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This just in: Kerry still trailing Bush

The satiric 'Daily Show' bets it's not too late for repackaged coverage of 'Indecision 2004.'

June 28, 2005|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

Nearly eight months after the fact might seem a little late to come out with a DVD collection on the 2004 presidential election, but leave it to Comedy Central and the producers of Jon Stewart's satiric late-night show to defy conventional wisdom.

"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004" makes its long-awaited home video debut today. The three-disc set is the first from the Emmy Award-winning faux news program that, with Rolling Stone and Newsweek cover stories and a bestselling book, triggered a media blitzkrieg last year.

Set against a backdrop of schmaltzy New Age music, Stewart introduces the material. Hailing the DVD as a "bold new format ... developed a mere half-decade ago," he spins the timing positively with tongue planted characteristically in cheek.

"We, at 'The Daily Show,' believe we're leading the DVD revolution -- though you might say that 'Punky Brewster' beat us to the punch with that DVD collection," he said, referring to the fluffy 1980s sitcom about an abandoned girl and her dog. "But did she chart the ups and downs of the 2004 campaign? She might have -- I stopped watching after Disc 4."

Fan demand was evident from the outset, Comedy Central executives said, through e-mails, DVD websites and on the road where "Daily Show" staffers were promoting "America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction." The challenge was finding a format that, given that it's yesterday's news, wouldn't seem too tired.

The 2004 presidential election was the show's signature moment, everyone agreed, with a host of opportunities to mine. The show won a George Foster Peabody Award for "satire that deflates pomposity on an equal opportunity basis" and was voted "best news and information program" by the Television Critics Assn. All the more impressive in light of its 1.4 million viewership, paltry compared to the major networks.

"The election gave us a structure, an arc -- a beginning, middle and end around which to build a DVD," said "Daily Show" executive producer Ben Karlin. "The material, it's true, comes across incredibly dated. We're just hoping that our comedy transcends that

Stewart signed off on all the elements. But because this was mainly an "archival mission," Karlin said, he didn't have to be as hands-on. Over a seven-month period, the project emerged, overseen by in-house producer Ari Fishman. The "exquisitely packaged heirloom collection," as the box describes it, contains eight shows from the Republican and Democratic national conventions (each of which has its own disc). Also included is a program on the Florida presidential debate ("The Squabble at Coral Gables"), a prime-time special ("Election Night 2004: Prelude to a Recount"), and satirical biopics of President George W. Bush ("Words Speak Louder Than Actions") and his opponent ("John Kerry: He's Not George Bush").

The third disc is devoted to bonus material such as a parody of last year's Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads disputing Kerry's Vietnam War record. Titled "Skiff Boat Oarsman for Veracity," it contends that George Washington never crossed the Delaware. ("George Washington slept here," correspondent Samantha Bee's Revolutionary War trollop intones with a sly smile.) In a segment called "Sticker Shock," Bob Wiltfong interviews a man who filed suit because an "I voted today" badge left a circle on his fake suede jacket. Correspondent Stephen Colbert asks the tough questions sidestepped by the mainstream media: "In urban lingo, are you running to stick it to The Man?" he asks presidential hopeful the Rev. Al Sharpton -- one of a series of celebrity guests that also includes former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The footage can be viewed in full-screen or letterbox versions. (For the latter, "please tape cardboard to the top and bottom of your TV screen," viewers are advised.) "At Comedy Central, we like to poke fun at sacred cows," said Steve Raizes, director, Comedy Central Home Entertainment. "Just as 'The Daily Show' mocks nightly news, we wanted to mock the DVD format -- menus, packaging, commentaries. It was a new area in which the writers and correspondents could play."

New features include Colbert's "Requiem for a Show That Was Daily," a behind-the-scenes tour of his "old" stomping grounds; non sequitur audio commentary in which correspondents lapse into silly chatter having nothing to do with what's on-screen; and their rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," which they used to perform for the studio audience before a "big" show got underway. Deleted scenes are not part of the package, the creators explain, because -- other than the occasional bleeped word -- the material goes out as is.

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