Since the announcement of anchor Brian Williams’ suspension from “NBC Nightly News” and Jon Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show” came simultaneously Tuesday night, media observers are floating a novel idea: Why not have the comedian take over Williams’ role at NBC?
Stewart revealed his plans to leave Comedy Central’s satirical newscast just before NBC announced Williams would be suspended for six months due to false claims he made about time he spent in Iraq.
And since many experts believe Williams will never return to his gig, people are speculating Stewart could be in line to replace him.
“Please raise your hand if you want Jon Stewart to replace Brian Williams at NBC?” The New York Times’ labour reporter Steven Greenberg wrote on Twitter.
“As crazy as the ‘NBC Nightly News’ with Jon Stewart may sound, the timing of Stewart’s announcement and the length of Brian Williams’ suspension is oddly perfect for exactly that to happen,” mused Daily News columnist David Hinkley.
The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy also noted the switch could “make sense.”
Here are some reasons NBC might consider Stewart:
1. The Contract Timing Seems Perfect
NBC probably won’t be replacing Williams immediately: If they had plans to do so, why would the company’s Tuesday statement suggest the anchor could return to his post in six months? Instead, the network likely bought itself some time to figure out how to chart the best course forward.
And Stewart’s contract with Comedy Central expires later this year, right around the time NBC will need to reveal its permanent solution.
“We’re still working out the details,” Stewart said Tuesday of when he’ll leave his show. “I’m up in September. It might be around then. It might be December. It might be July.”
2. Stewart Is Interested in More Serious Topics
Stewart isn’t all laughs. He just finished a documentary, “Rosewater,” that chronicled human rights activist Maziar Bahari’s incarceration in Iran.
And despite the comedic nature of his show, Stewart has developed a reputation as a reliable news source. In fact, a 2008 New York Times article asked, “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?” This is important for NBC in the aftermath of Williams’ scandal, in which he is accused of repeatedly fabricating stories.
“Stewart has become as much a serious media man as anything else,” the Washington Post declared Wednesday. “And most Americans agree. In 2008, Pew Research took a poll, asking which journalist they most admired. Stewart finished fourth. … Another journalist finished right ahead of Stewart in the poll. It was Williams.”
3. NBC Was Already Interested in Having Stewart Cover Serious Topics
According to New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, NBC attempted to recruit Stewart to host its flagship Sunday news program, “Meet the Press” last year. Sherman said the story was based on three senior television sources with inside knowledge of the proposal and that the network was willing to give Stewart almost “anything.” Stewart later confirmed the report, but downplayed NBC’s interest.
“NBC went to Jon Stewart for ‘Meet The Press’ right? Imagine if they try to get him again to replace Williams,” Business Insider’s own Hunter Walker speculated on Twitter last Friday. “Massive ratings booster.”
However, there are a lot of reasons NBC may not be remotely interested in considering Stewart as well:
1. A Comedian Might Be a Bad Fit
An executive at another network told Business Insider that Stewart’s funnyman reputation is not ideal for NBC as it looks to regain the American public’s trust.
“I don’t think it’s even in the realm of possibility because I think he’s going to go off and do movies and other things,” the executive said. “If you are suspending a guy for inaccuracies and telling a story that he was involved in in the ‘Nightly News,’ you don’t then get somebody who has no news background.”
Stewart himself suggested it would have been “weird” for him to host “Meet the Press” because of his entertainment background.
“I’m sure part of them was thinking, ‘Why don’t we just make it a variety show?'” Stewart told Rolling Stone last year. “News and entertainment have melded in a way. But they would be overcompensating on the entertainment side.
2. Stewart Might Be Too Partisan
The “Daily Show” host has made no secret of his liberal leanings over the years and he might not fit the traditionally nonpartisan news anchor role. And with a desire to build on the roughly 10 million viewers “NBC Night News” already gets, Stewart would likely need to appeal to a broader, more centrist audience than his show has.
Indeed, conservative critics slammed NBC for considering Stewart for “Meet the Press” when details of the offer leaked last October.
“Considering the state of MSNBC, it’s probably not surprise that NBC has a flexible definition of journalism,” a NewsBusters blogger wrote at the time.
3. NBC Might Have Someone Else in Mind
It’s possible the network already knows whom they want to replace Williams — possibly Lester Holt, who is filling in for Williams during his suspension, or one of “The Today Show” hosts, Matt Lauer or Savannah Guthrie.
Politico’s Dylan Byers speculated that Williams’ job might Holt’s to lose because NBC executives will be able to see if he can sustain the news program’s ratings.
“Brian Williams probably isn’t coming back,” Byers wrote. “Consider the next six months an audition for Lester Holt.”
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