In search of the in-depth interview

From The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Comedy Central

It’s strange that if one wishes to hear complete interviews with notable folks including celebrities, politicians and news-makers, shows on public television (PBS), public radio (NPR) and Internet podcasts fill that void for people like me. On TV, oddly places like cable television’s Comedy Central have been the place to go for good discussions. On Tuesday, July 22, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had U.S. President Barack Obama on once again as a guest – just weeks before Stewart is slated to vacate the host’s chair. The president’s interview took up all of the show and hit on some serious topics including terrorism, Iran and benefits for veterans. What’s odd about The Daily Show is that it has become the place for in-depth interviews. Yes, that’s right – a comedy program has become home to good interviews with everyone from film stars like Susan Sarandon to the U.S. president.

Certainly the big three networks present solid interviews in their schedules such as on NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS Sunday Morning and ABC’s This Week, but over the years, those interviews have become rather limited due to the fact that they wish to make their programs more compelling and tighter in terms of time.

Going beyond the Sunday morning talk shows, the big three networks have even less time for decent interviews on the evening newscasts as well as the late night shows.  Have you viewed NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon lately? On any given episode, after the uber-talented Fallon’s monologue, much of the program is filled with comedy skits and the host playing games with his guests.

While Fallon’s version of the program is a far cry from The Tonight Show’s previous hosts, this incarnation of the program is designed more for the Internet. Millennial generation members like my daughter state that they watch Fallon in a different manner saying that they enjoy watching the show in chunks on the Internet. My daughter says that she likes seeing celebrities “doing stupid things” on her mobile phone. My guess is that the monologue caters to Generation X members, Baby Boomers and older while the rest of the show is for the millennial generation. I’m not sure if The Tonight Show’s producers are aiming for that effect, but it certainly seems like that is the goal.
Certainly, Fallon’s predecessors didn’t conduct in-depth discussions, but more information was divulged in say host Johnny Carson’s interviews with folks like columnist Calvin Trillin or actor Bette Davis were more substantial than Fallon speaking with HBO True Detective star Colin Farrell or former NBC Saturday Night Live cast-mate Tina Fey.

As Fallon’s main competitor at the moment Jimmy Kimmel does a bit more talk, the conversations are still quite “on the surface,” it’s more likely that we’ll see a little more discussion when Stephen Colbert takes over CBS’ The Late Show hosting duties.

With all of that said, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore conducts an entertaining roundtable featuring a range of people on the day’s subject. It’s quite informative, but hardly original as HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher has been producing that format for years. Before ‘Real Time,’ Maher created that modern-day roundtable with Politically Incorrect which aired on Comedy Central and later on ABC-TV.

It is Jon Stewart who perfected deep discussion with celebrities and newsmakers. In fact, Stewart’s interviews go so long, his team streams the uncut longer versions to the show’s web page on the Internet. There’s no doubt that Stewarts successor Trevor Noah will continue Stewart’s tradition and of course, build upon it with more innovation. I still go back to this fact: decent in-depth interviews can be found on a basic cable television comedy program – strange indeed.


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