Once upon a time (well, spring
1999), there was a smart aleck named Craig Kilborn who got a job
hosting The Late Late Show on CBS, beating out another
smart aleck named Jon Stewart.
That was seen as a big whooping victory for
Mr. Kilborn, since his rival had been considered the heir apparent
for the après-midnight slot following Late Show
with David Letterman. Vanquished, Mr. Stewart wound up getting
Mr. Kilborn’s old chair as host of The Daily Show
on Comedy Central.
Ugh. It must have stunk to be Jon Stewart.
Now spin the clock forward two years. Bolstered
by his zinger-filled Daily Show performances during the
Election from Hell, Mr. Stewart is the comedy darling of the media
elite, heartily praised in The New York Times Magazine
and countless other publications.
But curiously, it seems that nobody loves Mr.
Stewart more than CBS, the network that once passed him over.
Tonight, Mr. Stewart’s going to host the Grammy Awards–on CBS.
He even recently sat for an upcoming profile with Steve Kroft
of 60 Minutes–on CBS The Observer has learned..
Craig Kilborn? He’s not talking to Steve Kroft
any time soon. He’s not gushed over in The New York
Times Magazine. He will, however, be hosting the TV
Guide Awards–on Fox. (Word has it that Mr. Stewart passed
on that gig.)
Holy Shakespeare! Seems like it kind of stinks
to be Craig Kilborn now.
And where’s the love, CBS? While it’s true that
Mr. Stewart is a Viacom stepchild (the CBS-owning media giant
has a half stake in Comedy Central), Mr. Kilborn is a CBS man
through and through.
CBS spokesman Chris Ender said the network has
plenty of love for Mr. Kilburn. "Craig isn’t a media darling,
so he doesn’t get enough credit for the work he’s done for CBS
and the late night," Mr. Ender said. "But you can’t ignore the
fact that ratings and revenue are up significantly. We’re very
happy with him." He added that the network was very happy to have
Mr. Stewart for the Grammys, too.
To be sure, Mr. Stewart has benefited from some
exceptional circumstances. He got the Grammys gig after Whoopi
Goldberg bailed. And who knew that the 2000 election, which looked
like a dud at the get-go, would turn into one of the most bizarre
public spectacles in history? It gave Mr. Stewart and his politicentric
writing team an unprecedented gold mine of material, making The
Daily Show a popular comedy antidote to the fare on MSNBC,
CNN and Fox News. Mr. Stewart also does his program in New York,
media capital, while Mr. Kilborn makes do in star-filled but comparatively
media-deprived Los Angeles.
But there’s more to it. There’s little question
that the sad-eyed, endlessly self-deprecating Mr. Stewart–who
even took The Late Late Show decision in stride, at least
publicly–is seen as the more likable of the two, packing Carnegie
Hall last spring for a Comedy Central event and becoming a couch
favorite with Mr. Letterman and Today’s Katie Couric. By
contrast, the cocksure, gold-maned Mr. Kilborn is seen as the
smarmy frat president, bright and quick with his tongue but slow
to charm. (In fact, the most attention Mr. Kilborn got last year
was the clobbering he and The Late Late Show took for posting
a "Snipers Wanted" graphic over a video of then-candidate George
"The public is noticing what we have known all
along," says one Comedy Central source. "We’re not surprised by
the level of success that Jon and The Daily Show
are enjoying right now."
O.K. then. Tonight, watch Jon Stewart host The
43rd Annual Grammy Awards, featuring a live performance by
Eminem, Elton John and Bob Herbert of The New York Times.