But Comedy Central could also do something really unexpected with its former flagship program.
Trevor Noah has announced that he will be leaving Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which he has hosted since 2015.
Co-created by Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead, “The Daily Show” started in 1996 at Paramount Global’s (PARA) – Get Paramount Global Report then fairly obscure channel Comedy Central a vehicle for comedian and sportscaster Craig Kilborn, and featuring a style of comedy that was very pithy and, one might say, bro-y.
But when comedian Jon Stewart, who previously had his own, short-lived late night show on MTV, took over in 1999, the program evolved into a must-watch cultural phenomenon, especially after Stewart became one of the most vocal critics of George W. Bush and the War in Iraq.
Stewart mastered the art of being angry and funny at the same time, educating his often young viewers about complex issues like the Housing crisis in ways that were informative and didn’t come off like “and now it’s time to eat your vegetables.” The show became an Emmy-winning machine, and launched the careers of stars such as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Ed Helms.
Stewart left the position in 2015 to spend more time with his family. Noah was a correspondent at the time, and was reportedly picked after more well-known names such as Chris Rock and pre-infamy Louis C.K.
John Oliver, who was widely seen as the natural heir apparent after he masterfully filled in during a period when Stewart was directing a film, was unavailable because of his own HBO late night show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” Samantha Bee was also a high-profile correspondent who was seen as a natural fit for the job, but was not chosen for reasons unclear; she later hosted her own award-winning (and recently canceled) show “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”
Noah was in an unenviable position, as he had to follow-up perhaps the most well-regarded talk show host of the 21st century. He also had much more competition, not only from Bee and Oliver, but also from Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel, as network late night shows were becoming more openly political in the ‘10s, partly due to Stewart’s influence, and partly as a reaction to the Trump administration.
But Noah rose to the challenge and settled into the role. He wisely decided to veer away from many of Stewart’s signature qualities. While his predecessor specialized in outrage and sarcasm, Noah had a more playful quality about him, preferring to dive around a topic, and approaching things with a bemused annoyance. He also brought in his background as both a black man and an immigrant (he was born in South Africa), to highlight experiences often untouched upon in the media.
Along the way, Noah wrote an acclaimed memoir, “Born a Crime,” and made the program his, even it wasn’t quite the Emmy-magnet that it was in Stewart’s time, and as audiences continued to fragment and younger viewers mostly consumed the show via YouTube (GOOG) – Get Alphabet Inc. Report clips.
Noah hasn’t set a date for his departure, and Paramount hasn’t announced who will take over the program. But here’s a few guesses.
Bee is now available, and though she’s been rumored to take over for James Corden “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” it is a bit strange to picture her making breezy small talk with, like, Reese Witherspoon about her latest rom-com. Bee was one of the most outspoken critics of the overturn of Roe vs Wade, and “The Daily Show” seems like her natural home, as well as a seamless fit.
Former “Daily Show” correspondent had a companion show with “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” bringing a resigned, nearly scholarly approach to mocking racism and malignant stupidity. His podcast “Black on the Air” shows he’s just as sharp as ever, and he could serve as a steady hand as the show transitions into a new era.
Now that Showtime’s beloved late night program “Desus & Mero,” has ended, along with the former podcasters’ friendship it seems, Desus is also available. He’s generally seen as the more charismatic and socially conscious of the pair, and he’s already part of the Paramount family, if the company is looking to take things in a different direction and win over a younger audience.
Desi Lydic or Roy Wood Jr.
“The Daily Show” always has a deep bench of performers, and both the perpetually frustrated Roy Wood Jr.. and the daffy but sly Desi Lydic have the experience and chops to take over. They’re not particularly high profile, but then again, neither was Noah when he took the gig.
“The Daily Show” was once seen as Comedy Central’s flagship program, alongside “South Park.” It’s not really Noah’s fault that the television landscape has changed due to the rise of streaming services, YouTube and increased late night competition, nor is it really his fault his version of “Daily Show” is merely a popular, well-liked program but not a cultural touchstone.
Paramount Global has a content strategy that can charitably be called confusing, and Comedy Central increasingly seems like an afterthought as the company focuses on building up Paramount+. While “The Daily Show” is available on the streaming service, it does seem at least possible that the company will decide the program has run its course, and will end it with Noah’s departure, which would certainly mark the end of an era. But then again, recognizable names are everything in the entertainment industry, and Paramount might not be up for letting one of them go anytime soon.