On air this past week, Jon Stewart announced his coming retirement. The announcement included few details beyond that his contract was up in September, he’s still working things out, and he thinks someone else should have the opportunity he did. Over the past 16 years, Jon Stewart has provided a well loved constant stream of both entertainment and information by proving many claiming the former are closer to the latter. Many successful, influential people spawned off of his show, including Stephen Colbert, now going into solely the entertainment sector, and John Oliver, bringing us unique investigative research-based comedy that only HBO can deliver.
Who Should Take The Helm
As someone who grew up watching SNL’s Weekend Update in the Tina Fey era, she sticks out as my personal ideal candidate. But considering her upcoming Netflix Original, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” it seems highly unlikely. I see Jessica Williams as brilliant host of her own, original HBO or Netflix gig with a little more artistic freedom and less expectation to live up to a legacy than The Daily Show.
John Oliver was the obvious choice to replace Stewart before Last Week Tonight premiered. While HBO pays Oliver less than a tenth of what Viacom pays Stewart, they give him something Comedy Central never could; complete editorial freedom, a lack of commercials that would awkwardly break up Oliver’s investigative format, and giving zero shit about ratings. As Vox explained, people don’t leave HBO. Vox put together a list explaining 11 people who could potentially take the title.
Another option would be to forgo the process of picking winners and losers, and simply keep with the current crew of excellent correspondents to share the throne. While none of them are Stewart, each of them have their own unique qualities with enough interview talent and “straight man” personalities to keep the show going. It would be a very different show, but one that could feel less awkward than finding someone to fill 16-year-old shoes.
Chris Wade of Slate suggests the coming void has long been filled by others, and it would be wrong to give the show to someone else.
His comic offspring have surpassed him. Stewart acknowledged hypocrisy, Stephen Colbert embodied it, John Oliver investigates it, and Larry Wilmore now brings much-needed perspective to it.
So we don’t need to plug someone else into The Daily Show’s format, or even preserve its name. The show came of age at a moment when it seemed presidential votes could be decided on technicalities in court and war could be conjured by cable news scare tactics. As the media landscape evolved, getting louder and more fragmented, Stewart was a human Richter scale for its escalating absurdity. And thanks to his influence, late-night comedy has figured out a way to make satirizing politics and news and pop-culture feel like a kind of real journalism, too.
Many, including Salon’s Elias Isquith, believe The Daily Show is beyond its prime, and the genre of satire news is beyond the formula of The Daily Show. If The Daily Show does get a new host, it will be interesting to see whether the new show continues this formula.
The Legacy of Jon Stewart
The Daily Show has helped propel influential careers in Colbert, Oliver, Steve Carrell, Ed Helms, Josh Gad, and John Hodgman, as well as current correspondents such as Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, Aasif Mandvi, and Jason Jones. It remains to be seen whether former correspondent The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore will reach the level of success of The Colbert Report it replaced. This has had an interesting effect, with many comparing The Daily Show to SNL in its ability to create Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Chevy Chase, and dozens of other successes over the past 40 years. Jon Stewart not only provides excellent interviews, a consistently enticing show, but also a breeding ground for politically relevant comedians.
Data from Pew Research proves Jon Stewart has successfully created a more informed public, especially in the under 30 category. His viewers are more able to answer questions about current events than followers of many popular, less entertainment-based publications and programs. Ami Sedghi of The Guardian goes into detail. The Daily Show has excelled where most other television news have completely failed – online distribution. For the largely young demographic, a single, iconic segment that can easily be viewed alone. While The O’Reilly Factor remains successful with its aging demographic of cable-lovers, social media sharing and the internet have greatly helped The Daily Show. Oliver’s show continues this, and you’ll find links to his tear downs of issues on a weekly basis across online media.
Some believe that by exposing the media and government’s most ridiculous moments, Stewart may have not only made his median 36-year old audience more informed, but for better or worse, also more cynical.
Andre Meyer via CBC News
“I think Jon Stewart’s work is often mischaracterized as political satire, when I think it is actually closer to media satire,” says Joe Cutbirth, editor-in-chief at Texas Monthly, who once taught a course at the University of British Columbia on satire as news and is writing a book on Stewart’s cultural influence. Cutbirth says more than anything, Stewart “captured this dissatisfaction that Americans had with how they had been getting their news.”
Stewart took on that gatekeeper role, Cutbirth says, because of a sustained period of polarization in U.S. politics over issues such as George W. Bush’s presidency, American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and Barack Obama’s push for universal health care.Stewart believed the media exacerbated the political partisanship that characterized those issues, says Cutbirth, and he went about trying to civilize public discourse.
Stewart became successful not only because he filled a void in the political debate, but also because he took advantage of changing news consumption habits, says longtime Canadian TV critic Bill Brioux.John Oliver British comedian and former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver currently hosts his own satirical news show, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, on HBO.
People used to tune into the nightly news for a recap of the day’s events, but in the internet age, that news was old by 9 p.m. What Stewart offered was pungent analysis, and viewers tuned in not to learn about what happened, but what Stewart thought of it. Stewart’s engagement with serious social issues is ultimately what set him apart from more traditional, apolitical late-night hosts.
Stewart emerged at a time when U.S. media seemed to lack the conviction to take politicians to task, says Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Yet for all of Stewart’s efforts to encourage civic engagement, the way he ridiculed modern media “likely contributed to the cynicism of millennials,” which were a large part of his audience, says Siemiatycki.”Stewart, in his career, did at times try to be a rallying force for participation and engagement,” he says. “But ironically, more of his message may have been, ‘What’s the point? The whole thing is either rigged or self-serving or too dumb to bother with.'”