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Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show later this year

Jon Stewart has hosted The Daily Show since 1999.
Jon Stewart has hosted The Daily Show since 1999.
Rick Kerns/Comedy Central
  1. Jon Stewart will leave The Daily Show in 2015, Comedy Central announced on Wednesday.
  2. The network put a statement out on Twitter.
  3. Stewart has hosted The Daily Show since 1999. Comedy Central has yet to name a replacement.

What we know

Essentially, all we know at this point is that Stewart is stepping down from his position as host of The Daily Show, later this year.

Stewart announced his departure during the taping of the show for February 10, 2015. Former senior advisor to Obama, David Axelrod, was the guest.

Comedy Central has not yet named a successor to Stewart's chair. The two natural choices — Stephen Colbert and John Oliver — have left for CBS and HBO, respectively.

Stewart's interests have been heading in divergent directions from the Daily Show for a couple of years now. He took an extended hiatus from the Daily Show in 2013 to direct the film Rosewater. During that time, Oliver served as guest host.

This is a time of massive upheaval in the late-night talk-show game. Jay Leno gave way to Jimmy Fallon on NBC last year, while David Letterman is retiring from CBS in May. (Craig Ferguson also left CBS in December.) With Stewart and Colbert leaving their posts, the longest-tenured late-night host at their current network will be ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, which is a little strange to think about.

The unexpected prominence of Stewart

Hard as it might be to believe 16 years later, Jon Stewart was actually the second host of The Daily Show when he took over in 1999. The program had begun in 1996 with host Craig Kilborn, whose Daily Show was more of a smug, snarky riff on big headlines and local news.

Stewart actually appeared on this early version of the show.

Stewart's genius was to turn The Daily Show into an all-purpose satire of America's growing 24-hour news network culture. The show grew in influence and the ratings, with its coverage of the 2000 presidential election particularly key in that rise.

It won its first major Emmy Award, for writing, in 2001, then won its first award for Variety, Music, or Comedy Series in 2003, an award it would go on to win 10 times in a row. (When it finally lost, it was to pseudo-spinoff The Colbert Report.)

Stewart was not a natural choice for the job of host. TV spent much of the 1990s attempting to turn him into the next big thing, with limited success, to the degree that a major plotline in seminal HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show is about whether the titular character will be replaced as host of his late-night talk show by Stewart.

Stewart also wrote a book, performed stand-up, and hosted an MTV talk show called The Jon Stewart Show. It was later syndicated and bombed.

But Stewart turned The Daily Show into the smartest, funniest take on the news TV had seen since the earliest days of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update sketch. Yes, the idea was basically to just turn Weekend Update into a TV series, but it turned out that with a sharply incisive point-of-view and a willingness to cut media blowhards down to size, that was something lots of people wanted.

Plus, Stewart could be openly, nakedly emotional.

Stewart also had a remarkable eye for talent. The list of people who got their starts on The Daily Show is incredibly long, including Oscar nominees (Steve Carell), fellow late-night hosts (Oliver and Colbert), and unlikely comic scene-stealers (Aasif Mandvi and countless others). His most recent success was serving as producer for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which took the place of The Colbert Report in fine fashion in January 2015.

Stewart has seemed ready to press on from the show for a while now. When asked by The Daily Beast in 2014 whether he would leave The Daily Show at the end of his contract in 2015, he said:

It’s so hard to think about it in the crucible of finishing the movie up and everything else. It would be like making a decision about whether or not to keep exercising at mile 24 of a marathon. So, I’m gonna try and gain some distance and perspective so that when I make the decision, it’s not when my calves are cramping.

Truth be told, The Daily Show lost a bit of a step in the transition from the Bush years to the Obama years, and the show never quite found anyone to replace Stephen Colbert once he decamped for The Colbert Report. The program's children — particularly Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver — have seemed more vital than The Daily Show in recent years.

But it was still always nice to have Stewart there at the end of the day. He wasn't Johnny Carson for Millennials — nobody could be, with television's waning influence — but he was as close as anybody could come, mixing a healthy skepticism of powerful institutions with a heartfelt, earnest belief in the idea that things might someday get better.

He'll have a next chapter of his career, and The Daily Show will have post-Jon Stewart years. But it's hard to imagine either without the other.