"Will Stewart Get the 'Late' Shift?"
March 8, 2002
by Verne Gay


Is 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.


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