t Expect It to Compete With Cable News


“Comedy Central is ‘the’ place for live election results as ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’ presents ‘Election Night 2012: This Ends Now’ and ‘The Colbert Report’ presents ‘Election 2012: A Nation Votes, Ohio Decides; The Re-Presidenting of America: Who Will Replace Obama? ‘012!’” That’s what the press release announcing the live election special on Comedy Central on Nov. 6 opened with. Yet, when President Obama’s victory was called by every news outlet and announced via every social networking medium, Daily Show viewers were left in the dark for an entire Samantha Bee segment and a commercial break. Some changed the channel, some looked to Twitter and Facebook, and others just waited, but in any case, viewers learned a very important lesson: The Daily Show, while whip-smart and generally on top of most political shenanigans, is a comedy show. It’s not the place any of us should turn for truly breaking news.
“I was surprised as well that The Daily Show didn’t quickly cut out of their segment and get back to business,” says fan Alexis Wiener, who tuned into The Daily Show coverage in order to “to stay informed but be entertained as well, by someone I knew could do that job.” However, when she (and many other Daily Show fans like her) switched to Comedy Central, she didn’t find the information she sought and she instead found out about Obama’s projected win on Twitter. “So, I switched,” she says. “As much as I thought I wanted to be entertained at the moment, I really didn’t. I wanted the facts, and that’s why I switched … The news came first.”  

If you’re the sort of person who reads the newspaper (or its online counterpart), watches the nightly news, and follows serious political commentary and analysis, you likely scoff at anyone hoping to discover news on The Daily Show. Who would actually depend on a comedy series for the majority of their news?

Well, a decent amount of people, as it turns out. Back in 2007, Americans were asked to choose the journalists they most admired, and coming in at number four, alongside Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams was comedian and Daily Show host Jon Stewart. What’s more is that during the 2012 Republican National Convention, the ratings revealed that Stewart and Stephen Colbert raked in more viewers than the big news networks. In the coveted “young people” demographic, viewers 18-34, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report raked in 450,000 viewers while Fox News trailed behind with 329,000. And when the demo expanded to 18-49, Comedy Central’s newsy 11-12 P.M. block saw a viewership of 824,000, dwarfing MSNBC’s 430,000 and CNN’s 415,000. Add to that the fact that in 2011, Stewart’s show was pulling in higher ratings than all of the programs on frequent target Fox News (2.3 million average viewers to Fox New’s average 1.85 million viewers across daytime and prime time programming). The difference was significant in both instances and it signaled a possible shift in the viability of cable news. Was it still king?

And when both Comedy Central programs announced their live election coverage, the plot thickened. While both top Daily Show correspondent Jon Oliver and Stewart have said time and again that viewers can’t get possibly get all their news from The Daily Show, a survey performed by the Poynter Institute revealed that people who got all of their news from The Daily Show were still better informed by those who only used MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News as their news sources. The Comedy Central series’ audience was bested only by NPR listeners and Sunday morning shows like Meet the Press. With that in mind, this 2012 Comedy Central election special, airing right in the middle of the votes being counted and called, entered interesting territory: Daily Show‘s special became an inadvertent tests to see if the entertainment program really could play cable news’ game, whether or not Comedy Central sought that outcome.

Unfortunately, the comedy program lost that game, even if it ultimately won for laughs. The Daily Show was less the source for live election results as it was for the usual Daily Show sketches and segments, pre-recorded and pre-written before air, just like every other episode of the show before it. Aside from a few late projections (and one projection of fake mud onto Mitt Romney’s smiling mug), the episode was largely prefab content, heated and served for the audience just as the results of the election were ramping up. And when NBC News, CNN, and Fox News (who was the first to make a decision) called the 2012 election for President Obama, The Daily Show gave no indication of the victory (unless you count Stewart’s blatantly excited gestures to Bee as they threw it to a commercial break). It’s a fact some fans, like Weiner and many commenting on Daily Show‘s Facebook page (“Jon, you’re missing it!”), found disappointing.

But not everyone was upset with The Daily Show’s delay. New Jersey college student, Jeffrey Kramer, says he too needed a break from the onslaught of information on the news networks, but that Stewart and Co. did the right thing by holding off, even though Obama himself was sending out victory tweets before the series made its call. “I didn’t expect [the networks] to call the crucial races in Ohio, Colorado or Iowa for at least an hour or so, so I switched over to [The Daily Show] to get some relief from the punditry,” he says. Like Wiener, he too found out that the race had been called for Obama, but didn’t find fault in The Daily Show for holding off for a few minutes. “Anyone who was watching The Daily Show in order to stay current on numbers and information were there for the wrong reasons. None of the promos gave me the impression they would be doing anything different than normal, just that it was live, so I would say it met my expectations,” he added. And it seems Kramer wasn’t alone.

Los Angeles television executive and avid Daily Show viewer, Alex Sepiol, says he had no intention of watching the Comedy Central series in real time. Instead, he recorded it and saved it for after the news: “I watched it a couple hours after it initially aired while I was waiting for Obama to speak,” he says.

Perhaps election night helped viewers understand that while informative and incredibly smart, The Daily Show is comedy based on news and not news with a funny candy-coating to help the medicine go down. That the live show was an election night hurrah and not an attempt at competing with the real news programs (even if they did air simultaneously). And if fans of the show had yet to accept that fact, the Nov. 6 delay heard ‘round… the-group-of-people-watching-Comedy-Central-or-the-show’s-live-stream certainly taught viewers that lesson.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

<a href=”http://polldaddy.com/poll/6673095/”>Were you expected real time results from The Daily Show?</a>

[Photo Credit: Comedy Central]


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