Apr 02, 2020

By Nicole Bitette
WhatsApp and iPhones fueled the creation of 'The Daily Social Distancing Show' during the COVID-19 crisis.

When Trevor Noah interviewed the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on March 26, it wasn't face-to-face in front of a live audience at the show’s New York City studio. Noah was instead seated behind a folding table in his apartment, quizzing Fauci about COVID-19 through his iPhone.

After all late-night shows shut down production due to the escalating coronavirus pandemic, Noah and his team at The Daily Show suddenly found themselves homebound. Rather than give up on the show, the crew pivoted, using iPhones, WhatsApp, and Zoom to produce The Daily Social Distancing Show and distribute it on YouTube, via CC.com, and across social media.

“At The Daily Show, we have a lot of meetings. The philosophy is always, ‘the more people who know, the better’—which is proving to be the real challenge here: Finding the easiest way for our staff to communicate with each other,” says Jen Flanz, executive producer and showrunner for The Daily Show.  “We’re on Skype. We’re on Slack. We’re on Facetime. We’re on Google Docs. We’re on Zoom. We’re on Scripto. We’re on WhatsApp. We’re on everything Apple."

“We’re basically shooting everything we normally do but in a totally different way—field pieces, chats, headlines, and guest interviews—but remotely and on a phone.”

 

In the few days that new episodes of The Daily Show were off the air as the team plotted their next steps, it became clear that a demand remained for comedic and informative content, which is the DNA of The Daily Show.

So, on March 18, Noah addressed his fans through a video chat with The Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. “We don’t know when we’re going to go back to the studio, we don’t know if we’re going back to the studio, and I don’t think any of you know any different. Coronavirus has changed everybody’s lives. So what we’ve decided is to make The Daily Show from homes… We’re just going to chill at home and use the technology we have to make the show.” More than 3.7 million viewers have watched that first video.

The Workings of a Remote Production

Currently, The Daily Show is working with seven remote editors—four headlines editors and three field editors, while Noah films himself at home with an iPhone. His interview subjects appear through Skype,FaceTime, or Zoom.

The writers are working together on segments and jokes in a virtual WhatsApp writers’ room. “All the writers have been getting assignments and slinging jokes in one WhatsApp chat group, because we are too incompetent to learn Slack,” says Dan Amira, head writer for The Daily Show.

Jen Flanz Jen Flanz

"“We’re basically shooting everything we normally do but in a totally different way."

Jen Flanz

Executive producer and showrunner for 'The Daily Show'

“There's definitely a lot of demand out there for coronavirus news and information right now, but people are also more stressed than ever, so it feels good to be able to scratch both those itches at the same time with our show,” Amira adds. “I've seen a lot of appreciative tweets about our show being back on the air.”

Going totally digital was in some ways a natural transition for The Daily Show, which often creates social-only content and produces a separate social series called “Between The Scenes.” While they film “Between The Scenes” in a studio with a live audience, the series’ digital element helped the team transition to a fully online process.

“Our digital department has always been churning out content on social media, so we were very prepared for a world in which most or all of our content lives online,” Amira says.

Noah’s interview with Dr. Fauci now has more than 11 million views, making it the 2nd most-watched video on The Daily Show’s channel.

While The Daily Social Distancing Show is seeing success, there’s still a noticeable void for its producers. “First and foremost, it has confirmed that making a late-night show in a studio with an audience is the best way to do it,” says Flanz. “No audience laughter on an episode of The Daily Show is jarring. But it feels most jarring for us all to be living through this pandemic.”

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