Daria Morgendorffer, the show's title character and protagonist, first appeared on MTV as a recurring character in Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head. MTV senior vice president and creative director Abby Terkuhle explained that when that show "became successful, we ... created Daria's character because we wanted a smart female who could serve as the foil". Daria's original design was created by Bill Peckmann while working for J.J. Sedelmaier Productions during Beavis and Butt-Head's first season. During production of Beavis and Butt-Head's final seasons, MTV representatives approached story editor Glenn Eichler, offering a spin-off series for Daria, and a five-minute pilot, "Sealed with a Kick", was created by Eichler and Beavis and Butt-Head staffer Susie Lewis (although written by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil). MTV approved a series order of 13 episodes; both Eichler and Lewis were signed onto the series as executive producers.
The first episode of Daria aired on March 3, 1997, roughly nine months before Beavis and Butt-Head ended its original run. Titled "Esteemsters", the episode established Daria and her family's move from fictional Highland, the setting of Beavis and Butt-Head, due to uranium in the water to the new series' equally fictional locale of Lawndale. As well as introducing Daria's parents and younger sister as principal supporting characters, the first episode also introduced Jane Lane, Daria's best friend and confidante. Other than a brief mention of Highland, Daria did not contain any references to Beavis and Butt-Head.
The series ran for five seasons, with 13 episodes each, and two TV movies were also produced. The first movie, Is It Fall Yet?, aired in 2000. MTV planned a six-episode sixth season, but at Eichler's request this project was cut down to a second movie, Is It College Yet?, which served as the series finale in January 2002.
Glenn Eichler said in an interview that Daria was intended as a spoof on high school and that he didn't want a "comfortable, alternative world". He said, "We didn't want anyone finding happiness, period".
Daria was first shown on MTV in the United States. Reruns were carried from July 2, 2002 to June 7, 2007 on the then-timesharing teen-oriented cable network The N.
Reruns of Daria began running on the American cable television network Logo in the fall of 2010. Episodes can be streamed online on MTV's website, on Liquid Television's website, on Amazon Prime, and on Hulu. DVDs of each season can be rented on Netflix.
As of May 2012, Daria aired in reruns on the Canadian music channel MuchMusic weekdays at 3ET/Noon PT. UK music channel Viva also began showing reruns.
In July 2012, MTV began airing a week of Daria reruns as part of its Retro Mania series. MTV Networks president Van Toffler was reported as saying a revival of the series was being considered, and that the show's creators had been approached about the possibility.
On August 1, 2016, the show started to air reruns on MTV's new sister channel, MTV Classic. As of December 30, 2016, the show was removed from the schedule when MTV Classic revamped their new lineup with 24-hour music-related programming.
No other characters from Beavis and Butt-Head made an appearance on Daria. Glenn Eichler, in an interview conducted after the series' run, explained:
B&B were very strong characters, with a very specific type of humor and very loyal fans, and of course they were instantly identifiable. I felt that referencing them in Daria, while we were trying to establish the new characters and the different type of humor, ran the risk of setting up false expectations and disappointment in the viewers – which could lead to a negative reaction to the new show and its different tone. So we steered clear of B&B in the early going, and once the new show was established, there was really no need to harken back to the old one.
The series' only direct reference to the characters of Beavis and Butt-Head was made in a promotional spot for the first episode. Daria states, in voice-over: "After leaving Highland, and those two, we moved to Lawndale."
In the TV movie Is It Fall Yet?, several celebrities provided guest voices. Talk show host Carson Daly played Quinn's summer tutor, female pop punk singer Bif Naked played Jane's art camp companion, and rock musician Dave Grohl played Jane's pretentious art camp host. Several songs by the band Foo Fighters (for which Grohl is frontman) were featured in the series.
As the show's eponymous protagonist, Daria Morgendorffer appears in most scenes. Her immediate family (mother Helen, father Jake, and younger sister Quinn) and her best friend Jane Lane appear in nearly every episode. A number of secondary characters round out the regular cast.
