Before leaving for a regularly scheduled vacation last weekend, Jon Stewart surprised everyone watching The Daily Show that he’d be taking a more permanent vacation, retiring by the end of his 17th year at the helm of Comedy Central’s preeminent late-night news satire program.
Here he was, in his own Moment of Zen:
Comedy Central responded swiftly via Twitter to the announcement.
Thank you Jon. pic.twitter.com/yPdxjnkuLw
— Comedy Central (@ComedyCentral) February 10, 2015
But what happens next is very unknown.
“This certainly is a moment of big change for us at 11 o’clock,” Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless told The Hollywood Reporter, “but we’ve never been in a better position to find the next great voice.”
Viacom Entertainment Group President Doug Herzog, meanwhile, told the AP that “there’s a short list” of replacements. “I think Jon wanted to get this off his chest and put it out there. He’s been carrying this for a little while, and now we’ll have to discuss” the next steps, Herzog said. “He’ll take a deep breath, as will we, and figure out what’s best for Jon Stewart and best for ‘The Daily Show,’ in that order.”
Most casual observers may have expected Stewart, 52, to stick around at least through the end of the 2016 Presidential campaign. But that campaign has barely begun, and Stewart’s own contract is up for renewal this September.
At the same time, Stewart’s summertime break in 2013 not only gave him a chance to experience life completely away from the satirical anchor desk and enjoy directing a feature film, Rosewater, for the first time. It also let him and us imagine a future without him hosting The Daily Show.
John Oliver, who subbed for Stewart that summer, proved so worthy that HBO snapped him up to allow Oliver to do his own, different, weekly show before Comedy Central could line him up for an official orderly succession plan. Oliver’s new thing, in-depth investigative scrutiny of things in the news and things that should be in the news, quickly won acclaim and awards — and HBO just gave Oliver two more seasons of Last Week Tonight, with 35 weekly episodes each in 2016 and 2017.
Stephen Colbert has jumped ship from his own supremely successful TDS spinoff, ending The Colbert Report at the end of 2014, preparing to take over The Late Show from David Letterman this September. And Stewart just helped launch another handpicked spinoff last month, promoting Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore to host The Nightly Show.
Plenty of us can speculate on who should or could replace Stewart.
What happens next, though, depends on what that next host decides to do with the show? After all, The Daily Show began with Craig Kilborn essentially as a parody of a late-night newscast, evolving after Stewart took over in 1999 to eventually become a parody of the actual news. It changed the conversation from jokey stories to making a joke out of how the TV news business so often failed in its duty to grasp the day’s top stories.
So what happens next will depend upon what voice Comedy Central wants to have in the national satire conversation in the years to come.
“Jon carved out a very particular place for himself within that dialogue. We’ll see what the next person brings,” Herzog said. “It’s going to happen in a different way, in a different fashion, from a different point of view. But I’m pretty certain it’s going to happen.”