NEW YORK - Hoping that news may sell better
when glitzy and funny, CNN is entering the comedy business by
signing up a popular American talk show host known for his acerbic
wit and political satire.
The news company has signed Jon Stewart of
Comedy Central channel to make a weekly version of his satirical
news program, "The Daily Show," to air late at night on its
For now, it will be available only to CNN
viewers outside the United States, where Stewart already has
shows on Comedy Central. It will be stripped out of the CNN
International feed that reaches a select few American homes.
In an era in which many Americans find out
about current events through late evening satirical television
talk shows by Jay Leno or David Letterman, the idea of comedy
on CNN isn't shocking, said Charles Bierbauer, former CNN correspondent
and dean of the University of South Carolina's communications
Already on CNN, Larry King, whose show is
available to both domestic and international audiences, frequently
sprinkles entertainers among newsmakers on his show.
Indeed, Stewart's "The Daily Show" would seem
in line with Turner chief Jamie Kellner's drive to bring more
glitz and glamour to the formerly staid, now often slick, CNN.
The show is scheduled for the weekends.
"Jon is smart, he's witty, he's relevant,"
said Rena Golden, general manager of CNN International. "We
think our audience is just going to eat this up. He's got a
wry sense of humor that I think will really translate abroad.
"I always knew how much it would help our
show to be seen in sub-Saharan Africa," Stewart cracked.
CNN executives say privately there's been
no talk of airing Stewart's show domestically. The comedian
is signed at Comedy Central through the 2004 presidential election,
and the comedy network — used to having talent poached
by bigger companies — is fanatical about enforcing its
contracts. Even if Stewart were to leave, Comedy Central owns
the rights to his show's format.
Comedy Central is also using the deal to raise
its international profile, spokesman Tony Fox said. The network
is owned in part by CNN parent AOL Time Warner, and under the
new arrangement Comedy Central will get a portion of CNN's advertising
revenue for the show.
Particularly on weekends, the international
network often mixes entertainment programming with news, Golden
said. It has a music show and fashion programming. The CNN International
audience is generally much younger than the domestic one, she
News is still king at CNN, but the hiring
and promotion of several high-profile news hosts such as Connie
Chung, Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown reflect a belief that viewers
are drawn to personalities as much as a desire to find out what's
Stewart and CNN have flirted before, if awkwardly.
The comedian appeared on the premiere of Chung's
new prime-time show last month, although its host didn't seem
to know what to do with him. And CNN White House correspondent
John King appeared on "The Daily Show" last week, with clips
later shown on CNN.
Stewart says his show "supposedly exists as
a counterpunch" to CNN's serious news programming, which he
thinks has "slightly more bombast" than before. He has a hard
time seeing himself on CNN domestic, however, joining forces
with the people he makes fun of.
Stewart's got more practical immediate concerns,
like how his jokes are going to span the globe.
"It's strange enough to think we're going
to be on in Bahrain," he said, "let alone what network we're
going to be on."