The plots of Daria largely concern juxtaposition between the central character's jaded, sardonic cynicism and the values/preoccupations of her suburban American hometown of Lawndale. In a 2005 interview, series co-creator Glenn Eichler described the otherwise unspecified locale as "a mid-Atlantic suburb, outside somewhere like Baltimore or Washington, D.C.. They could have lived in Pennsylvania near the Main Line, though".
For comedic and illustrative purposes, the show's depiction of suburban American life was a deliberately exaggerated one. In The New York Times, the protagonist was described as "a blend of Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, and Janeane Garofalo, wearing Carrie Donovan's glasses. Daria Morgendorffer, 16 and cursed with a functioning brain, has the misfortune to see high school, her family, and her life for exactly what they are and the temerity to comment on it."
Set during Daria's high school years and ending with her graduation and acceptance into college, the principal location used for the show (outside of the Morgendorffer home) is Lawndale High School, a public education institution operating at high dysfunction.
The dynamics among the characters change during season four, when Jane begins a relationship with Tom Sloane, son of one of the town's richest families. Though Daria is hesitant to accept Tom at first, she and Tom find themselves becoming closer, culminating in a kiss in the season finale. The emotional and comedic turmoil among Jane, Tom and Daria was the centerpiece of the TV movie Is It Fall Yet?, and the relationship between Tom and Daria fueled several of season five's stories.
Daria's theme song is "You're Standing on My Neck", written and performed by Splendora. The band later created original themes for the two Daria TV movies, "Turn the Sun Down" (for Is It Fall Yet?) and "College Try (Gives Me Blisters)" (for Is It College Yet?), along with some background music.
The show itself had no original score. Though elements from Splendora's theme were used on occasion, Daria's incidental music was taken from pop music songs. Most of these were contemporary, inserted over exterior shots and some scenes, with rarely any story relevance or awareness from the characters. For example, one episode depicts characters dancing to Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy wit It" mere weeks after the song's release, whereas the sequence itself was designed and animated months earlier.
Some story points were built around specific songs, such as in "Legends of the Mall", where Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" became a major plot point for a fantasy sequence. The closing credits also featured a licensed song on all but a few occasions, the lyrics or concept of which often reflected some aspect of the preceding episode.
For the 1998 and 1999 VHS releases of some Daria episodes, incidental music was replaced, and "You're Standing on My Neck" was played over the closing credits. However, for the bonus episodes included on the DVD releases of the two TV movies, the music was removed almost entirely.
In the Complete Series DVD release, creator Glenn Eichler says in the notes "99 percent of the music has been changed, because the cost of licensing the many music bites we used would have made it impossible to release the collection (and for many years did)." He compared it to an episode of The Twilight Zone where the astronaut comes home, and his wife can't figure out what's different about him, "... until it dawns on her that instead of a cool song from 1997 playing ... it's some tune she's never heard. Yeah, it's just like that."
By 1998, Daria was one of MTV's highest rated shows, with the network's manager Van Toffler viewing her as "a good spokesperson for MTV, intelligent but subversive".
During the program's run on MTV, Daria was part of the Cool Crap Auction in 1999, giving an overview of the goods for auction and talking "live" to the winner of one prize. Daria and Jane also hosted MTV's Top Ten Animated Videos Countdown, poking fun at MTV's cheap animation. At the end of the series run, she had an "interview" on the CBS Early Show with Jane Clayson.
Daria received positive reviews during its run. John J. O'Connor of The New York Times wrote of the series' premiere, "With this new series, Daria triumphantly gets the last laugh" and "As far as MTV and Beavis and Butt-Head are concerned, Daria is an indispensable blast of fresh air. I think I'm in love." Daria received a ratings share between 1 and 2 percent, about 1 to 2 million viewers.
G.J. Donnelly of TV Guide, writing about the series' finale, lamented, "I already miss that monotone. I already miss those boots. ... Even at its most far-fetched, this animated film approaches the teenage experience much more realistically than shows like Dawson's Creek." On the same occasion, Emily Nussbaum wrote at Slate that "the show is biting the dust without ever getting the credit it deserved: for social satire, witty writing, and most of all, for a truly original main character". She particularly singled out for praise that all the characters were heading "to very different paths in life, based on their economic prospects," giving the show an ambiguous end; "[the finale is] a bit of a classic: a sharply funny exploration of social class most teen films would render, well, cartoonish."
