I grew up with “The Daily Show.” Sixteen years may not be long in the galactic scheme of time, but it is long enough for a whole generation of viewers to grow up thinking that high-quality, daily news-satire is a right, not a privilege. The arrival of Stephen Colbert only confirmed us in this opinion. We lived large, never thinking that this was not how things had always been.
Besides, it is possible, in some ways, that “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” has run its course. It saw its first major antagonist — George W. Bush — in and out the door. It went from novel to familiar. It became a reliable critic of the excesses of cable news, but an institution in its own right, with its own tropes and rituals. The news, but funnier. The news, but with an acknowledgment of how ridiculous it was. Jon’s tone, mingling exasperation with bursts of glee, was ideal.
But if there’s one thing we learned from his summer away, it is that, much as we might have thought otherwise, “The Daily Show” does not need Jon Stewart. Yes, he helped make it what it was, and he was responsible for many of its most memorable rants. Remember Chaos on [Expletive] Mountain? Or, off the show, that time he ENDED Crossfire?
But he is far from the only good thing about “The Daily Show.” There’s Samantha Bee, John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Aasif Mandvi, Jessica Williams — the list goes on. The model of “The Daily Show” that Stewart pioneered has produced breakout stars — as numerous outlets have observed — at a rate that matches “SNL” in recent years, from Steve Carell to John Oliver to Olivia Munn to Stephen Colbert. His departure leaves room for it to become something even more interesting. It’s the “Doctor Who” of news shows, although I hope they won’t just find another identical-looking desk-man but with a hat this time.
The show is bulletproof. It is so bulletproof that John Oliver hosted it for a summer and got his own TV show out of it. The army of correspondents, the segments, even that opening guitar riff — it’s a model that has plenty of miles left on it, and that is my consolation. It’s not like “The Colbert Report,” which had to effervesce away with the departure of its central personality. “The Daily Show” has a personality and tone of its own, set by its writers — one that Stewart has embodied but doesn’t have to.
What always baffles me about these departures is that it seems obvious to someone who has grown up with the show, from Indecision 2000 through the Rally to Restore Sanity, that these are the coolest things that their hosts will ever be involved with. When else are you going to fill the Mall with a mob of people gathering to support the concept of sanity? When else will millions of young people tune in to watch you talk to Bill O’Reilly. BILL O’REILLY! Sure, he can leave.
I just can’t imagine why he’d want to.