Inside the Profession

Friday Five: Replacing Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’

Unless you’ve avoided every single television, website, social media platform, radio station or other means of receiving news in the last couple weeks, you may have heard that Jon Stewart is Friday Five Logoleaving his post as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

A generation now knows how their parents and grandparents felt when Walter Cronkite announced his retirement from the CBS Evening News on February 14, 1980.

Stewart’s top-rated show has arguably been the most influential news program of the past decade. That feat is made that much more meaningful by the fact that The Daily Show is not actually a news program at all, but rather a “fake” news show. It is a satire; a mock of the shows that propagated during the boon of the 24-hour news cycle. So why is a show based on fake news making so much real news? Because, through a mix of parody, honest criticism and frank discussion, Stewart was able to elevate himself to a position as one of the most trusted “news” personalities in America.

Following Cronkite’s death in 2009, a Time magazine online poll found Stewart to be the most trusted newscaster in the country. With 44% of the vote, Stewart was more trusted than “real” news veterans including Brian Williams (ironic), Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson. So, maybe it’s no coincidence that Stewart’s announcement and the reaction to it have such close parallels to Cronkite’s retirement.

As the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer recently reported, trust is a valuable and sinking commodity currently at an all-time low:

“The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer shows a global decline in trust over the last year, and the number of countries with trusted institutions has fallen to an all-time low among the informed public.

“Among the general population, the trust deficit is even more pronounced, with nearly two-thirds of countries falling into the distruster category.”

So, what does Stewart leaving The Daily Show have to do with PR? Why is this week’s Friday Five – PRSA’s analysis of the week’s biggest public relations news and commentary – focused on a fake news anchor?

Partly because PR and Journalism are intrinsically linked and we can learn something from Stewart’s ability to build trust among his audiences through his candor and truthfulness. All PRSA members commit to truth and building trust for our clients and profession. It’s even in our Member Statement of Professional Values:

“We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.”

And partly for personal reason. Almost as soon as Stewart finished his announcement, many began wondering who could take the place of the King-Maker. As you can imagine, many of those speculations featured a list of white comics. And why not? Stewart is white and Comedy Central recently launched The Nightly Show anchored by Larry Wilmore, a black man. So maybe it’s accurate to think they would “diversify” by giving the spot to another white guy. However, while scanning the speculations, you begin to see another trend, some outlets looked to differentiate their predictions by focusing on gender and asking which woman might take over for Stewart… but again, you notice a similar trend. AdWeek’s somewhat baffling list of “5 Women Who Could Replace Jon Stewart” didn’t include a single person of color.

Late-night television can seem to some like a sea of frothy white foam; bubbly personalities begging for your approval with a monochromatic skin tone that homogenizes the entire offering (or maybe that’s just how it seems to me).

So, while recognizing that there are a number of great people from all races and genders that would be amazing replacements for Stewart, in honor or Black History Month, the diversity this country is built on and challenging the status quo, I decided to have a little fun with this week’s Friday Five while considering the five black comics that would make great hosts of The Daily Show.

1. Aisha Tyler – Probably the most obvious choice. Tyler, a former host of Talk Soup, has both the talent as a standup and sharp wit necessary to prompt interesting and frank conversations with guests. WIRED’s M. McFarland best sums up the reason she’d make a good host:

“She’s been constantly in conversation for late-night hosting gigs, and she deserves to be in this one too. She’s hosted Talk Soup for years, guest-hosted At The Movies With Ebert & Roeper, and holds down Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and though her current gig on The Talk has been successful—so much so that a special ‘after dark’ edition has aired during the transition to James Corden hosting The Late Late Show on CBS—she’s extraordinarily overqualified to be marooned on a daytime panel show.”


2. Jessica Williams – Although she has said that she’s not taking over as host, Jessica Williams is the other obvious choice. A smart comic, Williams has the distinct benefit of being the only person on my list who currently holds a place on staff at The Daily Show. You’ll find no shortage of sources that’ve included her on their short list. Newsweek bluntly stated “Give ‘The Daily Show’ to Jessica Williams Already” in the title of an article by Zach Schonfeld.


3. Damon Wayans, Jr. – First long shot. Damon Wayans, Jr. is a bona fide star in his own right. He probably isn’t lacking other job offers, but seeing as he’ll be leaving the show New Girl for the second time, he might have some time on his hands. Hailing from a comedic family, I’d like him to get the job just for the possibility that Wayans, Sr. might make a few cameos.

(It was impossible for me to find a PG clip).


4. Key & Peele – Long shot number two. Although Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key currently have their own Comedy Central Show, offering Stewart’s one-man seat to co-anchors might refresh the program and reflect many of the news shows currently on air. The format is most notably mirrored on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update skit, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find two more in-tune comics available to pull this off flawlessly. It doesn’t hurt that their brand of comedy is tailor-made for the social sharing era which Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have benefited from.


5, Kenan Thompson – Never going to happen. Speaking of Saturday Night Live (SNL), according to a recent Time article, Kenan Thompson is a workhorse who has appeared in more sketches (883) than any other performer on the program and also holds the distinction for performing the greatest number of distinct impressions (114). With 12 years on SNL under his belt, it’s likely that Thompson is beginning to consider his career options. A chameleon with Thompson’s work ethic could reinvent The Daily Show in a way that might help to belay the possibility of the sinking viewership that is often inevitable when replacing a wildly popular host.


Bonus: Wayne Brady… Because why not!


Let us know your replacement suggestion (from any race or ethnicity) in the comments.

Laurent Lawrence is the associate director of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America

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Laurent Lawrence, APR

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