Stewart, Comedy Central sign deal

Times Staff Writer

Jon Stewart, the most trusted fake in American news, may be taking his humor campaign to network television, beyond the confines of Comedy Central, the cable channel that airs “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Comedy Central has agreed to finance Stewart’s Busboy Productions and its development of television projects, but part of the deal lets Stewart flirt with outsiders when looking for a home for those projects. The deal does give Comedy Central the right of first refusal on all Busboy creations, however.

Stewart, 42, who last month celebrated his sixth anniversary with “The Daily Show,” may be at the height of his powers, but comedy on network TV is struggling, which makes the Comedy Central star an attractive name.


“Without question, there will be plenty of interest,” said Robert Morton, the former producer of “Late Night With David Letterman.” “Jon has created a tremendous imprint, and everybody in the business will want some piece of that.”

Morton said the show’s stable of writers was phenomenal and the production deal set up a way to use “that farm system,” tapping the talent for shows.

The first-look deal for Comedy Central solidifies the channel’s relationship with Stewart, who is under contract there until 2008. On Tuesday, Doug Herzog, president of the channel, called Stewart “the preeminent voice in comedy today.”

It’s been a good week for Stewart: He won a Grammy on Sunday for best comedy recording for the audio companion to the “Daily Show” book, “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.” The irreverent text from Warner Books was a sensation as a holiday gift; it has sold almost 1.5 million copies and was named book of the year by Publisher’s Weekly. The book was co-written with “Daily Show” executive producer Ben Karlin, Busboy development chief David Javerbaum and the writers from “The Daily Show.”

Stewart declined to comment Tuesday, which is in keeping with his post-election mode of trying to tamp down his huge pop-culture presence. Stewart became a star who outshined his own show in the political season: He famously jousted with Tucker Carlson on CNN, and was profiled on “60 Minutes.”

The “Daily Show” presidential debate special in late September got 2.4 million viewers, a record for the franchise and a potent showing in cable. In one poll, the show was cited as the preferred election news source by one-fifth of surveyed Americans ages 18 to 29.

The funny guy was even name-checked by non-funny guy Bill Moyers: “You simply can’t understand American politics in the new millennium without ‘The Daily Show.’ ”

The show has put five Emmys on the mantel during Stewart’s tenure, and its coverage of the 2000 presidential race won a Peabody Award.