Will we still be laughing after Jon Stewart leaves late night?

  • People
  • Tuesday, 17 Feb 2015

US Television personality Stephen Colbert during a taping of The Colbert Report' with US President Barack Obama on Dec 8, 2014. Photo: EPA

There are TV viewers who have never lived in a world without Jon Stewart.

There are few things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and Jon Stewart on Comedy Central four nights a week lampooning the laughably absurd things side of politics.

We lost one of those things last week when Stewart told The Daily Show’s live studio audience that he would be stepping down as its host after 17 years later this year.

He’s been at the show so long that there are some viewers who have never lived in a world without it.

In 2010 a study showed that more young people get their news from The Daily Show and its sadly departed twin The Colbert Report than they do the New York Times – the third most popular outlet. For them and for leftwingers who like their news with a dose of satire and at times stinging invective, there is no better place to find out the news and what they should think about it.

US Television personality Stephen Colbert during a taping of The Colbert Report' with US President Barack Obama on Dec 8, 2014. Photo: EPA

Stewart’s announcement comes at a bit of a crossroads for late night. Other than Jimmy Kimmel, who has been anchoring ABC’s late night desk for more than a decade, almost all of the other hosts are new or about to be replaced. Jimmy Fallon has only been at The Tonight Show for a year, and David Letterman is about to hand over the reins of CBS’s Late Show to The Daily Show alum Stephen Colbert – untested outside of his familiar Colbert Report persona. Seth Meyers has been following Fallon for only a year at Late Night on NBC and James Corden, virtually unknown in the United States, will take Craig Ferguson’s place on CBS at the end of next month.

The landscape, though settled, is in complete disarray. There is no doubt that Jimmy Fallon is delivering at The Tonight Show, breathing new life into the franchise and updating it for the age where people care more about YouTube clips and celebrities than they do Stupid Pet Tricks.

This season, he’s averaged a million more viewers than Kimmel or Letterman. In late January a week of reruns beat the competition’s original episodes in the 18 to 49-year-old demographic that advertisers crave.

What is happening otherwise is anyone’s guess. All the other hosts are untested or, like Meyers, not really making too much of an impact in the zeitgeist. And this doesn’t even take into account Conan O’Brien struggling in obscurity on TBS, Chelsea Handler and whatever her mysterious late night show on Netflix will look like, and John Oliver creating a viral video a week on his perch over at HBO.

All of this turmoil leaves Comedy Central the most vulnerable. With only a few months left of Stewart, and Larry Wilmore still finding his footing, it doesn’t give The Nightly Show much runway for a take-off of its own. And with heirs apparent Colbert, Oliver and Whitmore off on their own shows, what will be the new draw for Comedy Central? We’re just heading into a presidential election cycle, which is the time The Daily Show comes into its own.

This is a time when something truly revolutionary could happen. Maybe it will be Handler’s Netflix show. Or maybe someone like YouTube will come along with an entirely new solution that will change the game. It’s when we have untrusted heads of these old institutions that everything seems ripe for revolution - if someone has the guts and ingenuity to really go for it.

None of this is Stewart’s problem and who knows what he’ll do next. He reportedly turned down an invitation to host NBC’s Meet The Press, so it’s unlikely that he will want to provide jokes on a more “legit” broadcast, and certainly not one mired in a scandal.

His debut film, Rosewater, while getting decent critical notices, only made about US$3mil (RM10.86mil) at the box office. That doesn’t mean Hollywood won’t welcome him back, but it’s not an obvious avenue for him either.

Time at home with the family is sure to be a wonderful respite after the grind of doing a daily talk show for the best part of 20 years, but will Stewart be happy to rest on his laurels?

I doubt it, especially if we have a Republican administration in 2016. – Guardian News & Media

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