"Does signing of Jon Stewart mean CNN will be the place to turn for laughs?"
Associated Press
July 15, 2002
by David Bauder


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 international network.

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 school.

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 said.

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 going on.

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."


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