"It's a new Daily for talk-show host Jon Stewart"
Kansas City Star
August 26, 1998
by Aaron Barnhart (Visit Aaron's site: TVBarn )

 

Jon Stewart can remember what it was like getting his big break in TV. After toiling for years on the stand-up circuit and small-potatoes cable shows like Short Attention Span Theater, Stewart was approached in 1994 by Paramount TV about doing a nationally syndicated late-night show. 

Paramount's previous effort in late night, The Arsenio Hall Show, had changed television. Now The Jon Stewart Show was going to change television! Today Stewart can summarize his nine months in syndication in eight words: "Be careful what you wish for, my friend." The Jon Stewart Show was funny and smart, but it rode in on Arsenio-sized expectations, which even Hall ultimately had trouble living up to. Had Stewart remained on cable, he might have had enough time to build a substantial audience. 

That, in fact, is what he'll get a second chance to do come January, when Comedy Central installs him as the new host of The Daily Show, its often outrageously great turn on the news. He'll replace Craig Kilborn, who is headed to CBS. Stewart will be reunited with the executive producer of his Paramount show, Madeleine Smithberg, who created The Daily Show two years ago to replace another show, Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher, which was heading to ABC. 

He won't just inherit the roomful of angry young writers that give The Daily Show its edge -- as co-executive producer, a title Kilborn never had, Stewart will become one of them. Also unlike Kilborn, who did not build strong bonds with the writers (apparently not one of them has been enticed to follow him to CBS), Stewart is liked, respected and even revered by the staff. And who knows? Perhaps someday Stewart will follow in Maher's and Kilborn's steps and go network. But not for awhile. For one thing, he's now locked into a four-year deal with Comedy Central that reportedly will pay him more than $1 million a year. Also, remember that part about being careful what you wish for? These days, Stewart is. 

"The goals for me have changed somewhat,'' said Stewart in a telephone interview from New York last week. "There's a bit of seduction to the idea of being on network, but it got to the point where that wasn't important. What's important is doing something worthwhile. Which is why I've always avoided being on a sitcom. Yeah, it's high-profile and it's on a network, but you know what? You could be on Suddenly Stewart.'' 

Besides, Stewart and Comedy Central -- the home of South Park -- make an ideal couple. The cable channel offers creative freedom and an audience already well attuned to Stewart's sensibility. He gives Comedy Central a brand-name talent and will be money in the bank for years to come. 

Stewart has spent the past three years on a variety of projects and making guest appearances on other people's talk shows. Talk-show producers love him because he's easy to work with; hosts marvel at his incredible ad-libbing powers. He also spent one year as designated guest host for Tom Snyder, who is retiring and whose franchise is being handed over to Kilborn. Stewart also played himself in the last season of The Larry Sanders Show and helped punch up the show's scripts. 

And there was a development deal with Miramax Films. That arrangement will continue; he'll have flex time to make films. Two movies starring Stewart will be released later this year, as will his first book, Naked Pictures of Famous People. "You'll see enough to be sick of me by the time I start doing the show," Stewart promised. 

Still, it's unlikely he will find any venue for his talents as creatively rewarding as The Daily Show. "The currency of this show is your own head,'' he said. "They've established a certain structure here, but it's still in evolution.''  As is -- one feels compelled to add -- Jon Stewart.

 

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