Trevor Noah's Exit Has Us Wondering: Do We Need The Daily Show?
After Trevor Noah blindsided producers with his decision to walk away from the nightly comedy news game, the search is (presumably) on for his Daily Show replacement. Roy Wood Jr. makes sense as one of Noah’s top correspondents. Amber Ruffin or Ronny Chieng would work. Word on the street is that Jon Stewart’s old pal Samantha Bee is looking for a gig.
But should Comedy Central even bother? In an era of streaming, Snapchatting, and five-second videos, has time passed by The Daily Show? We can think of a fistful of reasons why it might be time to retire the ol’ warhorse.
This ain’t the Jon Stewart days anymore.
When Stewart took over The Daily Show in 1999 (anyone out there remember the halcyon days of Craig Kilbourn?), the late-night landscape might as well have been from another planet. ABC was still running the sleepy straight news of Nightline. Leno and Letterman were squaring off, though each comic peaked in the 1980s. Streaming? It literally didn’t exist, meaning if you wanted to snuggle into bed with a comedy companion, there was no Netflix or HBO Max to call up alternative late-night laughs.
So it’s no wonder The Daily Show became a phenomenon. Correspondents like soon-to-be comedy superstars Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Ed Helms burned up the screen. And while Leno’s idea of topical comedy was Dancing Itos, Colin Quinn was stumbling through Weekend Update punchlines, and The Onion was a few years away from a ubiquitous web presence, Stewart was dishing out a steamy helping of “eff Finland.”
Today is another story. Twitter delivers hundreds of punchlines before The Daily Show can air an episode. And Stewart’s success spawned spin-offs, imitators, and Greg Gutfeld - cluttering late night with knock-offs that left the original show looking less … original.
It’s too dang expensive.
Despite ratings that can’t touch the Stewart glory days, Trevor Noah still made a nice Daily Show living. He signed an extension with Viacom in 2017 that reportedly paid him $17 million a year. Viacom extended that deal in 2019 with pay raises attached.
But those kinds of salaries--even for the kids at the networks--don’t make sense anymore, says Puck’s Dylan Byers. Network executives are buzzing: The economics of late night are different. Which means two things are about to happen:
* The number of late-night shows will continue to contract, as evidenced by the recent sayonaras from Desus and Mero, Conan O’Brien, and Samantha Bee.
*A salary reckoning is coming for late-night comedy. If Comedy Central decides to continue with The Daily Show (and it says it intends to), the next host is going to have to scrape by with millions in the single digits. And there’s one big reason for that:
No one watches cable anymore.
A few short years ago, Comedy Central was full of original gems like Tosh.0 and Drunk History. They’re nearly all gone, replaced by hours-long blocks of Seinfeld and The Office reruns. This isn’t a Trevor Noah problem-- even The Problem with Jon Stewart has problems with Jon Stewart. Ratings are abysmal across the board.
So it’s time for Comedy Central to take a hard look in the mirror. Sure, we loved The Daily Show. Its scathing satire got us through a few inexplicable wars and some head-scratching elections. But it’s not 2008 anymore. Perhaps it’s time to walk away with dignity while the memories are still good.
You know, like Trevor Noah had the good sense to do.
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Top image: Comedy Central