12 Fun Facts About The Jon Stewart Show

On October 25, 1993, late-night viewers of MTV caught a glimpse of the future of talk television when The Jon Stewart Show—a frenetically paced mash-up of celebrity chats, musical performances, and comedy sketches—made its debut. Stewart, who was then just 30 years old, was a mostly unknown face at the time. But his reputation on the standup comedy circuit had caught the attention of MTV executives, who were looking to make their first foray into late-night programming.

Though it was canceled in 1995, Stewart's unique abilities did not go unnoticed by the television world at large. From 1996 to 1998, Stewart—playing an exaggerated version of himself—was the guy being eyed as the next host of The Larry Sanders Show, HBO's brilliant parody of the late-night talk show world. Perhaps it was prophetic, as Stewart did indeed land a real talk show of his own a year later when he took over hosting duties of The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn in early 1999, and stuck around for 16 years.

In celebration of The Jon Stewart Show's 25th anniversary, we're looking back at some fun facts about the MTV series that gave birth to a late-night icon.

1. STEWART WAS CONSIDERED AS A REPLACEMENT FOR LETTERMAN.

When David Letterman announced he would be moving his show from NBC to CBS in 1993, Stewart was actually a contender to replace the late-night great. The gig, of course, famously went to Conan O’Brien and Stewart instead launched The Jon Stewart Show.

2. THE SHOW WAS AN INSTANT HIT ON MTV.

The Jon Stewart Show quickly became one of the most-watched programs on MTV, second only to Beavis and Butt-Head in the channel’s ratings. Courteney Cox, Conan O’Brien, Alicia Silverstone, David Blaine, and Quentin Tarantino were among the show’s celebrity guests.

“Letterman's got a show he's doing, whereas this is much more casual,” Tarantino told Entertainment Weekly in 1994, when he appeared on The Jon Stewart Show just one night after doing Letterman. “This wasn't like doing a talk show. It was like we were just bulls***ting." (During the interview, Stewart had asked Tarantino whether he got his acting role in Pulp Fiction by sleeping with the director.)

3. STEWART'S DREAM GUEST: HELENA BONHAM CARTER.

In a 1994 interview with People, Stewart confessed his desire to have actress Helena Bonham Carter appear on the show. “She’s adorable,” he said. “I’m waiting for her to get fed up with this whole English accent thing and come home to Papa.”

4. THE SHOW MADE A HABIT OF INTRODUCING HOT MUSICAL GUESTS.

When Stewart described the show to USA Today as “Just an odd show with really cool music,” he wasn’t kidding. Being on MTV, music was a given. But Stewart helped to give a more mainstream platform to dozens of musicians who never would’ve made the cut on a network late-night show. 

Among his menagerie of guests were Blind Melon, Slayer, Warren Zevon, Buffalo Tom, Naughty by Nature, White Zombie, Faith No More, Notorious B.I.G., and Marilyn Manson (who famously ended his set by trashing the musical stage and getting a piggyback ride from Stewart).

5. THE SHOW WAS REVAMPED AS A SUCCESSOR TO THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW.

Based on its popularity with MTV audiences, at the end of its first season The Jon Stewart Show was revamped by parent company Paramount to replace Arsenio, whose show had been canceled in May of 1994. The show was extended from 30 minutes to an hour and put into syndication. A poster of Arsenio hung on the wall of Stewart’s office at the time, with a word bubble that read: “Good Luck, Motherf*cker.”

6. STEWART DID NOT WANT TO MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT THE SHOW’S ARRIVAL.

Not a lot of publicity was given to Stewart’s move from MTV to syndication, and that was by Stewart’s design. “Some people here wanted to do a big press conference and make some announcement,” Stewart told the Sun Sentinel in 1994. “And I said ‘Why? Are we invading someone?’ I didn’t think fanfare was appropriate.”

7. STEWART’S LIFE IN SYNDICATION DID NOT LAST LONG.

Stewart quickly learned that success on MTV does not necessarily translate to success with the masses. The Jon Stewart Show was canceled in 1995. The show’s failure on that larger scale was not a complete surprise to Stewart, who shared his mixed feelings about the move to syndication with the Chicago Tribune. “There are going to be people in the audience who are 20 years old that think it sucks and don't get it or don't like it. And there are going to be people who are 50 and do,” he said. “I had to make peace with the fact that if this works, great, and if it doesn't, you have to be OK with that, too. You can't go into it thinking, ‘If I do this and they take this away, what's going to happen to me?' You have to know that you can always open an ice-cream store.”

8. STEWART ANNOUNCED THE SHOW’S CANCELLATION ON LETTERMAN.

Stewart used an appearance on The Late Show on June 7, 1995 to announce that his own show had been canceled.

9. LETTERMAN RETURNED THE FAVOR BY APPEARING ON STEWART’S FINAL SHOW.

Two weeks later, Letterman was sitting on Stewart’s couch as a guest on the final episode, which aired on June 23, 1995. Buffalo Tom provided the musical sendoff. Guests were served margaritas and given taxi rides home.

10. RUMORS ABOUNDED THAT STEWART WOULD BE HIRED BY ABC OR FOX.

But the rumors turned out to be just that—rumors. The Larry Sanders Show poked fun at this common talk show scenario by casting Stewart—as himself—as a possible replacement to the series’ fictional host (played by Garry Shandling).

11. THE SHOW’S WRITERS AND DIRECTORS WENT ON TO DO GREAT THINGS.

The Jon Stewart Show’s cancellation was only the beginning for many of the talented writers and directors behind the scenes: director Beth McCarthy-Miller has gone on to receive eight Emmy nominations for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Writers Chris Albers and Janine Ditullio were quickly hired by Conan O’Brien, and Brian Hartt went to Jay Leno. Dennis McNicholas, Andrew Steele, and Steve Higgins went to Saturday Night Live. Tom Hertz, Alan Higgins, Josh Lieb, and Cliff Schoenberg moved into sitcoms and film. Brian Posehn, one of the Comedians of Comedy, and Dave Attell, host of Insomniac for Comedy Central, stepped in front of the camera.

12. STEWART DIDN'T MAKE OUT SO BADLY EITHER.

In 1999, you might recall, Stewart took over hosting duties on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn. The now-married 55-year-old father of two is also a bestselling author, producer, and occasional actor. He has hosted the Grammys and the Oscars and has won 22 Emmys (and counting), plus two Grammys. Not bad for the guy who once caused a scene by sitting on Captain Kirk’s lap.

This post originally appeared in 2013.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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