RIP The Daily Show: A Premature Obituary
January 1st, 2011: I made the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept. I vowed to watch every episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that year. Four years later, I still haven’t missed an episode, even if I’m a day or two behind. So it is with a heavy heart that I tell you that Jon Stewart has announced that he will be stepping down from the anchor desk after 17 years of being the litmus test for other news organizations.
Now that the announcement has been made, I can look back and see all the signs. Last year, he took time off to write and direct his new film Rosewater, which is a critical and box office success. During that time, John Oliver ran the show, performing Jon’s role so well that he got his own satirical news show on HBO, Last Week Tonight. (Oliver is not the first to do so: Stephen Colbert moved from TDS to host The Colbert Report for 9 years before leaving to take over David Letterman’s spot on The Late Show; Colbert was replaced by another TDS alum, Larry Wilmore, whose new show The Nightly Show debuted earlier this month.) This showed that TDS could run without Stewart at the helm.
Other small clues emerge with 20/20 hindsight. TDS launched a podcast: The Daily Show Podcast WITHOUT Jon Stewart. Kind of a big hint, now that I think about it. Also, in recent interviews with his guests, when the guests mention that he’s been doing the show for a long time, he has been hyperbolic about his time on the show, using phrases like “84 years”. Clearly an indication that he was starting to tire of the job.
Stewart is also the last of the old guard of late night hosts. Even though TDS is extremely popular among younger viewers, Stewart is technically part of the Leno/Letterman/Ferguson generation of late night, and that era is ending. Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Larry Wilmore are the new kings of late night, and though still obscenely popular and important, Stewart falls into the older category of late night hosts.
When Stewart started, TDS was more comedy than news. It was the news version of shows like Talk Soup, Soap, and later, Web Junk 20, The Soup, and Tosh 2.0, which all show clips and mock them. But over the years, TDS became more than that. Stewart tapped into the frustration, anger and confusion over what was being shown on news networks like FOXNews, CNN, and MSNBC. These 24 hour news networks had become parodies of themselves, more interested in ratings than reporting, spouting more opinion than fact, and producing personalities rather than news stories. This was a gold mine for Stewart and TDS, and for nearly two decades they lampooned the news, often cutting through the crap to get to the heart of a news story, and occasionally sharing the outrage of the critical thinkers in the country. Though every now and then, there were still just silly segments making fun of the news. Which is how it all started.
What I wonder now is what will happen to TDS after Stewart leaves. They have at least six months to figure it out. But I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is the same: Who will replace him? Unlike The Colbert Report, TDS will likely retain it’s name, but with a different moniker for the host. After all, Stewart took over the desk from Craig Kilborn, so keeping the extremely highly rated and award winning show going is a no-brainer for Comedy Central. The most likely choice is either Jason Jones or Samantha Bee. The married couple have the most seniority on the show, and when Stewart was out sick recently, they “shared” the anchor desk. Either one could easily host the show (and it might be nice to finally see a woman in the late night game), or could co-host the show.
If not one of those, then another option would be Aasif Mandvi. Mandvi has a fairly steady career in film and television outside TDS, so he may not be willing to give that up, but he has a lot of seniority on the show and could definitely handle the responsibility of running things.
Of the other correspondents, only Jessica Williams has enough seniority to really take the lead, and that seems an unlikely choice over Jones, Bee, or Mandvi. But there are plenty of retired and occasional correspondents and contributers that could take over. Steve Carell and Ed Helms are options, though extremely unlikely ones. But Rob Corddry, Rob Riggle, John Hodgman, and Wyatt Cenac could all be contenders for the chair. (One might make an argument for Lewis Black, but I doubt he’d do it, and his particular brand of comedy would probably be too brash for the tone of the show.)
No matter who takes over, though, Jon Stewart will be missed. Though he repeatedly reminds critics that he hosts a “fake news show”, there is no denying that he has become an important voice in the political sphere. I am not alone when I say that I get most of my news from TDS; I know many people who do the same. It will truly be the end of an era, and I can’t say that I will want to watch the show without him.
RIP The Daily Show with Jon Stewart…you know, in six months or so.