Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, announced his plans to leave the show later this year at the taping of Tuesday’s show. The ripple effect was immediate, particularly on social media, as mourners took to Twitter (TWTR) and Facebook (FB) to bemoan the loss of one of America’s great satirists. The social media stages of grief then rapidly progressed to stage two: listicles speculating as to who might replace Stewart.
And, as per usual, most of these lists were really, really stupid.
Names like Tina Fey and Chris Rock keep popping up, which makes sense, because I’m sure both of these A-list super stars would be thrilled at the prospect of hosting a show on basic cable four nights a week (*end sarcasm*). This is all speculation so ridiculous it’s almost as funny as…well, Chris Rock or Tina Fey. Comedy Central would need a mack truck full of money to get someone of Rock or Fey’s stature to even start considering the gig, let alone take it.
Then you have suggestions from the other end of the spectrum; your hip, alt-comedy types that internet writers like to float mostly just to prove they’re in the know. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Tig Notaro, but that doesn’t change the fact that most of the country doesn’t have any idea who she is…nor does her style of absurd humor in any way lend itself to political satire.
So, how do we here at equities.com remedy a listicle overdose? With a listicle of our own, of course! But we’re going a different route, by producing a list that actually acknowledges what selecting who will fill Jon Stewart’s seat really is: a business decision by a cable network with limited resources. That’s right, the primary factor determining who will replace Jon Stewart is going to be Comedy Central's, and at the end of the day, Viacom‘s (VIA) ROI…and nothing else.
That means three factors most listicles won’t mention are of particular importance:
Salary – Jon Stewart is pulling down about $30 million a year to host The Daily Show, the highest salary on late-night television. It’s a safe bet Comedy Central will be looking to spend a lot less on the new host.
Name recognition – Any and all discussion of entertainment salaries, though, occurs in the context of audience size and affluence of the demographic. In short, Comedy Central may be willing to pay more as long as it translates to higher ad revenues.
Creative fit – Even the hottest name at the lowest price is going to be throwing money away if that person produces a weak product. The Daily Show is a tent pole for Comedy Central, and they can’t afford a weak host destroying their hard-earned piece of the late-night pie.
So, without further ado…
Sometimes, the obvious answer is obvious for a reason.
Bee would be a liability in terms of name recognition, but that also means Bee would command a much, much lower salary than most of the alternatives. Stephen Colbert was getting $6 million a year for The Colbert Report before jumping to CBS (CBS) , and one would have to imagine Bee’s going to start well below that. Saving more-than $25 million a year from Stewart’s current price tag means that, even if her low profile makes her a gamble, it’s a cheap one.
She’s also the best fit for the position creatively. Bee has been with the show since 2003 and has long been one of its brightest talents, excelling in the format while demonstrating a clear voice of her own. Bee should help retain the show’s core audience, something that’s likely appealing to Comedy Central execs who paid Stewart a lot of money for building that audience over the years.
She also has one other trump card: Bee would become the first female late-night television host (depending on whether you count Chelsea Lately as “late-night”). Hiring a woman would not only be long overdue, it would let Comedy Central boast an hour with both the first African-American and the first female on late night. That translates to oodles of free publicity, much of it from media outlets that cater to The Daily Show’s core demographic.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: Medium. If Stewart gets a big say in his successor, you would have to like her chances. But, of course, nothing calms the nerves of television executives like a high-profile name. I think she's the best option, but Comedy Central may want more star wattage at the end of the day.
Schumer would definitely cost more than Bee, but she’s still likely going to be a relative bargain when stacked up against other late-night hosts. She’s long been viewed as a rising star, her Comedy Central sketch show has been well-received, and this sort of move could be just the thing to finally catapult her into “household name” status, meaning she’s probably a deal at the price she’ll command.
Creatively speaking, Schumer’s a bit more of a wild-card. Her stand-up is more personal and tends to lack pointed political commentary, but her sketch show has delved into heavier subject matter and features interview segments. How she would fair transitioning into doing desk pieces is less clear, but the transition from stand-up comic to late-night host is well-worn territory.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: Low. Schumer’s not an obvious fit and her star may be rising a little too fast. Trainwreck, a Judd Apatow-helmed film she wrote and stars in alongside Bill Hader, is coming out this summer. If it’s a big hit, she’s likely going to price herself out of the discussion.
