Jon Stewart: Building His Own House At Comedy Central
Electronic Media
January 25, 1999
by Jim McConville


New York -- Jon Stewart's talk show housesitting days may be finally over.

After serving as a regular guest host the past three years with stints filling in for Tom Snyder's "Late Late Show" on CBS and a role as a fictitious guest host on Garry Shandling's "The Larry Sanders Show," the 36-year-old stand-up comic is getting his second crack at TV stardom as host of cable network Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Comedy Central is coughing up big bucks -- an estimated $1.5 million a year for four years -- for Mr. Stewart to host the newly renamed "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," its late-night satirical wrap-up of the day's world news, which runs Sunday through Thursday at 11 p.m. (ET)

Mr. Stewart, who took over as host of "The Daily Show" on Jan. 11, said he couldn't be happier reunited with his former producers and again having his own regular show.

As "Daily Show" host, Mr. Stewart may be able to bury the perennial guest-host millstone he's worn around his neck since Paramount canceled his late-night syndicated talk show "The Jon Stewart Show" in June 1995. Mr. Stewart likened guest hosting to housesitting in someone else's living room.

"Sitting in for Tom (Snyder) was an honor, but you feel it's not your show," Mr. Stewart said. "You feel like if you take your shoes off you're going to end up staining the carpet in doing something, and they're going to come back and realize you've ruined it."

But it was former "Daily Show" host Craig Kilborn's move to host of "The Late Late Show" -- a job industry pundits long speculated would become Mr. Stewart's -- that set the wheels in motion for Mr. Stewart to join Comedy Central.

Yet, Mr. Stewart says he was never seriously interested in taking over "The Late Late Show," not wanting to move to Los Angeles where it's produced.

"I wanted to write a book and do a couple of other things," he said.

While the show has doubled its viewer audience since its July 1996 launch -- jumping to a 0.7 rating and 330,000 households in its cable universe from a 0.4 rating and 174,000 households -- the former ESPN anchor Mr. Kilborn drew heavily on young male viewers accustomed to his sports patter.

Comedy Central executives are hoping Mr. Stewart's stand-up comic skills and name value will help increase the "Daily Show's" ratings and draw a more female audience.

"Jon will have a wider appeal to a greater age and gender," said Eileen Katz, senior vice president of programming for Comedy Central. "We're now sitting at a place and saying 'how high is up?' We have the conviction that Jon is the one who can take us there."

Comedy Central won't change the "Daily Show's" format, a rotating series of regular sketches and one celebrity interview, but executives said Mr. Stewart's trademark self-effacing humor will be a 360-degree change from Mr. Kilborn's smug, smart aleck, fraternity-boy persona.

"It's still the same scripts; the show won't lose its edge or its bite," Ms. Katz said. "But Jon's persona and comedic delivery will give it a different flavor."

Comedy Central executives say Mr. Stewart will stand apart from cable's other talk show hosts such as Mr. Kilborn and E! Entertainment Television's 'Talk Soup' host Jon Henson who appear cut from the same cookie-cutter mold.

"There's something that's more accessible about Jon as opposed to that whole 'National Lampoon' school of comedians and hosts that looked very Ivy League and Midwest," Ms. Katz said.

Some industry critics think Comedy Central may have got the better end of the deal, replacing CBS-bound Mr. Kilborn with a stand-up comedian and experienced talk show host. Besides hosting, Mr. Stewart will also serve as "Daily Show" executive producer and will write a portion of his own material.

"Yes, Jon Stewart has a checkered history as the host of late-night shows," said New York Post TV columnist Adam Buckman. "But he's certainly witty enough and articulate enough to host his own show, especially if he's replacing a guy like Craig Kilborn. Jon's actually more talented at this sort of thing and can come up with funny things off the top of his head."

Joining Comedy Central for Mr. Stewart is also a coming home of sorts. He's being reunited with the "Jon Stewart Show's" two original producers, Ms. Katz and Madeline Smithberg, the former executive producer of his syndicated talk show who's now executive producer of "The Daily Show."

Mr. Stewart's arrival may also end the kinds of behind-the-scenes friction that ignited when Mr. Kilborn was host.

Mr. Kilborn stirred up a hornet's nest in 1997 when he was quoted in Esquire magazine as calling the show's co-creator Elizabeth Winstead a "bitch." Ms. Winstead has left the show.

Mr. Stewart said he's eager to roll up his sleeves and help write his own lines again. "I missed that sitting in a room with eight guys just writing -- banging out jokes. It's back living the dream."

The "Daily Show's" regular daily skits differ from the free-form talk format of Mr. Stewart's previous show but, after nearly four years of guest hosting, he welcomes the change.

"I'm not into 'anything goes' anymore because I feel like I've already done that," Mr. Stewart said. " 'Anything goes' has come and went."

Mr. Stewart called the next six months his "comedy-show-in-training" period where he's to learn the "Daily Show's" comic rhythm.

"They've got a comic machine going already," Mr. Stewart said. "I've got to get in there and get that rhythm. At some point you can look at making a tinker here or there, but the first question is how to take 'retardo' and bring him up to speed."

Mr. Stewart said hosting a daily show where he can comment about world and national affairs is perfect for a comedian.

"As the year 2000 approaches, it will be nice to be on the air each night to comment about the chaos," he said.


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Thanks to Melly for the article.

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