It was a big year for fake news, and, if I may say so, particularly for those of us at The Daily Show. Our ratings were up sharply. We won two Emmys. The not-at-all-cynical Television Critics Association awarded us its prize for Best News and Information Program. Our blatantly fake history textbook has spent several months at No. 1 on the Times’ best-seller list for “nonfiction.” Even amid the swirl of fawning attention, though, there remains the simple satisfaction of knowing that we completely deserve it.
Still, our success comes as part of a larger trend. Like a fantastically incurable virus, the “fiction as fact” trend has spread far beyond cable comedy. Just look at the past twelve months: Dan Rather. USA Today. The current administration’s entire fiscal policy. Even the estimable new ABC documentary series Desperate Housewives seems like half of it is just made up. Unless I’ve been misinformed. Which is almost certainly the case.
But 2005 is no time to rest on our illaurels. In the coming year, The Daily Show’s struggle will be to maintain our ersatz reputation. As more prestigious guests come on the show, as more studies scientifically prove our viewers to be better informed than CNN’s, we’ll inevitably be afflicted with greater and greater credibility. Unless we take strong and immediate measures, we’ll eventually be regarded as seriously as—what’s the name of the one who’s still around?—ah, yes, as seriously as Jennings. And then everyone will stop watching.
Thus the Daily Show motto for 2005: “Keeping the fakeness real.” No, it won’t be easy. All the easy earthshaking-developments-slash-laughs are behind us. The election-year drama is over (except in Ukraine, where the whole point is to get a government that will allow non-fake news). The Iraq story may have started out as a hot, sexy, regime-changing blitzkrieg, but it’s settled into the tedium of a long-term relationship. Yes, our new Homeland Security majordomo, Bernard Kerik, is funny-looking. But that will only get us so far.
That’s why we’re taking a bigger-picture view. Our new m.o. is “Expand the brand,” which, as a business strategy, has the benefit of rhyming.
First, more TV. We were toying with a Russert-style Sunday-morning show, but on reflection that seemed kind of early. Then Sunday afternoon we had friends in from out of town, plus we had to do laundry, so we pitched our Viacom bosses about letting us do something on CBS on Sunday evenings at 7. Turned out they already had some kind of news show scheduled then. Who knew?
Then we invade the blogosphere, since that’s where the money is. Come spring, we launch our line of dietetic toaster pastries. July: Ribbon-cutting on our first teaching hospital. September: We start accepting limited partners in our ironic Daily Show hedge fund, which will invest in companies we believe to be hilarious. (It will be a “great” way to “diversify” your “portfolio.”) And then, for next Christmas, the coup de grâce: a CD-ROM. I know, it sounds impossibly futuristic. But take it from me: It’s going to be big.