Can Jon Stewart’s Return Save The Daily Show?

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Summary

  • The Daily Show has struggled to find a new identity since losing host Trevor Noah and has delayed appointing a new full-time host.
  • Former host Jon Stewart will return as anchor of Monday editions through the November 2024 elections, with correspondents leading the rest of the week’s shows.
  • Late-night comedy shows, including The Daily Show, have experienced declining viewership due to the availability of political news and humor on smartphones and online platforms.


The past year has been a bit of a struggle for The Daily Show. Since losing host Trevor Noah at the end of 2022, the show has not found a new identity. A rotation of guest hosts occupied the anchor’s chair in 2023, with no immediate plans for a permanent successor. Despite plans to place a new full-time host behind the desk in 2024, The Daily Show has delayed this and still has not done so. However, they nabbed a big name to hold things down part-time through the election.

Former longtime host Jon Stewart is set to return to The Daily Show as anchor of the Monday editions through the November 2024 elections. The remainder of the week’s shows will be led by the correspondents. Stewart first took over The Daily Show in January 1999, transforming it into a political and news satire powerhouse.

Stewart’s tenure was widely praised by both critics and fans for its effectiveness in putting a humorous spin on the news, and he’s regarded as one of the best late night talk show hosts of all time. Since leaving the show in 2015, Stewart has returned for occasional guest spots but otherwise maintained a relatively low profile. Could his temporary return be enough to save the stagnating show, especially in another monumental election year? Let’s take a look.


Stewart’s Early Years

the daily show
The Daily Show

Release Date
July 22, 1996

Seasons
21

Studio
Comedy Central

The Daily Show first debuted in the summer of 1996, with little resemblance to the show it would eventually become. Some hallmarks were there, such as original host Craig Kilborn recapping the day’s top stories alongside a team of correspondents. However, Kilborn’s show focused on pop culture and comedy over politics. Stewart’s tenure shifted the show into political territory, with current issues and news driving much of the content. His takes on the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections propelled the show to new levels of relevance and popularity. Stewart expanded the correspondents’ roles and introduced their now-common outlandish and unhinged takes on current events.

Viewership skyrocketed in the early years, and so did the awards and recognition. Stewart regularly conducted interviews with public figures from both sides of the political aisle. While critics noted the show seemed to favor Democratic politicians, Stewart maintained that he was impartial and would criticize figures across the board as they deserved it. He also mentioned that he would direct more humor and critique at whichever party was in power. Stewart’s unique blend of comedy and informational humor led The Daily Show to unprecedented success. But it’s no secret that the media landscape has changed since Stewart went off the air eight years ago.

Late night comedy shows are still around, and will be for the foreseeable future. However, they’ve fallen far from their glory days, and viewership is down across the board. This includes The Daily Show and the remaining hosts on network TV. Even the immortal Saturday Night Live has seen record-low ratings, only enjoying temporary spikes during election years. The reality is that people don’t need to watch these shows anymore.

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Political news and humor are instantly accessible to anyone on their phones. Audiences don’t have to wait until 11:30 pm EDT to hear Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the day’s events when so many celebrities share their thoughts online at any time. And how many people actually stay up that late? Seth Meyers’ show doesn’t even start until 12:35 am on the East Coast. Several shows post their segments on YouTube the following day or earlier that night before they’re on TV. When viewers can watch that way, is there a need to stay up into the dead of night?

Critics of modern late-night shows have accused them of being overly left-leaning and hostile to Republicans. This point does have merit and may have helped contribute some to audience erosion. Fox News has tried to balance the scales with their comedic Gutfeld!, which does manage to outrate some network programs on certain nights. Audiences might also feel that celebrities don’t grasp the ordinary struggles of everyday people. Why should they celebrate the achievements of the “elite” when they’re fundamentally no different than the rest of us? According to Nielsen’s NNTV Program Report, reported by Business Insider, the numbers for The Daily Show have fallen drastically.

Year

Average Viewership Within First 7 Days of Airing

Jan. 1, 2014

2.23 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2015

2.18 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2016

1.32 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2017

1.52 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2018

1.28 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2019

1.08 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2020

1.01 Million Viewers

Jan. 1, 2021

740K Viewers

Jan. 1, 2022

604K Viewers

Jan. 1, 2023

572K Viewers

Stewart After The Daily Show

When Stewart exited The Daily Show in the summer of 2015, he had no major follow-up projects lined up. He’s made brief appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah’s Daily Show but otherwise kept a low profile. In 2019, Stewart testified before Congress in support of a bill that would permanently fund the victims and families of 9/11 first responders. He ran a media tour, appearing on several news programs to further his advocacy for those first responders. The bill would ultimately pass the House and Senate by overwhelming margins. Since the passage, Stewart has pledged to continue working with those affected by the tragedy.

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In 2021, Stewart made his television return as the host of Apple TV+’s The Problem with Jon Stewart. Like The Daily Show, each episode featured Stewart giving his take on current events while sitting down with prominent public figures. However, each hour-long show was devoted to in-depth coverage of one significant issue. Apple canceled the show after two seasons in late 2023, which some allege was related to Stewart’s open criticism of AI technology and the Chinese government.

Can Jon Stewart Save The Daily Show?

Jon Stewart wearing a blue suit and tie holding his finger up at the camera on The Daily Show
Comedy Central

So, will Jon Stewart’s return be enough to rescue The Daily Show? In the short term, the answer is likely yes. He is synonymous with the show’s heyday, and viewers will tune in to see how he handles yet another crazy election cycle. Anything Stewart does is typically newsworthy, and his presence will put The Daily Show back in the headlines again.

What about beyond that? Stewart is only slated to return through the election, so what about next year and beyond? For now, the plan seems to be moving forward with the existing correspondents alternating as hosts. One could argue that the show is afraid to do anything too daring. They’re looking to the past instead of the future, with Jon Stewart as a temporary fix.

They passed over audience favorites like Roy Wood Jr., who ended up leaving The Daily Show, and Hasan Minhaj as full-time hosts. The show needs a permanent face. A team of correspondents gives viewers multiple diverse viewpoints, but there’s no one figurehead holding the series together. It’s reminiscent of the botched debacle Jeopardy! faced when selecting Alex Trebek’s replacement. They only settled on one permanent full-time host – Ken Jennings – in December 2023, three years after Trebek died.

Late-night shows are past their prime, and it’s increasingly difficult for anyone to stand out. If The Daily Show wants to keep running, they can’t play it safe. They need a vision and a plan for a permanent host that will put their unique spin on the day’s events, changing how we see comedy and news. In today’s media landscape, you can’t survive without taking risks. We don’t know what the future holds for The Daily Show, and as it stands, neither do they. Episodes of The Daily Show are available to stream on Paramount+.

Stream on Paramount+

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