Jon Stewart in line to replace David Letterman if CBS' late-night
guy heads to ABC? The answer: Maybe.
Letterman may re-up with CBS as early as next week, but the
nagging "what if?" remains, and increasingly, speculation shifts
to the 39-year-old host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
Stewart is in a long-term deal as host of "The Daily Show,"
which has been revitalized since he began three years ago. But
some observers think a segue to "The Late Show" would be contractually
effortless because CBS owner Viacom also owns Comedy Central
along with AOL Time Warner.
CBS declined comment yesterday, although it's unlikely even
casual conversations with Stewart have been held. The reason:
Even informal talks would likely scuttle the Letterman deal,
which CBS wants to seal within days. As one source who knows
Letterman says, "I wouldn't play that card if I were [CBS].
David doesn't like that sort of thing. ... They should say,
'We love Dave and we want to make a deal.'"
Easy to say. Hard to do. Letterman's Worldwide Pants and CBS
are much closer to an agreement, but it won't be finalized until
Letterman returns from vacation Monday. And while Letterman's
company now appears to have backed off from a request to control
the 11:35 p.m. time slot if he retires, which CBS objected to,
other obstacles could materialize. (Wire reports yesterday said
CBS had offered Letterman $31.5 million in annual salary, $500,000
over ABC's reported figure, but money is not expected to be
the deciding factor.) While talks with Stewart may not have
taken place, he is clearly on the minds of CBS executives.
Stewart - by most accounts - is relatively easy to work with
and CBS executives were "thrilled" - per one source - with his
host performance at last week's Grammys.
Stewart's experience with broadcast TV is mixed. In 1993, he
hosted a syndicated late-night show, which "died a horrible,
grisly, slow death," says an industry observer, and he also
tried out for NBC's "Late Night," but lost out to Conan O'Brien.