Revealing The Laughably Low-Tech Video Set-Up At 'The Daily Show'

As technologists, we're prone to fall in love with the latest new technology. We think we require the most powerful PCs, the fastest networks, and the smartest smartphones to get our jobs done. But <i>The Daily Show</i> reminds us that we can achieve excellence even when our tools are woefully out-of-date.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

August 19, 2008

2 Min Read

As technologists, we're prone to fall in love with the latest new technology. We think we require the most powerful PCs, the fastest networks, and the smartest smartphones to get our jobs done. But The Daily Show reminds us that we can achieve excellence even when our tools are woefully out-of-date.The show specializes in intricate video reports that assemble footage of politicians behaving foolishly, often contradicting themselves many times over the course of years. You'd think the show must have some incredibly fancy high-tech video setup to accomplish all that, right? But you'd be wrong.

The New York Times describes the Daily Show's video reports in a Sunday profile:

As the co-executive producer Rory Albanese noted, juxtapositions of video clips and sound bites are one of the show's favorite strategies. It might be the juxtaposition of Senator Barack Obama speaking to a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin while Mr. McCain campaigns in a Pennsylvania grocery store. Or it could be a juxtaposition of a politician taking two sides of the same argument. One famous segment featured Mr. Stewart as the moderator of a debate between then-Governor Bush of Texas in 2000, who warned that the United States would end up "being viewed as the ugly American" if it went around the world "saying we do it this way -- so should you," and President Bush of 2003, who extolled the importance of exporting democracy to Iraq.

How do they put all that together? The Times makes a passing reference to 15 TiVos. A person signing himself as "John Teti," a former researcher at The Daily Show, describes the setup in greater depth on PVRblog. It's laughably primitive, just 15 TiVos mounted on racks, with no networking and no additional software or hardware other than what TiVo supplies out of the box. When researchers find a video clip that they want to use on the show, they record the clip to Beta and physically carry the tape to an editing bay. "Yup, sneakernet. Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is," Teti says.

My favorite detail from Teti's description: When a Daily Show staffer uses a TiVo remote, he has to hold it directly to the machine he wants to control, so the beam doesn't inadvertently set off the other TiVos in the room.

Boing Boing, where I found this report, has an interesting discussion from its readers. They praise the robustness of tape -- "you can drop it and it still works," and its low cost. An intern for Conan O'Brien describes that show's three-TiVo setup.

CNET's Crave blog asks: "Should these shows upgrade to something more sophisticated, or should they stick with the low-tech method that works?"

How about you? Are you creating great work using trailing-edge technology? Let us know about it.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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