HBO has made it official: John Oliver isn't going replace Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. The network has signed a deal with the comedian and late-night host through 2017, effectively ending speculation that he might take over for Stewart.
This makes sense. Of all the human beings on the planet Earth right now, the person who is second-most qualified to host The Daily Show after Jon Stewart is John Oliver. After all, he did so terrifically for the entire summer of 2013.
But, as we now know, he was so good that he ended up getting a show with HBO called Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. And, as we've now seen, he's not going to leave that show to do The Daily Show.
Nobody leaves HBO
The original deal Oliver signed with HBO — as outlined in this revealing profile by the Hollywood Reporter — is for two years, complete creative freedom, and no ratings pressure. It now runs for an additional two years, through 2017. This is the golden goose of TV deals, the thing that everybody who works in the industry wants, and it's with a network that carries with it tons of cachet for its many years of quality programming.
Make no mistake: one of the big reasons Last Week Tonight with John Oliver jumped on the scene so quickly was because it was so good. But the other was that it was on HBO, a network that knows how to promote and support its content, and a network that TV reporters and critics will always pay attention to, thanks to its long history of success.
Oliver's deal was signed in 2013, so it was originally up this year. If HBO had been unhappy with Oliver, or if Oliver had been unhappy with HBO, Comedy Central would have a shot at getting him back on The Daily Show.
But that wasn't the case, and HBO had good reason to move quickly to lock Oliver down. His show appeared on many "best TV of 2014" lists (including ours), and the program has made HBO competitive in a market where it's really only had Real Time with Bill Maher for years. Last Week Tonight should also be hugely competitive at the Emmys, and that's something HBO cares about as well.
Finally, there's the simple fact that what Last Week Tonight does is so different from what everybody else in the late-night game is doing. Oliver's show may be filled with quips, but there's often actual reporting backing up his famous segments on topics like net neutrality or Big Pharma. And that's because of the luxury of creative control and only having to do the show one time a week. Once a show is on the daily grind, it has to, by the very nature of the beast, turn into jokes about the day's headlines.
So would Oliver taking over The Daily Show have been great? For sure. But it's not going to happen — and thanks to that, we'll ideally have two great late-night shows, instead of just the one.