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A Brief History of The Jon Stewart Show

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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 cancelled 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.

Tonight, more than a decade and a half later, Stewart will bid farewell to what is now known as The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (they may want to fix that). So we're looking back at some fun facts about the MTV series that started it all.

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 cancelled 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 cancelled.

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 (also Jimmy Fallon’s announcer) 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 father of two—who took a 12-week hiatus from the show in 2013 to direct his first movie, Rosewater—is also a bestselling author, producer and occasional actor. He has hosted the Grammys and the Oscars and has won 20 Emmys (and counting). Not bad for the guy who once caused a scene by sitting on Captain Kirk’s lap.

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This post originally appeared in 2013.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
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Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
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Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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