Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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What’s next for Jon Stewart?

February 16, 2015

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In a week that left the media world shaken, young viewers are mourning the soon-to-be departure of one of their favorite news sources: Jon Stewart.

Of course, the former comedian Stewart never really practiced “serious” journalism, and he never claimed to be a journalist, but in a world where political affiliations dominate major networks, Stewart got to the “truth” in a way that younger and middle-aged viewers respond to.

Stewart made it clear on his show last week that he isn’t leaving anytime soon, but the logical time for him to leave might be when his contract is up in September. With the other fan-favorite, Stephen Colbert, leaving Comedy Central to take over the Late Show on CBS, the network faces a coming void in comedic news commentary.

Young people will definitely follow the network’s next step, but they’ll also keep a keen eye on what Stewart does as well.

With the following he has, it’s hard to imagine Stewart will be out of the public eye for long. So what are the possibilities for Stewart’s career, especially after he’s been so dedicated to both comedy and current issues?

Here are a few ideas:

Directing

There’s a long list of legendary stand up comedians who’ve turned to directing. Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Louis C.K. and Larry David, just to name a few, have all stepped off the stage and moved on to directing movies and television. And since Stewart has already dabbled in the art with his film Rosewater, it would make sense for him to go on and develop his comedic commentary on that front. Of course, it gives him more control over his projects and how much time he spends away from his family, which is something he cited as a reason for stepping down. Rosewater was received fairly well by critics and even grossed $3 million at the box office. Political comedies have always been popular (Dr. Strangelove, Wag the Dog, Thank You for Smoking) and many comedians even turn away from comedy. Given Stewart’s desire to explore current issues, especially in Rosewater, directing seems like a good fit.

Politics

From Ronald Reagan to Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jesse Ventura and Fred Thompson, there is a rich tradition of entertainers entering the political square after they’ve left the limelight. It’s easy to imagine Stewart rallying a political base pretty quickly. In fact, he already kind of did with the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear he organized with Colbert in 2010. With a huge turnout in Washington D.C., the rally put Stewart’s moderate leaning perspective on display while condemning the current divisive climate in politics. It might just be the high hopes of some younger viewers who have been fans for years now, but history will certainly be on Stewart’s side if he decides to run.

Staying in Television

Stewart obviously does well with young to middle-aged viewers, and that’s a huge target market, especially as networks try to stay relevant with young people. As a source of news, Stewart’s viewership is well below traditional networks like CNN and Fox News, but The Daily Show matches other outlets like USA Today and The Huffington Post, according to the Pew Research Center. The median age of Stewart’s viewers, 36, is more than 10 years younger than that of Anderson Cooper and almost 20 years younger than that of Bill O’Reilly. If a network could swing a deal, that could mean a large number of new viewers.

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