When David Letterman announced he was retiring as host of the Late Show last April, it took CBS less than a week to lock up Stephen Colbert as his replacement. It has now been nearly one month since Jon Stewart confirmed he would be leaving The Daily Show — and we don’t even have a frontrunner.
Consistently watched by over 1 million people every night, The Daily Show is the crown jewel of Comedy Central’s mini-empire. In his more than 16 years as host, Stewart morphed himself into a cultural phenomenon so powerful that the outpouring of love he received when he announced he was leaving caused him to ask, “Did I die?”
While Stewart’s shoes are nearly as hard to fill as Letterman’s you would think there would be dozens of comedians vying for the top job, especially those who have spent the last several years toiling as correspondents on “The Best F#@king News Team Ever.” But that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
Long before Stewart officially decided to leave, his heir apparent was widely viewed to be John Oliver. Brought over from Great Britain in 2006, Oliver ended up doing such a good job filling in for the host during the summer of 2013 that HBO offered him his own show. Since it launched last April, Last Week Tonight has out-rated Real Time with Bill Maher and helped drive the national conversation on complex topics like net neutrality and state legislatures.
Then there was Larry Wilmore, a potential Daily Show host candidate strong enough that Stewart gave him the opportunity to replace The Colbert Report with The Nightly Show. In his first couple of months, Wilmore has not managed to keep pace with Colbert’s ratings by any measure, but he has put out a consistently thought-provoking show, putting a comedic spin on shows like Meet The Press in the way Stewart and Colbert skewered figures like Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly, respectively. Short-lived contributor Michael Che could have been another strong contender — before he left to co-anchor Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.
With Oliver, Wilmore and Che off the table, attention turned to the current crop of Daily Show correspondents as potential Stewart replacements. On the same day Stewart made his announcement, Mediaite ran a poll asking you who on that list could possibly fill his shoes. With close to 2,000 votes tallied, there are four neck-and-neck leaders: Jessica Williams, Aasif Mandvi, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. But as we’ve learned over these last few weeks, none of them actually want the gig.
As a relatively new member of the Daily Show team, 25-year-old Jessica Williams has amassed a huge following since joining the show in 2012, mostly thanks to powerful segments like this one on catcalling. But when her fans started lobbying for her to take over the show, she made it know that she wasn’t interested, tweeting, “I’m not hosting. Thank you but I am extremely under-qualified for the job!”
Number two on our poll is Aasif Mandvi, who, as Senior Middle East correspondent, would definitely bring a unique perspective to the show. But he has so many other projects on the table that it seems highly unlikely he would even be available for the gig. Besides writing a memoir, No Land’s Man and launching a web series once titled “The Qu’osby Show” and since renamed “Halal in the Family,” is also writing, producing and starring in an HBO comedy called The Brink premiering this summer.
And, of course, there are the two longest-running Daily Show correspondents, married couple Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. For a while, people were throwing around the idea that they could co-host the show together. Then, when Jones made a deal to write and star in a sitcom for TBS, all eyes were on Bee as the new frontrunner for the job. But just yesterday, she announced she was following her husband to that network, where she will “apply her smart and satirical point of view to current and relevant issues” as host of a new program that sounds an awful lot like The Daily Show.
So who’s left? Of the remaining full-time correspondents on the show — Al Madrigal, Jordan Klepper and Hasan Minhaj — none have been with the show more than four years, nor are they particularly high on anyone’s wish list of replacement candidates. Then there are the current contributors, of which Lewis Black is probably too far over the hill and Trevor Noah, who got on board less than three months ago, is probably too green. John Hodgman and Kristen Schaal are both strong, hilarious personalities, but again have other TV projects that are keeping them plenty busy.
With some of their best options ruling out the gig completely, it appears that The Daily Show will have to go in one of two directions. Either they will promote a relative unknown like Jordan Klepper or Hasan Minhaj to the big chair and hope they find their way into America’s heart over time. Or, the show will need to take a huge swing and land a big name who has the gravitas to inherit Stewart’s mantle. In CBS terms, think of it as the James Corden approach vs. the Stephen Colbert approach.
As media watchers fiercely advocate for a woman or minority to replace Stewart as America’s most-trusted political comedian, two names that have been thrown around are Amy Schumer and Chris Rock. But if people like Jason Jones and Samantha Bee don’t want to replace Stewart, it’s hard to imagine these much bigger stars will be jumping at the chance.
Both incredibly successful stand-up comedians, both Rock (Top Five) and Schumer (Trainwreck) are at the beginnings of their respective filmmaking careers. Would they really give that up to sit behind a desk and make jokes about the news four nights a week, even if it was as the prestigious successor to Jon Stewart? After all, Stewart is leaving the show in part to make more films after his rewarding experience with Rosewater.
Comedy Central is determined to keep The Daily Show franchise alive in a post-Jon Stewart world “for years to come,” as network president Michele Ganeless made clear in her statement on the host’s departure. But with seemingly no major figures clamoring to take his place, the future of the iconic show is more uncertain than ever.
[Photo via Comedy Central]
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