After an exhaustive yearlong search to find the show’s next host, Jon Stewart is returning to The Daily Show on a part-time basis, just in time for the 2024 election season. But he won’t be doing it alone. He’ll host Monday night’s broadcast beginning Feb. 12, with a roster of rotating correspondents from Tuesday to Thursday. For some, his return speaks to the dire state of late-night TV.
Stewart left the chair of the satirical news program in 2015, and ever since his absence, the show has taken a dive. The Daily Show cable audience has declined by 75%, from 2.2 million to 570,000 viewers a night, while its viewers’ median age, which was 48 in the mid-2010s, is now 63. Between cord-cutting, a plethora of streamers — including the ever dominant Netflix — podcasts, YouTube, and the rise of HBO’s John Oliver, it’s unclear whether the 61-year-old Stewart can save the Comedy Central mainstay.
The longtime host left for no other reason than he wasn’t getting the same satisfaction from it, he told The Guardian in 2015.
“These things are cyclical,” Stewarts explained. “You have moments of dissatisfaction, and then you come out of it and it’s OK. But the cycles become longer and maybe more entrenched, and that’s when you realize, ‘OK, I’m on the back side of it now.’”
On The Daily Show, Stewart quickly became the nation’s most celebrated critic of the media and politics: annihilating Fox News broadcasters, expressing outrage against racially unjust killings, and raising the profile of Harvard professor turned Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. But the comedian was ready for a new adventure.
Stewart directed films like 2014’s critically acclaimed Rosewater, about journalist Maziar Bahari’s brutal 118-day detainment in Iran’s Evin Prison, and 2020’s Irresistible, a political satire starring his former Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell that made less than $500,000 at the box office, owing to mixed reviews and a June 2020 release date amid the Covid pandemic. He began serving as an executive producer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, occasionally popping up on the late-night program to banter with his ex-Daily Show colleague. Stewart even made a pair of appearances on WWE’s SummerSlam, helping Seth Rollins defeat John Cena by hitting him with a steel chair.
In November 2015, he signed a four-year deal to produce digital content for HBO platforms, with programming chief Casey Bloys explaining at the TCAs that, “He is establishing an animation studio. He wants to get material out on a daily basis. The idea is that it’s an animated parody of a cable news network in an Onion-like portal. It will be his voice, in his actual voice, and his tone.”
The project required animators to create complex animations within a single-day turnaround, and it was ultimately scrapped in 2017.
“What Jon was trying to do, which was to get an animation turnaround time of one day, is a very difficult thing to do,” Bloys said during the 2017 TCAs, adding that Stewart did get the turnaround time down to about two days. “It’s very difficult to do. There’s a reason it hasn’t been done.”
“Once Jon realized that he could get close on the animation, what he realized also was in terms of the quality control and in terms of the writing, when you’re putting something out a couple of times a day, the quality control still has to be here,” Bloys added. “It just got to a point where it was like, is this worth his time? Is this worth our time? We kind of thought, ‘You know what? It was a good try, but ultimately not worth it.’”
It just got to a point where it was like, is this worth his time? Is this worth our time? We kind of thought, ‘You know what? It was a good try, but ultimately not worth it.’
In lieu of the animated series, and with two years left on his contract, Bloys and HBO announced that Stewart would be doing two stand-up specials for the network — his first since 1996’s Jon Stewart: Unleavened. But those never materialized either.
Stewart has also, most notably, spent a great deal of time lobbying on behalf of 9/11 first responders — both during his time on The Daily Show and after leaving. In 2019, he made a pair of trips to Congress to advocate against the compensation cap for 9/11 first responders and for funding their Victims Compensation Fund in perpetuity. His emotional testimony in front of a half-empty Congress went viral, with Stewart saying, in part, “I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic. But I’m angry, and you should be too, and they’re all angry as well and they have every justification to be that way. There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that didn’t tweet out, “Never Forget the heroes of 9/11. Never forget their bravery. Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.” Well, here they are. And where are they? And it would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not. Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
The bill was ultimately passed, with Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee being the only holdouts.
Once his HBO contract ended, Stewart signed a multi-year deal with Apple TV+. And his talk show The Problem with Jon Stewart was born — showing us a far less comedic, far more serious version of Stewart that audiences struggled to connect with. During the show’s premiere, Stewart spoke with veterans about their health issues stemming from burn pits, and how the VA often failed to cover their long-term treatment. Stewart’s advocacy on the issue resulted in the passing of the Honoring Our Pact Act of 2022, with Congress devoting nearly $800 billion to help veterans deal with the long-term effects of toxic exposure during their military service.
Unfortunately, the comedian hit another bump in the road in 2023 when his Apple TV+ show The Problem With Jon Stewart came to an end over creative differences between the streamer and the host. As its third season was set to kick off, potential topics around China and artificial intelligence concerned Apple execs, The New York Times reported, and “as the 2024 presidential campaign begins to heat up, there was potential for further creative disagreements,” a source told the Times.
So, Stewart hit the road in September 2023 to join friends John Mulaney and Pete Davidson on a stand-up comedy tour, stopping in spots like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. (Both Mulaney and Stewart also had cameo appearances in Davidson’s Peacock show, Bupkis.)
Over at The Daily Show, chaos ensued. The hosting seat was vacated in December 2022, when Stewart’s hand-picked successor, Trevor Noah, abruptly announced his departure after seven years on the job. There was immense pressure to find a replacement, Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios CEO Chris McCarthy told The Hollywood Reporter in 2023, and in the meantime the role was filled with guest hosts like Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, Chelsea Handler, and Leslie Jones, as well as then-correspondent Roy Wood Jr. and ex-correspondent Michelle Wolf. According to The Hollywood Reporter, McCarthy sought the counsel of Stewart’s manager, James Dixon, as well as Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stewart himself.
Soon, comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj appeared to be the frontrunner to host. But a New Yorker story detailing the comic’s long history of making up elaborate, often racially-charged stories in stand-up sets for laughs made it less likely. Minhaj’s deal to replace Noah was actually finalized by late summer, The Hollywood Reporter noted, but abandoned after the bombshell article’s allegations.
If that wasn’t enough, eight-year Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. announced his departure in October. He told Rolling Stone what his decision came down to.
“There’s a world where I still get offered the show, and there’s a world where I get offered something else,” Wood Jr. told Rolling Stone. “But I just know that to figure out what I want to do next, just as a contingency and cover my own ass, I can’t do that while I’m doing my job as correspondent. It would disrespect the job of correspondent.”
As The Daily Show accepted the Emmy for outstanding variety talk series earlier this month, Wood Jr. could be seen mouthing “please hire a host.” And so, at long last, they did. Sorta. Staffers on The Daily Show were informed of Stewart’s part-time arrangement on the morning of Jan. 24, when McCarthy brought out Stewart and shared the news.
McCarthy described Stewart in a statement on the hiring, as the “voice of our generation” who will “ help us all make sense of the insanity and division roiling the country as we enter the election season.” After all, Stewart did take home 22 Emmys during his 16-year reign.
“In our age of staggering hypocrisy and performative politics, Jon is the perfect person to puncture the empty rhetoric and provide much-needed clarity with his brilliant wit,” McCarthy added.