"Changing of the guard"
Hartford Courant
December 28, 1998
by James Endrst

 

Jon Stewart goes nightly on Comedy Central January 11

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be seen Sundays through Thursdays at 11 p.m. on cable's Comedy Central beginning January 11. This time Jon Stewart is taking over. Really.

We know you've heard the 36-year-old comedian and talk-show host's name mentioned in the past in connection with other shows. Rumors that didn't turn out to be true. But this job is a lock.

Stewart joins Comedy Central on January 11 at 11 p.m. as host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He'll step in for the departing Craig Kilborn, who, after 2 1/2 years, is going to CBS to take over The Late Late Show beginning this spring, replacing Tom Snyder.

So how did it all come to pass? "It was the sorties that I flew over Comedy Central," says Stewart, calling from New York the morning after the United States had bombed Iraq. Then, playing to his interviewer based in Hartford, he adds, "Hey it's not like getting the Patriots, but it's still a nice gig."

That's what Stewart will do on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- keep the humor targeted and topical. ("Same World. Different Take," says Comedy Central) Expect The Daily Show to remain true to its roots, says Stewart, with comically twisted news of the world, pop culture, sports, entertainment, etc.

"The whole thing for me is just trying to fit into the groove," he says. "I mean they've had a good thing going for a couple of years and they really know how to run it. So I'm trying not to be the fly in the ointment. It's going to take me a while to adjust to them and of course for them to adjust to me." Some changes are inevitable, but clearly the philosophy is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Of course, a lot of industry-watchers thought Stewart would be working for HBO right now. Wasn't he supposed to take over for Garry Shandling as host of HBO's The Larry Sanders Show? It certainly looked that way. Both on and off the air. "It was really a story line in the show more than anything else," says Stewart. Fans will recall Shandling's perpetually threatened Sanders spent a lot of time worrying about Stewart, who played himself, in the critically acclaimed series within a series. Further fueling speculation was the fact that behind the scenes, Stewart was working as a creative consultant. But Stewart downplays it now. "It meant, basically, I would sit there and go `Gary, you're a winner, wear the blue sweater.' "

Sure, there was some talk, he says, "But luckily, unlike the people who created After MASH, we had the sense to go, `You know, maybe they wouldn't be that interested in what happened to Klinger and Radar when they got to Iowa."

Still, when late-night slots have opened in the past, Stewart's name has frequently come up. But unless those discussions, says Stewart, are going on in your living room, "you don't really hear it."

Stewart, who came fast and furiously out of MTV a few years ago, hosted his own talk show, The Jon Stewart Show, on the channel before it was snapped up by Paramount for national syndication. The show, alas, lasted only 10 months after it began in September 1994. "Although," he says, laughing, "it remains the longest-running, late-night nightly syndicated talk show hosted by a white man. And I cling to that distinction, my friend!"

He's been busy in the interim, though. This fall, his first book, Naked Pictures of Famous People, a collection of comic essays, was published. "It takes about 20 trips to the bathroom to polish the whole thing off," he says by way of review.

And you can see Stewart in two feature films -- the upcoming Playing By Heart, in which he co-stars as romantic interest to Gillian Anderson -- and in The Faculty, which he describes as "Sci-fi with hip lingo. Dawson's Creek gone mad!" Of his own Faculty role, Stewart quips, "I play the guy who gives the scientific explanation in every sci-fi movie [so] you know pretty much I'll get killed almost immediately. It's like being a black guy in an outer-space movie." Stewart also has just completed work on Big Daddy, which stars Adam Sandler.

The Comedy Central proposal came last summer. Stewart says it quickly came together, in part, because "I knew them cats. We'd all worked together before at MTV on the old talk show." Eileen Katz, former executive producer of The Jon Stewart Show, is now executive vice president of programming at Comedy Central.

Stewart likes the way the transition has worked out. He was a guest on Kilborn's penultimate show, December 16. "One of the nice things for me on this," says Stewart, speaking of his predecessor, "is here's a guy who did a great job and got a great opportunity and moved on. So I don't have that creepy feeling of being sort of named as Johnny Deathwatch standing in the wings waiting for a guy to get tuberculosis."

 

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