COMEDY Central cut-up John Stewart wasn't
kidding when he said on "Saturday Night Live" last week that
he's interested in a gig on network television.
Before ABC began negotiating with David Letterman
to jump ship, execs at the Disney-owned network made overtures
to "The Daily Show"-host Stewart about hosting a late-night
talk show in the time period held by Ted Koppel's "Nightline,"
according to sources close to the situation.
Stewart - whose contract to host Comedy Central's
"Daily Show" ends in January - currently earns more than $2
million a year.
News that Stewart was also approached by ABC
adds fuel to reports that the network has been trying to replace
its current late night lineup of "Nightline" and "Politically
Incorrect" for some time.
Whether Stewart has moved up to the top of
ABC's shopping list was unclear yesterday.
Since Monday, when Letterman agreed to stay
at CBS, high level execs at ABC and its parent Disney have been
trying to repair the damage to its relationship with Koppel.
There was no credible evidence yesterday that
ABC has spoken with Stewart or his representatives since Letterman
agreed to stay at CBS.
However an ABC spokeswoman would not confirm
or deny that the network had spoken to Stewart before then.
Reps for Stewart declined to comment yesterday.
"Jon was a star before he got to Comedy Central
and I think he's a bigger star now," Comedy Central spokesman
Tony Fox said.
"As human beings we recognize that there are
certain things that motivate people and I think being happy
in your job is one of them. At ‘The Daily Show' he has an enormous
amount of freedom, editorial control and flexibility to do other
things like movies and hosting the Grammys," Fox said.
Stewart, who hosted last week's "Saturday
Night Live," made jokes about the scramble for Letterman and
his rumored candidacy to replace Dave if he left CBS.
"I would do anything," Stewart cracked during
his monologue noting he'd take Letterman's, Jay Leno's or Conan
"Willard Scott, you tired of waving at old
people? I'll take that.
"I work on basic cable, do you understand
what I'm saying?
"I'd like to get some of those spoiled rich
guys over to my neck of the woods where you still have to pay
for your own sodas," Stewart said.
Letterman's new deal reportedly pays him about
$31.5 million a year, while Jay Leno reportedly is paid about
Friends of Stewart say that while he would
likely jump at the chance to host a show in the "Nightline"
time slot, Letterman is a personal hero and would have second
thoughts about competing against him or Leno.
"But how could he not say ‘yes'
if he was offered an 11:30 p.m. network talk show and the terms
were right," a friend said.