STEWART Jon Stewart's affable demeanor may lull casual viewers into thinking he's just another celebrity shill, but his Leno-like nice-guy approach is just the cover for a fierce interviewing technique that would make Mike Wallace proud. Witness his recent pointed interviews with Sen. John McCain, Lynne Cheney and Chris Matthews as proof that Stewart's got more on his mind than his next one-liner.
COLBERT When it comes to interviews, Stewart is notoriously sycophantic. On the flip side, sure, Stephen Colbert frequently interrupts his interviewees, makes their ideas -- even the ideologically unassailable ones -- sound ridiculous and prefaces his on-camera interactions by cautioning guests in the green room: "Remember, I play a character who's a complete . . . ." But the people Colbert interviews make their points despite his conversational riffing rather than because he asked them softball questions. And he provides unimpeachable integrity in an era when fake news has stolen much of real broadcast news' thunder.
2. Social Relevance
STEWART Stewart may say time and again that "The Daily Show" is just a comedy show on basic cable, but every once in a while his moral outrage at the current state of affairs in the world is barely concealed with a smirk. Keith Olbermann may be garnering recent praise by mixing media analysis with laughs, but Stewart was there first.
COLBERT He coined a neologism, "truthiness," that was named "word of the year." He had his viewers change Wikipedia to say that Africa's elephant population was not endangered but, in fact, had grown. He even has a bridge in Hungary, a plane and a hockey league mascot named after him. But in his guise as a feckless Bill O'Reilly clone, he is not so much preaching to the neoconservative choir as he is being the biggest bully in the bully pulpit. Funny? Yes. Persuasive? Not so much.
3. Laugh Out Loud Factor
STEWART For a show that's on four days a week, Stewart does a fantastic job of keeping things fresh (it helps that his source material, the 24-hour news cycle, is so imminently lame). That said, some nights it seems that he's giving himself the biggest laughs with his Bush or Cheney impressions -- a cheap out. And for most of the show, Stewart's playing straight man to his crew of correspondents.
COLBERT From the first moment of "The Colbert Report," when the deranged-looking eagle flies toward the screen, the show is a nonstop guffaw-fest mostly for its host's ability to remain so unshakably in character. Verbally quicker on the draw than just about anyone in television, Colbert is deliberately annoying and all the more hilarious for it.
4. Extracurricular Activities
STEWART As host of the Oscars in 2006, Stewart garnered mixed reviews and near record low viewership. However, his contentious guest appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" -- in which he lampooned the show's talk-debate premise for its "partisan hackery" -- not only created headlines but also was credited with helping to bring about the decision to cancel "Crossfire" a few months later. As for Stewart's acting career, the less said about "Death to Smoochy" the better. But that hasn't stopped him from being asked to host the Academy Awards again this year.
COLBERT How does Colbert have time to launch a "Wrist Strong" campaign, make a bid for presidential election and speak at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner? There's no question that Colbert has much more going on off-screen than his counterpart.
STEWART As a solo author, Stewart's 1998 book, "Naked Pictures of Famous People," got nice reviews and was a bestseller. But with the rest of the "Daily Show" staff, he wrote the blockbuster hit "America (The Book)," which sold millions of copies in 2004 and was one of the top 15 bestselling books of that year.
COLBERT Colbert's book is like a new and improved version of Stewart's. Heck, just look at the titles: "America (The Book)" (Stewart); "I Am America (And So Can You!)" (Colbert). Which one would you pick up?
6. Famous Guests
STEWART While he hosts the occasional movie star -- Meryl Streep or Jake Gyllenhaal are recent examples -- "The Daily Show" guest list is most notable for the variety of world leaders and authors it gives airtime to. Going beyond former presidents with a book to sell, Stewart has played host to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Bolivian President Evo Morales and several members of the Bush Cabinet.
COLBERT This should not even be a question. Anybody who watches both shows has probably suspected at one point or another that "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" probably rely upon the same talent booker for guests.
7. Signature show segment
STEWART Variety is the lifeblood of "The Daily Show," so Stewart has no set routines or patented shtick. Instead, he plays ringleader to an ever-rotating group of correspondents that have included Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry and currently Rob Riggle, Samantha Bee and the comedy great Buck Henry.
COLBERT "The Word" segment -- in which the host discourses on some political hot topic of the day while sharing the screen with a running commentary that undercuts and contradicts almost everything he is saying -- is the most original bit of TV in recent memory; plus it's as funny and controversial today as it was in the first episode.
VERDICT: With Colbert's current ubiquity on the presidential trail, the talk show circuit and the bestseller list (not to mention how he's still riding high on his show), it's nigh impossible to say for certain whether the young grasshopper has managed to usurp his old master (Stewart) as the most trusted voice in fake news.
Further, it's worth remembering that Stewart enjoyed a similar honeymoon period in 2004, around the time mainstream America's eyes were first opened to the undeniable power of an impostor news anchor on basic cable. And as Colbert's boss -- the executive producer of the "Report" -- Stewart has no incentive to foster any kind of beef with his former "Daily Show" correspondent. Steve Carell, now that's another story . . .
Get breaking stories straight from Hollywood, covering film, television, music and more.