Stewart pressured to continue
Here's a message for Jon Stewart, who's taking
over as host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show next
week: Don't screw it up, little man.
"I always get that cautionary warning right
before I get off the phone with an interviewer," Stewart
said from New York. "It's: `Good luck with the show. I really
like it, and if this goes wrong, you'll be hearing from my attorneys.'
Stewart, 36, is prepared for whatever fallout
may come. Clearly, he has a different comedic sensibility than
Craig Kilborn, whom he replaces behind the anchor desk of the
four-night-a-week Newscast parody. But that's not necessarily
a bad thing.
Kilborn, an ESPN alum and former basketball
player, had a smug sort of frat-boy cockiness. In his penultimate
appearance on The Daily Show last month, he gave the smaller
Stewart a telephone directory to sit on. Stewart's humor is more
cerebral and self-deprecating. "Whenever you take over something
that is popular and has a fanatical following that loves it, you're
never going to please everyone," Stewart said. "The
trick is to have enough wherewithal to follow through with what
you want to do with it and give it time to evolve."
That Stewart is replacing Kilborn completes
a late-night TV chain. A former cable and syndicated talk-show
host, Stewart most recently was understudy to CBS' Tom Snyder,
who's retiring from the daily grind and being replaced in March
by Kilborn. "Yeah," Stewart deadpanned. "And Snyder's
going to Friends. He's replacing David Schwimmer."
Stewart is scheduled to move into his Comedy
Central office today. His debut on the program will be at 10 p.m.
Jan. 11. "That gives us a week to put this together,"
he said. "That's enough time, isn't it? They won't even be
able to hem my pants in time."
While the new job pays $1.5 million a year and
The Daily Show has a relatively small, dedicated following,
Stewart once seemed destined for more. His low-key MTV talk show
evolved into Paramount's response to the retirement of Arsenio
Hall. Somehow, a Jewish guy who sometimes didn't shave interviewing
marginal guests seated on car seats, with a Nok-Hockey game board
for a desk, didn't appeal to Hall's audience. Imagine that.
David Letterman signed him to back up Snyder
and develop a late-night show for CBS ("And all our development
went into Touched by an Angel," Stewart jokes).
But the deal lapsed and, in a puzzling move, Kilborn was chosen
to succeed Snyder.
Stewart has a book of humorous essays out and
a slow-blossoming film career, and the Daily Show job
enables him to move back to New York while continuing to pursue
both endeavors. But why? "I'm doing everything I can to sabotage
my career," Stewart said. "It's a little thing called
`fear of success.' Seriously? Those [regular talk] shows become
your life - I mean, for 10 years, it's your life. That is what
you are and what you do.
"This is a different kind of hosting than
I'm accustomed to. It's a little less free form. But we'll find
out what I can do well and start tailoring it to that... It's
less driven by me than the Paramount show was, but it will be
ultimately driven by a certain comedic point of view that's different."
Along with Kilborn, Daily Show contributors
Brian Unger and A. Whitney Brown are leaving the program. But
Stephen Colbert and Beth Littleford are remaining, as are key
writers and other staffers such as executive producer Madeline
Smithberg, who worked with Stewart on his earlier talk shows.
Stewart's style should encourage the writers to adopt a less mean-spirited
approach than Kilborn's. But Stewart is capable of the occasional
potshot. "Hopefully the only things off-limits are [crummy]
jokes," he said. "But being a standup comedian, I know
that's not always the case... You know it when you have to take
a shower afterward."
Hope it works. We have lawyers on retainer.