At the end of Tuesday night’s “The Daily Show," with his live audience watching agape and tape-delayed TV viewers expecting it but equally agape, Jon Stewart said he'd be calling it quits later this year. Hanging up the suit, the tie, the funny expressions, the pitch-perfect commentary. All finito. He would finally give Fox News personalities and their therapists a break.
Stewart completed his emotional announcement by saying he didn’t know what would come next. “I don’t have any specific plans,” he said, “I [just] got a lot of ideas, got a lot of things in my head."
Twitter users have jumped in with some suggestions. Some are humorous, like "give him Brian Williams’ chair." Others were serious, like "give him Brian Williams’ chair.”
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It’s unlikely Stewart, having long occupied one of the best perches in television — a devoted audience, creative freedom, the role of both network kingmaker and cultural tastemaker — would jump to another anchor chair, even (especially) a bigger one.
He might, however, look to take a different chair — that of a director.
Stewart of course helmed “Rosewater,” an Iranian prison drama he left the show to work on in the summer of 2013. The movie was not a commercial success even by the standards of not-commercial-successes: It grossed barely $3 million upon release last fall, far below even a prestige threshold. But it was a well-crafted drama in a genre that can seem overfamiliar, the performances he extracted from Gael Garcia Bernal and a number of lesser-knowns were stellar, and whatever small hiccups the piece had could easily be attributed to a first-film learning curve.
Stewart also appeared to like making the movie, and didn’t find the requirements that different from his day job. "It's just narrative. It's similar to how we construct the show,” he told USA Today. “To me it's not a different process or substance."
It’s hardly common for a late-night host to transition to a full-time film career. But Stewart has rarely done the common thing.
Of course, the experience of making “Rosewater” may not be reflective of the larger movie universe. An independent production, a distributor that doesn’t tend to intervene and a thick cocoon of Scott Rudin's making helped insulate Stewart from some of the industry's harsher realities. And it's harder than ever to win a green light for the kind of serious political subjects Stewart tends to like.
Still, directors and hosts don't function all that differently -- they're each in charge of their small worlds, each unclear on where the day might take them but hoping it all comes out OK in the end. And let’s face it, Stewart's keen eye for the absurd would come in handy in the world of Hollywood film development.
With his on-point run through of pundits who want Obama to act more like Vladimir Putin, Stewart on Tuesday night once again demonstrated his unique skill of giving political and media blowhards enough rope with which to hang themselves. When he leaves the show, that rope will go slack. But don't be surprised if he's soon tightening the noose on a film set.