All Hail the Daily Show!

Last night, Jon Stewart announced he would not be renewing his contract for The Daily Show. It immediately set off a scramble – who is going to replace him? What might this mean for intelligent, hard-hitting media criticism? And what is Jon going to do in the future?

You might think that in this era of Twitter, blogs, user-generated content, et. al., that the mainstream media no longer matters. That is most certainly untrue. In the digital age, the business model of The News might be broken, but the authority and influence of major media outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have never been higher. Getting their content seen was the easy part for old line Media; figuring out how to monetize it is the hard part.

What made Stewart and the Daily Show required viewing was how they saw through all of the bullshit. They punctured the cocksure hubris of elected officials, business people, institutions — really, any wanker who was both arrogant and, more often than not, completely, hopelessly, utterly, and (best of all) hilariously wrong.

TDS may have been the first major media source to push back against the jingoistic run up to the Iraq war (those of you too young to recall, that was the country that did not attack us on 9/11). While the New York Times — the paper of record, mind you — ran front page WMD articles under the byline of the now discredited Judith Miller, TDS revealed the nonsensical propaganda for what it was. Some of the more hypocritical aspects of political jockeying, elections, and business received their finest skewering on the show. They constantly questioned the self-righteous, the foolhardy, the pontificating politicos. Did anything else from the Financial Crisis come remotely close to the moment of catharsis when Jim Cramer laid down to receive his punishment (and that of all financial media) on the show?

That’s before we get to the relentless stream of foolishness that is Fox News, the network that actually makes its viewers less informed than watching nothing at all. My interactions with Fox News viewers have led me to theorize that each day of watching the channel shaves off one single IQ point. Speak with someone who has been watching Fox for many years — do the math — and good luck trying to disprove my thesis.

It was Stewart who correctly pointed out that, during the Glenn Beck era, amiable blowhard Bill O’Reilly was actually the sole “responsible adult” at Fox; O’Reilly was rationale, at least on a relative Fox scale. This explains exactly how far off the rails that Fox “News” had gone.

Sure, they are wildly popular and insanely profitable, but so was cocaine in the 1980s.

Perhaps most important of all, Stewart & Co. turned their lens and razor sharp wit on the media as a whole – and found it terribly wanting. Just as the news business was in financial trouble, so too the reporting of news was itself facing an existential crisis. Perhaps this was not merely a coincidence, but a causal relationship.

Former Daily Show staffer John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week has taken what Stewart began — using farce and satire to point out serious wrongs in society — and shifted the news/comedy ratio that much closer to actual investigative journalism. It is a hybrid of one part TDS, one part 60 Minutes, and the show is unique and all the better for it. Oh, and they actually make news each week with their reports.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what comes along afterwards. I doubt anything is going to replace Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The worst job in show business might be whoever has to sit in that seat after Stewart.

The Daily Show mattered — and that is not a thing you can say about a lot of media, regardless of whether they were of the “new” or “old” variety.

 

Previously:

How I Ended Up On The Daily Show (January 28th, 2014)

 

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  1. Concerned Neighbour commented on Feb 11

    I’m sad to see him go, but it’s good to here the show will stick around. High quality satire serves the public good.

    I must say that for me personally I soured on shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report some years ago. At first it was refreshing to see people calling it like it is, but over time I found it grew repetitive and predictable. There’s also a touch of a masochistic element in watching the truth be told about how corrupt and upside down things are only to see very little if anything changing. That’s not an argument for ignorance, but an admission that I don’t necessarily enjoy being reminded of it on a nightly basis.

    I would love to see people like Stewart and Colbert run for office. We need more sincere, rational people in politics.

    • wally commented on Feb 11

      There is Al Franken, though he seems to have little national recognition.

  2. martin66 commented on Feb 11

    Very well said BR

  3. Singmaster commented on Feb 11

    Our household reckons (hopes) John Oliver will take over. He proved he had the chops when he filled in during Stewart’s hiatus. His HBO contract is for two years. Stewart emphasized the timing was still being negotiated. TDS is the most trusted news source in USA. They’d be both irresponsible and foolish to let that just end.

  4. advsys commented on Feb 11

    Well Said!
    I can only hope that he finds new ways to continue to influence and inform our society because if he is doing it, it has to be for the better.

  5. nofoulsontheplayground commented on Feb 11

    Great post. It will be difficult to replace John Stewart. I mean, who in that industry reads most of book the guest author comes on the show to discuss?

    He had a incredibly quick wit, but also a fantastic intellect that fused to create an entertaining and informative format that brought news and information to a young demographic that had mostly abandoned traditional media news sources.

    TDS is probably not unlike SNL in that it takes an awful lot of energy to put out engagingly and comical content. It is not a job for an older person to take on (Sorry, Brian Williams ).