John Oliver is another obvious choice in that he already hosted the show when Stewart was off directing Rosewater. A gig he leveraged into his popular HBO show, Last Week Tonight.
But therein lies the rub: would Oliver give up his current job to take over The Daily Show?
Last Week Tonight has demonstrated that Oliver clearly has a lot more creative freedom on HBO. The show’s format has allowed him to do longer, more in-depth segments, as well as giving him carte blanche to broach topics that likely wouldn’t fly on non-premium cable. Odds are, Comedy Central would have to pay up to coax him away.
That said, part of what the network would be paying for is a sure thing. They already know Oliver can do the job, he’s more popular than ever today, and taking zero chances with one of their most-important properties is worth spending extra.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: High. You would have to figure Comedy Central would love to have Oliver, it just comes down to his interest. If his emotional good-bye is any indication, he might have a sentimental attachment to the institution that would draw him back.
Mulaney was a writer for Saturday Night Live and successful stand-up comedian prior to helming a notorious dud of a network sitcom. That career arc makes him an intriguing choice. He’s a familiar name, having been on network television, but he can hardly use that for too much leverage in in terms of salary as his show was a huge flop. In short, Comedy Central might be in a very advantageous position to nab Mulaney for a bargain price.
Creatively speaking, Mulaney, like Schumer, doesn’t have experience doing desk pieces and didn’t show his hand much in terms of political humor during his stand-up career. Hiring someone who would bring a major shift in creative direction is likely only worthwhile if that person’s also a big enough name, and I don’t know that Mulaney fits that bill…though he would certainly bring the boyish charm that Stewart had at the start of his run.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: Medium to low. Mulaney is sort of a tweener pick. It seems likely the network will get someone either cheaper or better known.
Burress has long been a rising stand-up comedian that most believed was destined for big things. He rarely focused on political humor, but he was thrust into the public consciousness after video of a routine he did about rape allegations regarding legendary comic and television star Bill Cosby went viral, exploding those long-public accusations into the national consciousness.
That Burress’ bit, specifically, made this happen is probably just an example of how random the flow of information can be in the internet era. Either way, the whole episode catapulted Burress into a new level of celebrity where his name is well known even if his work remains relatively obscure to a national audience.
Regardless of why people have heard of him, Burress is a unique and wonderful comedic voice, and a talent that likely wouldn’t break the bank for Comedy Central, even if it might mean thrusting him into a format he’s not ideally suited for.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: Medium. Assuming he wants the job, Burress’s name has cache among comedy insiders and he’s got enough charisma to make the show his own.
Sarah Silverman clearly brings the most-polished comedy chops to the conversation of anyone on this list. Silverman’s schtick might be a bit controversial in some circles, but it’s likely that the vast majority of her detractors are coming from outside The Daily Show’s target demographic.
Creatively, Silverman brings the sort of reputation to the show that would mean she could make it her own. Her comedy has always been more focused on the absurd and surreal, but she’s also shown herself to be a shrewd political commentator at times as well. If Comedy Central decides they can’t replace Stewart and instead focus on remaking the show with a fresh new voice, Silverman is likely an ideal candidate. That said, her combination of celebrity and experience likely make her a pricier option than others.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: Low. If she wants the job, it’s likely hers, but it seems unlikely she would be willing to take on the prodigious workload that would ultimately limit her ability to do much else.
Sorry, couldn’t help myself. This is ridiculous. And then, it also isn’t THAT ridiculous.
Williams’ past appearances on The Daily Show and other late night programming have shown a man with an excellent sense of comic timing and a willingness to make light of himself. He’s clearly quite capable in interviews, and the adjustment from delivering real news to satire, well, may be a lot smaller than some would care to admit. There’s a huge risk in not hiring a veteran comedy performer, to be sure, but Williams has plenty of television experience from his time on NBC (CMCSA) .
Williams, though, would be really expensive. Williams’ salary was up to $13 million in 2014, and he’s likely going to get plenty of chances to make that kind of money elsewhere. It would ultimately come down to what Williams wants. If he were really ready to try something as radical as a former network news anchor turning to comedy, he would likely be worth the money. It would be a massive coup for Comedy Central, and the ratings would likely reflect that.
Actual Likelihood of Landing the Gig: So, so low. The idea is intriguing, but there's just no chance.
What do you think? Will Comedy Central go the safe but pricey route with a big name and big price tag, or will they save some money up front with a gamble on a lesser-known up-and-comer?