"It is Comedy Central," he says. "It's not like they go out and get a whole new wardrobe for God's sakes."
Since it debuted in the summer of 1996, "The Daily Show," which airs weeknights at 11 p.m., has become a welcome antidote to the rise in self-important TV newsmagazines, blustering pundits and celebrity-worship programming. Regular "Daily Show" segments include parodies of the day's headlines, parodies of newsmagazine exposes, parodies of soft-focus
FULL COVERAGE: Jon Stewart's legacy and the future of 'The Daily Show'
Kilborn--with his frat-boy good looks and self-parodying smirk--was an appropriately arrogant comedy pitchman for the show, in which digs at newsmakers can at times feel punitive.
Stewart doesn't have the same mean bones in his body. He's a stand-up comedian from New Jersey whose act has always been marked by literate, self-deprecating swipes at his own Jewishness, for one. He dresses in black, and his comic hero is
"It won't be the same show. Some people will like it less," he says of taking over Kilborn's post. But a change in host won't entail a change in content, Stewart says. True, correspondents A. Whitney Brown and Brian Unger are leaving, but Beth Littleford and Stephen Colbert are staying and, more important, so are the writers--the ones who truly drive the show's point of view.
"That show existed before [Kilborn] did. He came on to host it, now I'm coming on to host it. If I wasn't doing it, someone else would be doing it. I'm a cog in a machine, and hopefully, because of the writing, I'll be able to help evolve the creative part of it."
It's fitting that Stewart should be taking over an existing entity, because he's practically made a career out of almost hosting other people's talk shows. After two efforts of his own, first for MTV and then a syndicated show from Paramount, Stewart was in the running for the "Late Night" spot on NBC that went to
A $1.5-Million Day Job Plus Films on the Side
Stewart insists hosting "The Daily Show," for which he will be paid $1.5 million a year, is no booby prize. True, it's cable. True, the audience is relatively minuscule (the show's average audience since September is 171,000, according to Nielsen Media Research, though Comedy Central officials, using their own math, insist it's more like 300,000). And he wasn't happy to learn that network chief Doug Herzog, with whom Stewart worked at MTV, was stepping down to take over as president of
"Having Doug leave was a blow," he says. "That's a guy I've known for years. He was one of the reasons that I felt comfortable going [to Comedy Central]."
But Stewart says "The Daily Show" will leave him freer to pursue other facets of his career. This year he published a book, "Naked Pictures of Famous People," that's more than just punch lines with chapter titles. They're closer to humorous essays (Larry King interviewing Hitler; a recipe for doing an awards show).
There's also Stewart's burgeoning film career, which includes a co-starring role with Gillian Anderson and Gena Rowlands in "Playing by Heart," scheduled to be released Jan. 22. Stewart also just finished shooting "Big Daddy,"
They'll 'Either Hate It or Become Addicted'
Meanwhile, "Daily Show" executive producer Smithberg doesn't think fans of the show will suddenly lose interest once Stewart takes over.
"Our show has this thing where if people see it three times in a row, they either hate it or they become addicted," she says.
Smithberg was part of the original creative team that created "The Daily Show" to fill the political-humor void Comedy Central faced when
Today, with the saturation coverage of the Clinton impeachment hearings in full flower while sober newscasters like Ted Koppel find themselves intoning the words "oral sex," "The Daily Show" is more therapeutic than ever.
"During that whole scandal, I would love to have talked to another White House intern," Stewart says of how he would have handled the Clinton-Lewinsky event. "Or, when the dress came out, perhaps a dry cleaner. Somebody to give us some insight into what could she have done other than save it in a plastic bag to make that dress usable again."