    After September, that one hour from 11:00PM to midnight on Comedy Central that was dynamite for so many years may just fizzle.

    Actually, that Egyptian guy who was on the first segment on Monday’s show (whose own Daily Show facsimile is now banned in Egypt) would be great, but only if he was better steeped in American culture. Jessica Williams is someone who is a breakout talent, but probably too inexperienced to take on this behemoth. Asif Mandvi could probably handle it. Chris Rock, who some have mentioned as a possible successor, would probably pass if offered unless he could produce it like John Stewart was doing. Chris Rock is quick, incredibly smart, and connects with the younger demo. He also has Hollywood connections, which makes it a smoother transition when dealing with guests.

  6. Rich in NJ commented on Feb 11

    Apart from the undeniable gifts of Stewart himself, another noteworthy achievement is the number of really talented people who got their start on The Daily Show.

    Professional sports coaches are often measured by their coaching trees, the assistants that went on to be successful head coaches themselves.

    Stewart’s talent tree is as impressive as any production since the original SNL.

  7. Shenanigans commented on Feb 11

    Everything about the show — the talent pool, the commitment to truth, the lack of tolerance for bullshit, the deep bench, the incredible quality of writing, the overall insight — just made it a fabulous show.

    I nominate Samantha Bee to replace Jon . . .

  8. Willy2 commented on Feb 11

    Stewart & Colbert could get away with criticism because they were supposed to be “Comedians”. otherwise they would have chased away.

  9. RC commented on Feb 11

    This would be definitely an end of an era. Jon Stewart was(is) a cultural phenomenon. They have the smartest writing crew in television bar none.

    I am a big fan except that one time after financial crisis John Stewart ambushed Jim Cramer on his show. That was cheap, populist BS. Jim Cramer does his TV entertainment stuff and Jon Stewart does it too but making Jim Cramer as some sort of fall guy for everything that went wrong during the financial crisis was really bad.

    Other than that I am fan. Will not forget his weepy show after 9/11 among many other memorable ones.

    • Liquidity Trader commented on Feb 12

      I am going to have to disagree. Cramer was the biggest cheerleader heading into the collapse. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that his daily nonsense cost lots of people naive enough to listen to him big bucks.

      BTW, he went on the show because Rick Santelli (aka douchenozzle) cancelled last minute.

    • RC commented on Feb 13

      Rick Santelli represents everything that is wrong with CNBC and the likes. He should have received the ambush that Jim Cramer instead received at the hands of Jon Stewart.

      If you really sat down and calculated a Jim Cramer portfolio might do just as good as a typical hedge fund (which mean they wont be beating S&P ) At least Cramer is not charging folks 2 and 20 and then under performing.

  10. intlacct commented on Feb 11

    The trend to comedy news (information) is great. I’d also include Bill Maher.

    And while I guess the Iraq War thing is true (I didn’t watch it so I don’t know), I have seen him forgettably interview Jim DeMint and others from that ‘side’. Like Obama, Stewart was too ingratiating with guys who are conniving to literally take food (and education, and health care, and…) from the weakest in society. Access journalism I guess. What is the point of having a lunatic on if you can’t confront him, hard, with his lunacy? Seems to me you are perpetuating their ‘stuff’ by making them seem less obscene. I’d much prefer no access and simply report the astonishing facts.

    The interviews were weaker too, as I recall now…

    Stewart’s analysis of why he was so great and weighty media and politics topics and ham-handed attempts to shape public opinion without comedy or too much of him (I recall a Rachel Maddow program, the March on Washington to restore…) were unwatchable.

    In the long run he was probably too soft on Islamic extremism. A lot of were wrong on that, too.

    In short, he had some great high points and had a watchable/very funny show much of the time but the hagiography is unmerited (altho the farm league of talent was ridiculously talented – people forgot Steve Carrell, I recall Lewis Black, too, being a semi-regular, etc. so maybe that merits something…).

  11. BennyProfane commented on Feb 11

    Yes, well said. He will be sorely missed in my home. First thing I went to on my DVR. Brilliant stuff, about half the time, which is saying a lot. I cannot imagine who can replace him.

    Our Mark Twain is retiring. Long live Jon Stewart.

  12. constantnormal commented on Feb 12

    … perhaps in Stewart’s remaining days, he could sign up Bri-Wi as an intern at The Daily Show, for the duration of Bri-Wi’s time in the NBC ‘News’ penalty box … maybe some of TDS could stick, and Bri-Wi would resume his performing role at NBC with a new direction …

  13. constantnormal commented on Feb 12

    But Jon Stewart hasn’t died … I wonder what he will amaze us with next?

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