John Ostrander: Handicapping the Stewart Sweepstakes
The day after Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show, he plaintively asked his audience, “Did I die?” Lots of people are bemoaning the fact that he’s going, myself included. His show has been the counterpoint to the bilge spewed by Faux News and he’s been wonderful at showing the absurdity in politics.
Yes, he and I share very similar viewpoints on most topics and, while I’ve seen him skewer the Left, he’s more likely to skewer the Right and that’s just fine by me. He’s a comedian doing a fake news show; he doesn’t have to be “fair and balanced.” He simply has to have a consistent point of view and express it with wit and humor. However telling the point, he needs to get a laugh. That’s what he does. It’s what he is supposed to do.
However, The Daily Show must go on. Craig Kilbourn sat in the same seat before Stewart and someone else will come after him. The trick for Comedy Central is to bring in someone who won’t alienate the current audience while making the show their own. They have to be the head Jester while at the same time be the straight man (or woman) for the group of loons that are or will be the “reporters” on the show. (How many of the current team will stay after Stewart leaves is beyond my guess.)
Lots of people online have been giving odds on this candidate or that one. Whoever wins the slot will have a tough job. Lots of people will not like whoever comes next because they simply won’t be Stewart. Any changes that are made will be suspect by some because, again, they’re not Stewart. I might become one of those people myself.
Let’s explore for a moment who won’t be replacing Stewart. At one time, it would have been Stephen Colbert but now he’s replacing Letterman. John Oliver replaced Stewart for three months while Stewart was taking a sabbatical and did a good job. However, he’s at HBO with a show of his own and I don’t think contractually he can come back even if he’s so inclined.
Will Comedy Central go with someone who is already on the show? Jason Jones has filled in for Stewart and was, I think, surprisingly successful. Partner him with his wife Samantha Bee and you could have a very interesting format and show. Both of them are fearless and shameless (especially Bee) but I don’t know if either of them are material for the anchor’s chair on a regular basis.
I think it’s very possible Comedy Central will pick someone who has had experience on SNL as the news anchor for Weekend Update. The most interesting name I’ve heard mentioned is Amy Poehler. Her own show, Parks and Recreation, has just wound up and she has the background and chops for the job. I know there’s a lot of pressure to have a woman or a minority take Stewart’s place; there’s no one else on late night who is like that.
Except one. Larry Wilmore who used to be The Daily Show’s “senior black correspondent” has taken over Colbert’s spot following Stewart as the host of The Nightly Show. Yes, he just began his run in January but Stewart isn’t leaving until July or maybe December (it hasn’t been yet determined). Wilmore has shown himself to be sharp, funny, quick witted, and a good interviewer. He’s a good host.
If Wilmore went to the The Daily Show, that leaves a vacancy on The Nightly Show but I think that slot would be easier to fill. Jason Jones and/or Samantha Bee would kill in that position. Or scrap the current show and bring on something else; doing a sports show with the same sensibilities as The Daily Show might work very well.
The longest shot to replace Jon Stewart would be… Jon Stewart. In this scenario, he comes to his senses and changes his mind about leaving. Yeah, I know – not going to happen. A guy can wish, can’t he?