I’m mildly devastated by this news.
I’m not sure when we started watching The Daily Show; by May 2004 I was already including it amongst my must-watch shows. (Along with 24? Sheesh.) Since then we’ve watched it almost religiously, falling off only a little in the last couple of years as we’ve just gotten insanely busy with work and too exhausted to watch every night. We actually flew to New York in 2006 for the express purpose of watching a taping. I’d requested tickets online, and when I got word that we were in for a Monday show we booked flights and found a hotel. It was a great experience, even if the guest was an author I can’t even remember and the following evening’s guest would be Natalie Portman. Dammit.
Over the years I’ve thought many times about all the talent Stewart developed, or helped to develop, on that show. The Verge had a good run-down today: Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, John Hodgman, and so on. I’m not sure who will replace him, but recently I hypothesized that with a little time for Stewart to groom her, it could be Jessica Williams. She has the brains and the talent, and I think she’s charismatic enough to pull it off while veteran correspondents like Sam Bee and Jason Jones hold things together. John Oliver was rusty when Stewart first went on hiatus last summer, but he rounded out nicely.
In fact, I’m guessing John Oliver was part of the reason Stewart is leaving. Most of the talent above went in different directions after they left: Colbert went deep into his satirical character and will now host a network show, Carell became a (now Oscar-nominated) movie actor, Wilmore is just now starting his own show, and Helms and Corddry went on to decent comedic movie and TV careers. Oliver, though, took the Daily Show concept to HBO, and has been killing it. He’s arguably doing it better than The Daily Show. He’s certainly in the same neighbourhood.
I can’t imagine Oliver will be able to keep his show at TDS-esque levels of quality for 16 years the way Stewart did, but that’s not the point. I think that Stewart waited until he saw someone do angry poltical satire better, with the fire that he himself used to have in his belly. Maybe he wants to direct. Maybe he wants to see his family during the week. I’m sure we’ll find out. But ever since Rosewater came out I felt like this move was bubbling, and I think he was waiting until he felt an angry voice could carry the torch, and he found it — built it — in John Oliver.
I hope Mr. Stewart doesn’t go far. He’s been the smartest guy on TV four days a week for more than a decade, and god knows we need smart guys.
Cover photo by Mike Baehr, used under Creative Commons license