"Jon Stewart Hips Out Craig Kilborn"
New York Observer
February 21, 2001
by Jason Gay


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 W. Bush.)

"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.


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