"Changing landscape "
Chicago Tribune
August 18, 1998
by Allen Johnson


Comedy Central won't come up short with new host of Daily Show

It is still too early to determine what changes will occur when Jon Stewart takes over as the new host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show early next year. But a cosmetic change could go at the top of the list: The set may need to be shrunken considerably.

Craig Kilborn, soon to be ex-host of the irreverent nightly news magazine (10 p.m. Mondays through Thursday), stands well over 6 feet tall. In fact, almost every late-night talk show host is at least 6 feet or taller.

Stewart is 5 feet 7 inches tall.

"If you look at the landscape of late-night, I'm not nearly tall enough a man to host a late-night talk show," Stewart said days after he was officially named Daily Show host.

Well, Bill Maher of ABC's Politically Incorrect isn't that tall, either. His stature as a talent also is questionable, but that's another story.

Stewart, a smart, deft standup comedian who has some experience in the television talk show world, has filled in for Tom Snyder on CBS' The Late, Late Show numerous times (there was talk that he might succeed Snyder). Stewart's height played a role in his sitting in for the venerable talk show host.

"The cameras were so designed for his frame, that when I got there I looked like (Lily Tomlin's) Edith Ann (character) sitting in the chair," said Stewart, 35. "They had to give me a booster cushion. So whenever I was working that show, I was actually sitting on like a children's pillow."

Now that Stewart is the king of the two-year-old Daily Show he can have the throne adjusted any way he wants. Stewart, inspired by memories of a certain amusement park attraction, may go one step further.

"It's like those worlds that you see at the Coney Island freak show," the New York native said. "The World's Smallest Man had an apartment, but all the furniture was really miniaturized.

"So our studio -- you won't be able to tell on TV -- will be that way. We're going to miniaturize everything so that I look enormous."

Comedy Central should make the set as big or as small as Stewart wants, because they've got a sure-handed host in the comic, one that solves a big problem for a show the all-comedy network has been trying to balance for several weeks. (In fact, Stewart shouldn't worry about measuring up to Kilborn when it comes to talent.)

Kilborn was named Snyder's replacement on The Late, Late Show in May, even though Kilborn is still under contract with Comedy Central until next summer. The cable network cried foul, threatened to hold Kilborn to his contract, and sued both the host and CBS for breach-of-contract.

Kilborn has been on bad paper since late last year, when he made crude sexual comments about Daily Show co-creator and head writer Lizz Winstead in Esquire magazine. Kilborn was suspended for a week, and Winstead left the show shortly afterward.

Comedy Central is said to be working to let Kilborn out of his contract early. Snyder, who has said he is tired of the late-night grind, is under contract to CBS until September 1999.

Meanwhile, the cable network searched for someone to take over for Kilborn. WGN-Ch. 9's Bill Weir -- another tall drink of water -- was one of those auditioning for the job.

But Comedy Central last Tuesday gave Stewart a four-year contract said to be between $1.4 million and $2 million a year; Stewart said the final numbers were being worked out.

Also to be worked out is whether The Daily Show could keep its "5 Questions" feature, where Kilborn, who initially came up with the idea, asks celebrity guests odd-ball queries that wandered from fact to fiction.

(Among the questions asked of Stewart while he was a guest on the show was "What is the capital of Kentucky?," to which he incorrectly answered Lexington instead of Frankfort. He also had to finish the Barry White lyric, "Your sweetness is my . . . ." Instead of "weakness," he said "feetness.")

Stewart, who had a successful MTV talk show in 1993 -- which was turned into a not-so-successful syndicated talker the following year -- and who played the successor to Larry Sanders on HBO's fictional-talk-show comedy series, doesn't think he would use the "5 Questions" segment, which Kilborn may want to take with him. Comedy Central is using the old "intellectual property" tag as a way to keep it.

"My feeling is, basically, the show's identity is going to have to evolve once I get in there through what I want to do. You wouldn't want to take over for (David) Letterman and start doing `Top 10' lists either," says Stewart, whose book Naked Pictures of Famous People comes out in September and whose movies Dancing About Architecture and The Faculty are scheduled for release before the end of the year.


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