TV and film have all sorts of abbreviations for very important jobs in the industry: AD, DP, PA… but every once in a while, you hear about a TD (technical director). Dave Saretsky, the Emmy-nominated technical director of AppleTV+’s “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” is happy to provide some clarity.
“The technical director is essentially the last line of defense in putting something on the air,” said Saretsky. His long line of defense along the way has included talk-show hosts Desus & Mero, Drew Barrymore, Kal Penn and John Oliver, the latter of which Saretsky won three Emmys working for on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Those were all in the last four years, before Saretsky joined Stewart’s latest return to form in comic political commentary.
“When I’m asked the definition of my job, the first thing that comes to mind is from what an NBC page mentioned several years back while she was giving a tour at 30 Rock,” Saretsky explained. “I overheard the page mention that ‘the images you see flow through the fingertips of the technical director.’ And that really encapsulates my job in a nutshell. Anything visually you see, whether it be sports, entertainment or news, the technical director has his hand, so to speak, involved.”
Talk-series TV, especially for cable and streaming outlets, has the luxury of not always being live. But that doesn’t mean that technical directors have much leeway to be casual with how fast they turn things around. Take Saretsky’s nominated episode of “The Problem,” the nobody-knew-what-was-yet-to-come humdinger “Trump Indicted,” which needed to contain a large amount of information in a turnaround of only about three days. There’s also the forever nail-biting election episodes, which often have even less time than that.
“I feel like we shot that episode on a Wednesday, and it aired on Friday,” Saretsky recalled. “And Tuesday was the election. So yeah, it was a super quick turnaround.”
“The Problem with Jon Stewart” tapes with a live audience, in close proximity to the host, a wrinkle few talk series actually include these days — many cutaways show audience members mere feet from the star host. But the show has earned viral notoriety for Stewart’s blunt, coaxing off-set interviews, especially the eyebrow-raising one-on-one with Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm, where the two butted heads over gun control issues.
Saretsky is also responsible for overseeing these segments. “[‘The Problem’] certainly has its own unique perspective. And there are many times that I am illuminated to things that I hadn’t known about prior, but [during some segments] I do get like a feeling deep down that this will probably ‘get a lot of clicks,’ as they say.”
For Saretsky, one of the most satisfying aspects of his job is that he gets to craft his work around the personalities of the hosts, often in a humorous fashion. But he insists that his wife is his most cherished measure that what he’s doing works, calling her his “barometer.” “If I come home and she’ll watch the show, and she feels informed, we’ve gotten a good message across.”
Saretsky, who did some fill-in work on Stewart’s “The Daily Show” back in the day, recalled a brush with Stewart on an airplane after his Emmy win last year where he informed him of his other recent credits. “I mentioned [colleagues we worked with on two programs], and then said, ‘I also did your show,’ to which he replied, ‘two out of three great shows!’ [Laughs] And then he walks out. It just encapsulated the genius that Jon Stewart is.”
Stewart is such a beloved figure in the political arena and his appeal does not seem to have waned, so does Saretsky ever see him throwing his hat into running for office? “There’s always been chatter amongst crew and others saying, ‘I could see him running for president,’” Saretsky said. “And there have been other people who know him way better than I do that are like, ‘absolutely not.’ They don’t see it happening. But stranger things have happened, I guess?”
“The Problem with Jon Stewart” is now streaming on AppleTV+