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Stewart: A name on networks' short lists

September 05, 2003|Brian Lowry

NEW YORK — Jon Stewart isn't especially tall, which is appropriate, since he seems to find himself on everyone's short list.

As host of Comedy Central's critically lauded "The Daily Show," with its dead-on satire of TV news, Stewart has managed to become a key late-night figure whose name is periodically bandied about as an eventual successor to those on the major network programs.

Perhaps only Conan O'Brien gets mentioned more as a potential replacement for Jay Leno, David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel, or as centerpiece of a new syndicated show.

Still, from the show's 54th Street offices in a seedy part of Manhattan, Stewart feels far removed from Hollywood's hustle and bustle. And having once hosted a syndicated talk show that was quickly canceled, he's in no hurry to contemplate a return to those wars.

"There's really not a whole lot of time to speculate in these gigs, or plot the future," Stewart said. "When you're looking ahead, you're looking ahead to 'Oh, the election's coming up.' ... You walk around here, it doesn't feel like show business."

Stewart succeeded Craig Kilborn in 1999, who had replaced Tom Snyder on CBS' "Late Late Show." The move was surprising only because Stewart had looked ripe for a network showcase, only to pass on NBC's "Later" and then sign a deal with CBS that didn't yield a series.

Since then, "The Daily Show" has earned a prestigious Peabody Award for its coverage of the 2000 presidential election, emerging as both a media favorite and cultural touchstone. After the election, said Jeff Ross, executive producer of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "The new darling became the political shows."

Even so, Stewart has found a home at Comedy Central, at least for now. "This field doesn't lend itself to grander ambitions than producing a good show every day," he said. "That's a pretty consuming task, and the chips fall where they may."

-- Brian Lowry

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