Jon Stewart’s Hiatus & The Daily Show’s John Oliver Problem

Zachary Shevich

It was recently announced that The Daily Show host Jon Stewart plans to take an eight-week hiatus (twelve weeks including dates that TDS does not air) from hosting in order to pursue another ambition, film directing. While Stewart develops the book “Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity And Survival” (currently retitled as Rosewater), go-to correspondent John Oliver has been tapped for guest hosting duties. For Stewart, the time off will allow him to explore a world outside of his comfy Comedy Central home. For Oliver, the stint as guest host will allow him a big moment in the spotlight. But for Comedy Central, this summer’s change of gears at The Daily Show only brings to light a glaring issue: that they have a John Oliver problem, and one that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Now let’s be clear, the dilemma Comedy Central faces is one of the best kinds of problems to have. They find themselves with a plethora of engaging, talented comedians at their disposal, and a loyal audience that prefers the Daily Show/Colbert Report comedy-laced brand of news delivery. But not since Stephen Colbert left The Daily Show in 2005 has the network faced a situation quite like the one it faces right now with Oliver.

John Oliver has clearly emerged as a star on The Daily Show

With Oliver’s emergence, Comedy Central has a different type of problem. Before entering The Daily Show, Oliver co-hosted the political satire podcast “Political Animal” for two years, a podcast which at least partly helped bring him to the attention of Jon Stewart and the TDS staff. Since joining The Daily Show in 2006 (shortly after Colbert’s departure), Oliver has become a mainstay in the show, becoming the show’s “Senior British Correspondent,” traveling to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and last year, conducting a series of high-profile interviews with Herman Cain. In John Oliver, Comedy Central has their first real candidate since Stephen Colbert with the right combination of charm, depth of knowledge and quick wit necessary to potentially carry the channel’s news parody torch.

But where is Oliver to fit in? As Jon Stewart seems to have no immediate plans to leave his post at The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report continues to sit comfortably behind it, Comedy Central will likely need to accommodate for John Oliver’s rising career at some point.

Comedy Central has many options, and these situations are extremely difficult to predict; however, here are five possibilities for how Comedy Central’s John Oliver Problem may resolve itself.

The Daily Show Expands to Incorporate More John Oliver

At this point in its history, The Daily Show has won the past 10 Emmys for Outstanding Variety Program, routinely beating out its late night competitors like Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Show with David Letterman and even Colbert. One major difference between Stewart’s show and a majority of the competition is that his show runs for 30 minutes, whereas most late night programs are closer to an hour. That being said, most late night shows have the benefit (or detriment) of a live band, a musical guest, and occasionally multiple interview guests.

In more recent shows, Stewart has taken to “going to the internet” for extended interviews, but broadcasting these on television, and giving John Oliver a more permanent segment on The Daily Show could be a way to give viewers and Emmy voters more Daily Show. That of course assumes The Daily Show’s writing staff could support the extra content. In the video below, from a Paley Center panel, Stewart explains, “One of the main reasons that we do the interview is because we just honestly can’t write another five minutes everyday.” Watch Stewart say that and call Hugh Grant the worst guest The Daily Show‘s ever had, below:

Additionally, expanding The Daily Show’s runtime would come at the expense of The Colbert Report and its current 11:30 start time. It isn’t without precedent, as evidenced by the NBC late night debacle, to ask a late night host to move his show back. Additionally, the extreme loyalty of Colbert’s audience means the move would likely come with little to no consequence in the ratings; however, the idea that Comedy Central would slight Colbert (who has been with the network since 1997) for the sake of John Oliver seems less likely.

Jon Stewart Steps Aside… at some point

As of this writing, Jon Stewart is 50 years old and John Oliver is 35. While Comedy Central is a fairly young network, Stewart shows no signs of becoming out of touch with the demographics that the channel targets, and likely wouldn’t “age out” of the role anytime soon.

But as network mainstays like Jay Leno (62 years old) and David Letterman (65 years old) continue to age, they could potentially leave room for Stewart to make the jump back to the talk show scene. Is it likely? No. As evidenced in a separate Paley Center interview clip, Stewart mentions, “Would I leave to do something I thought was creatively bankrupt? No.”

What seems more likely is that Stewart would grow tired of The Daily Show, or begin to find it creatively unsatisfying. As happy as The Daily Show has made Stewart, with the announcement of his hiatus he’s said (as reported on, “One of the reasons we are in this business is to challenge ourselves.”

