Jon Stewart announced this week that sometime this year he will depart as host of The Daily Show, one of Comedy Central’s flagship programs, which Stewart has captained since acquiring the reins from original host Craig Kilborn in 1999.
The announcement sent shock waves through the entertainment world, as long time fans have come to depend on Stewart’s brand of satirical political skewering to offer a dissenting voice in the face of seemingly relentless absurdity and conflict emanating from Washington on both sides of the party line. It also shook up the stockholders of Comedy Central parent company Viacom, who are still reeling from the departure of Stewart-mentored companion-turned-Late Show successor Stephen Colbert. The company’s NASDAQ value dropped 1.5 percent, resulting in a loss of a whopping $350 million, according to Deborah Day of The Wrap.
For some time, Stewart has been the highest-paid talk show host in late night, topping the yearly salaries of former kings Jay Leno and David Letterman by anywhere from $5 million to 10 million per year, according to a 2013 Variety article. A statement released from Comedy Central following the announcement stated that Stewart would “always be a part of the Comedy Central family,” and Viacom would be well served to ensure that Stewart remains as such.
Stewart’s Busboy Productions signed a first-look deal with Comedy Central and has nurtured such assets for the company as the aforementioned Colbert as well as Colbert’s successor, Larry Wilmore, host of The Nightly Show, which follows The Daily Show.
In the last decade and a half, The Daily Show has acted as something of a comedy incubator, delivering talents such as Steve Carell, Rob Riggle, and Rob Corddry, as well as a bevy of comedy writers who have gone on to run shows for other networks. With Stewart having decided that it is time for another host to take the helm, he remains invaluable as a producer and talent developer for the network, to say nothing of the rabid, almost cult-like fan base that will likely follow him to whatever his next move is.
While Stewart will remain as host until at least summer and perhaps through the end of the year, talk immediately turned to speculation as to who could adequately succeed Stewart as host of The Daily Show. Former Daily Show Executive Producer and current EP of The Nightly Show Rory Albanese spoke to Melissa Locker of Time about the difficult adjustment Stewart’s successor will have in trying to fill his shoes.
“I grew up on ‘The Daily Show.’ Whoever takes over takes the show, no matter how great they are going to be, they will never be Jon Stewart. I don’t mean that they won’t be as good or as talented, but it will be hard. Whoever takes over that job, initially people are just going to be mad at them. People were mad at Larry for not being Stephen for like an hour, before realizing he was good too. So whoever gets the job will have people angry that they are not Jon and then they will get over it.”
Albanese went on to say that he feels that there is a need for a female host in the late night landscape where, with the departure last year of Chelsea Handler from her E! Channel talk show Chelsea Lately, one currently does not exist. Diversity amongst late night hosts has been a hot-button topic, with Wilmore having filled a similar gap as the only African-American host in late night following last year’s cancellation of the second chance Arsenio Hall Show.
Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead concurs, offering her top two suggestions for possible Stewart successors in current MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow and comedian/podcaster Aisha Tyler, with Winstead’s top choice being Maddow, who has displayed comedy chops on her eponymous show, while Tyler remains plenty busy as host of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, her starring voice over role in the animated FX hit Archer,> her own podcast Girl on Guy, and a consistent stand-up touring schedule.
One thing Winstead and Albanese agree on is whomever ultimately takes over for Stewart must succeed by bringing their own style to The Daily Show and not trying to replicate Stewart’s style.
“The show is important is because it really does use humor and speak truth to power, so I don’t think keeping the format is as important as making sure you stay as this relevant response to what’s happening in the news and how the media is dealing with it.”