"Daily chaos"
Columbus Dispatch
January 10, 1999
by Tim Feran


Jon Stewart may be a new face on The Daily Show, but he's no stranger to the talk-show wars.

A few years ago he hosted The Jon Stewart Show, an MTV program that Paramount grabbed for national syndication. The show lasted only 10 months after it began in September 1994, but it put Stewart on the pop-culture radar.

His association with talk shows continued through the HBO comedy series The Larry Sanders Show, in which he played himself. During the final season, the story line had Stewart being groomed to take over the fictitious late-night show. The plot was so intriguing that, eventually, rumors had Stewart actually replacing Garry Shandling as the star. That switch was never in the cards, Stewart said recently.

"We had talked about sitcoms, but I was of the mind that, unless it was a great idea, I didn't want to do it," he said. "Just to do it for the sake of doing it wasn't a good idea. No one needs another halfhearted attempt.

"Then we started discussing maybe a 1:30 show to follow Tom Snyder. At the time I thought: `You know what? I really want to write the book; I really want to do some movie things.' It didn't seem like the right time to get back into the fray."

So he wrote Naked Pictures of Famous People, worked on two films and agreed to take over as host of the nightly Comedy Central parody, The Daily Show, after original host Craig Kilborn signed a deal with another network.

Stewart is deep in preparation for his Monday debut. "I've been to talk-show camp this summer," he said. "It's a place in upstate New York run by Dick Cavett."

But seriously: "This show is different from even other talk shows. I don't think it's relatable to the other show I did at all. The nature of the show is so topical it's almost fruitless to bang out jokes right now.

"It makes it scarier knowing the parameters of the gig. What I liked is that the fuel of the show is not pure celebrities; the fuel is really the daily fodder of the news. The world will provide a great deal of chaos."

Even with the news angle, Stewart knows that the series has its show-biz lures. "I understand, if you give them 20 minutes of news satire, you have to give them a few minutes of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen. I'd love to, at some point, bring on a newsmaker or a pundit, anyone relevant even in a skewed manner, as opposed to always a celebrity."

A student of the late-night chat shows, Stewart sees the pace "the speed in which entertainment has to occur" as the biggest difference between now and the days when Johnny Carson ruled the airwaves.

"If there's an entertainment gap, you have to fill it with something either a shiny light or someone from Baywatch. When you look at the amount of entertainment packed into those shows, it's shocking.

"There's a real casual comfort to the old Carsons that doesn't exist anymore and maybe couldn't."

How will The Daily Show change? Will it have a new signature bit, such as the "Five Questions" that Kilborn posed to guests?

"I don't know," Stewart said. "I think that's a bunker conversation they're having in the war room at Comedy Central right now."


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