So is Stewart no longer challenged by The Daily Show? The fact that Stewart’s departure is a hiatus and not a permanent move indicates Stewart continues to find the show satisfying and wants to remain with it; however, should he take a liking to film directing this summer, what’s to stop him from stepping away from The Daily Show earlier than previously expected?

And should Stewart step away, what better Comedy Central talent to take the reigns than the British Oliver. Correspondents on The Daily Show conduct tons of interviews for field segments, and Oliver’s proven to be adept at that task. His recent series of interviews with Herman Cain proved his ability to even sit down with important figures and remain entertaining.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to see John Oliver purposely stick around a little while longer if promised the hosting gig, in a similar fashion to NBC’s promise to Conan for The Tonight Show (although hopefully with a much less chaotic outcome).

John Oliver (pictured left) with his frequent collaborator Andy Zaltzman (right) for their still running podcast, The Bugle

John Oliver Is Given His Own Spin-Off

While many are eager to lump The Daily Show and The Colbert Report into one news parody category, Stewart’s show is a carefully crafted critique of the news networks, while Colbert’s is a character piece, skewing political culture a little more than the media itself. This difference, however slight it may seem, allows the shows to function side-by-side without forcing viewers to watch the same program twice in a row.

What seems the most likely of our proposed outcomes is that John Oliver ends up with his own show. But what kind of show could that be? It’s doubtful he’ll get stuck hosting a stand-up-themed show like John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show for the long term, Comedy Central tends to cycle through upcoming comedians to MC their stand-up themed shows. And with Stewart already leading the parody of a classic anchor-driven news show, and Colbert occupying the role of the opinionated pundit utilizing cable news as a soap box, how does Oliver find a way to both stand out and fit in?

One seeming possibility would be to give Oliver the midnight slot to host a parody of a panel news show like NBC’s Meet the Press. Oliver’s proven quick wit could allow him to play moderator on a show with multiple guests. Also, given John Oliver’s immigrant status, Oliver could take more of a global news focus like CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria, one that wouldn’t step on the toes of the shows that air before him.

He could even potentially bring along frequent collaborator Andy Zaltzman as a sidekick.

John Oliver Stays Put

Who says John Oliver should be in a rush to leave The Daily Show? As it currently stands, he’s only the third-longest tenured correspondent still actively reporting (Samantha Bee joined the show in 2003, while her husband Jason Jones became a full time correspondent in 2005). Should Bee and/or Jones leave The Daily Show (the husband and wife team are developing a sitcom), it would only cement The Daily Show’s need for an engaging, veteran correspondent like John Oliver. Perhaps that need manifests itself into the type of deal Oliver wouldn’t be able to refuse? Or perhaps, as he alludes to in the clip below, John Oliver is just happy to be at The Daily Show, his “favorite show.”

John Oliver Parts Ways With Comedy Central

Should John Oliver decide his ambitions are greater than what Comedy Central can provide, he wouldn’t be the first Daily Show correspondent to depart as a rising talent. Steve Carell moved from The Daily Show to NBC’s The Office, and then onto hit films. Ed Helms followed the same path, with an almost eerie similarity. Rob Corddry found success with Children’s Hospital, as the show’s creator/star, while appearing in some notable comedies like Hot Tub Time Machine. Even Rob Riggle has appeared in comedy blockbusters like The Hangover and 21 Jump Street.

Oliver hosting his New York Stand-Up Show

These names have proven that there can be a life in entertainment beyond The Daily Show, much like the many graduates of Saturday Night Live have attempted to do after leaving that program. Wyatt Cenac is the latest correspondent to leave The Daily Show, and he will likely be hoping for some of the same successes as the notable former TDS performers. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think Oliver, who already has a recurring role on NBC’s Community, couldn’t breakthrough as well.

Obviously John Oliver leaving the news parody block at Comedy Central is the saddest of the potential resolutions but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. All of these options and many others are likely being discussed in backrooms somewhere, but until John Oliver takes on the guest hosting gig this summer at The Daily Show, we likely won’t be any closer to knowing the answer to Comedy Central’s John Oliver Problem.

What would you like to see happen with the Comedy Central/The Daily Show/John Oliver triangle? Should Jon Stewart step aside? Does Comedy Central need to find a way to showcase John Oliver? How will Stephen Colbert play into the situation? Or should the British comedian leave the channel altogether? Let us know in the Comments section below!


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