In 2002, TV Guide ranked Daria number 41 on its "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time" list. In December 2013, the Daily Telegraph included Daria in its list of "best female cartoon characters".
On October 21, 1997 Sony released Daria on VHS. On August 31, 1999 Sony released Daria: Disfranchised on VHS. The Daria TV movies Is It Fall Yet? and Is It College Yet? were the sole two authorized DVD releases until 2010. Each DVD also includes two episodes from the series, from seasons 4 and 5 respectively, with licensed music removed. The latter disc uses a second-showing MTV version that was shortened by approximately seven minutes, rather than the original cablecast version. It does, however, include a short clip of a Daria appearance on Beavis and Butt-Head, accessed as a hidden Easter egg on the opening menu (by cycling among menu choices until the highlighting disappears).
These DVDs were ostensibly coded for Region 1 (North America), but found by purchasers to be region-free.
In July 2004, co-creator Glenn Eichler said of possible DVD releases, "There's no distributor and no release date, but what there is very strong interest from MTV in putting Daria out, and steady activity toward making that a reality".
In July 2009, TVShowsOnDVD.com announced that a DVD release for the series was planned for 2010. In November 2009, more details emerged about the upcoming release regarding how it would be distributed and potential extras. It was also revealed that due to high licensing costs, much of the music on the show will be replaced by covers or sound-alike songs on the DVD release (although the studio has not released an official word about this topic). In January 2010, MTV released a teaser trailer on its website for Daria's 2010 release.
On May 11, 2010, Daria: The Complete Animated Series was released on DVD in North America. All 65 episodes and both TV movies are included in the set, although the edited version of Is It College Yet? was again used for this release. Extras featured on the set include the pilot episode, the music video "Freakin' Friends" by Mystik Spiral, "Daria Day" introductions as well as a top ten video countdown on MTV by Jane and Daria, cast and crew interviews, and (as a DVD-ROM feature) a script for an unproduced Mystik Spiral spin-off show. Most of the licensed music used in episodes has been replaced with other music. The region 2 collection is currently available to add to customer wish lists on Amazon's UK site. The set, with all special features intact, was released on Region 4 PAL DVD on June 1, 2011. The Region 4 set was found to be encoded region free.Nicoll, Peggy. The Daria Database, MTV, 1998. ISBN 0-671-02596-1
Bernstein, Anne. The Daria Diaries, MTV, 1998. ISBN 0-671-01709-8
Daria's Sick, Sad Life Planner (1999)
Daria's Inferno (2000)
In late 2010, following the DVD release, Daria was licensed as a voice for Garmin and TomTom GPS systems; original putdowns and jokes were recorded.MTV Video Music Awards 1997 short animation featuring Daria (September 4, 1997)
Daria called into MTV's 'Cool Crap Auction'
Daria Day 1998 marathon of Daria episodes on the date of the premiere of the second season (February 16, 1998), hosted by Daria and Jane.
Daria Day 1999 marathon of Daria episodes on February 15, 1999 for the premiere episode of the third season, hosted by Daria and Jane.
Daria and Jane hosted a Daria episode marathon titled Sarcastathon 3000 for the premiere episode of the fifth season.
Daria and Jane hosted an episode of 'MTV's Top 10'. Commenting on the top 10 animated music videos
Behind the Scenes at Daria hosted by Janeane Garofalo.
MTV's Toonumentary detailed the history and details of MTV's animated shows.
MTV New Year's Eve 2002 event featured a short appearance by Daria (December 31, 2001).
Look Back in Annoyance was a half-hour retrospective of the series, hosted by Daria and Jane, that aired in January, 2002, prior to the airing of the second telefilm.
Daria was interviewed on CBS The Early Show on January 21, 2002
In 2013, CollegeHumor created a fake trailer for a live-action Daria movie with Aubrey Plaza.