Chuck, roll 212.

While I try to gather my thoughts, pictures, liver, and gratitude from last weekend, I have to comment on last night’s Daily Show finale. It was, basically, perfect.

The collection of so many former correspondents. Jon’s final guidance on combating bullshit. The Scorsese-homage tour behind the scenes. The staff’s joyous dancing around the studio as Bruce Springsteen played “Born To Run”. But most of all, Stephen Colbert’s touching (and terrifying to Stewart for its earnestness) surprise thank-you on behalf of the former correspondents.

Watching him try so desperately to not acknowledge the impact he’s had on people, and then watching him jump up and down in a massive group hug with them afterwards, is so much of what I admire about the man. We see so little of him personally, but over 16 years tiny bits and pieces have given me a respect for him that went beyond the show, even if I couldn’t quite articulate it.

And now, a constant part of my life since I started watching (in 2001? 2002 maybe?) is done. Well, the show is there, but it can’t — and shouldn’t — be the same. I’m so glad we went to New York nine years ago to watch a taping. I couldn’t tell you who the guest was, but who cares? That’s not why we were there. That’s not why we watched.

Thanks Jon.

Cover photo by Mike Baehr, used under Creative Commons license

Jon Stewart announces his retirement

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

Even the death rattle has a boppy J.J. Abrams score

A week or so ago in Salon Heather Havrilesky ripped TV a new one:

The golden age of television may be over just a few short years after it began. 2008 not only marked one of the worst years of TV in the last decade, but all of the momentum and promise of the past few years seemed to vanish in a haze of crappy, unoriginal new programming, lackluster sophomore shows, flaccid sitcoms and pointless cable comedies.

Deservedly so, too. Just months and years removed from the likes of The Wire, Six Feet Under and The Shield, we’re now faced with this harbinger of doom:

And has there ever been a more depressing sign of TV’s demise than the move by NBC to give Jay Leno, the epitome of a guy who’s flatly bad at his job but continues to be promoted for reasons utterly mysterious to mortal man, a whopping five hours of prime-time real estate, thereby saving themselves from the unpleasant work of finding worthwhile programming to fill their nightly 10 p.m. slot?

The Star also weighed in with a recap (less with the doomsday, more with the funny) of the past year’s horror show:

Herbie Hancock wins Album of the Year at the “Granny” Awards as music pundits slap their foreheads and check their calendars. Nope, it’s not 1983. Ratings plummet.

Cloris Leachman dresses like a rapper and asks, “What’s up, homeys?” in an old school hip-hop number on Dancing With the Stars. Viewers, horrified at the spectre of the 82-year-old Emmy winner in short shorts and rapper’s cap, vote her off the following week.

The concept of TV as art seems to be just about dead. Apart from the seven shows I actually care about — 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, The Daily Show, Friday Night Lights, Life, The Office and The Unit — I’m increasingly seeing the TV as nothing more than a sports & movie delivery device.

Just declare the 4 big American networks 24-hour reality TV channels and be done with it. HBO can buy Netflix and we’ll all be happy.