We’ve said goodbye to Jon Stewart before, but this time it hurts a little bit more

By on August 5, 2015

For some of us, the final episode this week of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” this week — tomorrow night, August 6th — is going to leave an absolutely ginormous hole in our lives that won’t easily be filled back up with something else, as we mentioned here on Night Flight months ago, when Stewart announced he was leaving.

His imminent departure, however, has recently reminded us that this isn’t the first time that we’ve said goodbye to Stewart when a show he was hosting came to an end. Have a look at this last episode of “The Jon Stewart Show,” which aired its finale a little over twenty years ago, on June 23, 1995.

“The Jon Stewart Show” debuted in 1993 on MTV as a thirty-minute daily late night program. Stewart, just 30 years old at the time, was still a mostly-unknown face on TV at the time, even though he’d been making regular appearances for several years. He was mostly known in the NY-centric stand-up comedy world, where he’d already made his reputation on the circuit in the 80s. Stewart had moved to New York in the mid-80s after graduating from William & Mary to try to make it as a comedian, and ended up being a regular performer at the Comedy Cellar, where he often hit the stage in the very last time slot, at 2 a.m., every night for two years. He began to develop a recognizable comedic style, and that’s when MTV executives took notice, and realized that his comedic writing skills and his easygoing likeable personality were both a translatable fit for the talk show format they envisioned for what they had planned.

JON STEWART 4

In 1989, Stewart landed his first television job as a writer for “Caroline’s Comedy Hour,” and then a few years later he was co-hosting Comedy Central’s “Short Attention Span Theater,” before MTV gave him his first show, You Wrote It, You Watch It,”  with its gimmicky sketch comedy format where viewers only did the first part of the title, submitting comedy skit ideas that acted out by the comedy troupe, The State, but they failed to do the second part of the title, which was, uh, to watch it.

The MTV execs didn’t give up on Jon Stewart, though, and they were soon building a better new show around his gifts for gab. He wasn’t breaking any new ground — the show featured pretty much what all talk shows did, even if it was a more frenetically-paced mash-up of opening monologue, musical guests, interviews and celebrity chats, silly interludes and comedy sketches — but it all seemed perfect for Stewart’s quick wit and biting sarcasm, and his funny pop culture-fueled blend of satire and absurdity. “The Jon Stewart Show” garnered high ratings on MTV, making it one of their most-watched programs, second only to “Beavis and Butt-Head” in the channel’s ratings.

In addition to Stewart, some of the people responsible for the show’s success should be singled out as well: Director Beth McCarthy-Miller has gone on to receive eight Emmy nominations for her work on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”; writers Chris Albers and Janine Di Tullio were quickly hired by Conan O’Brien, and Brian Hartt went to work with Jay Leno; Dennis McNicholas, Andrew Stelle, and Steve Higgins (also Jimmy Fallon’s announcer) went to “Saturday Night Live”; Tom Hertz, Alan Higgins, Josh Lieb, and Cliff Schoenberg moved into sitcoms and film; Brian Posehn, one of the “Comedians of Comedy,” and Dave Attell, host of “Insomniac” for Comedy Central, stepped in front of the camera.

JON STEWART 2

Feeling enthusiastic, MTV’s parent company Paramount then revamped the show with plans to have it replace “The Arsenio Hall Show,” a national talk show that had been cancelled in May of 1994. Stewart’s show was extended to sixty-minutes and retooled and rejiggered, and everything about it was made bigger, but it turned out it was not an immediate success in syndication, which is what they’d ultimately hoped for, wanting to grow the show (and Stewart’s host persona) in size.

Alas, despite top notch guest appearances, and great musical guests too, the ratings just didn’t improve, and Stewart learned that success on MTV does not necessarily translate to nationwide success. MTV axed the show in the early summer of 1995, and apparently Stewart was told just before taping an appearance on David Letterman’s “The Late Show,” on June 7, announcing on that show that his own show had been cancelled.

Stewart and Letterman go way back, by the way, and Stewart says he always felt that his career essentially took off after his March 1993 appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” and it even looked like Jon Stewart might get tapped to replace David Letterman, who was heading over to CBS, but Conan O’Brien got the job instead.

JON STEWART 7

Two weeks later, Letterman appeared as a guest on the final episode of “The Jon Stewart Show,” the one we’re sharing here, which aired June 23, 1995. Guests that night were served margaritas and given taxi rides home.

Letterman, by the way, was among the first to recognize that Stewart was going on to bigger success, and he quickly signed Stewart to his production company, Worldwide Pants, and this led to him stepping in to frequently guest host on Tom Snyder’s show, which followed Letterman’s. The cancellation of “The Jon Stewart Show” led to almost immediate rumors that other networks were lining up to give Stewart another show, and Stewart himself even made fun of the situation, appearing as himself as a possible replacement to the series’ fictional host on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” (the fictional Sanders being played by Garry Shandling).

The truth was that they were lining up, but the first show he did, a short-lived half-hour talk show called “Where’s Elvis This Week?” almost seems like a joke now, or the answer to a weird trivia question about Stewart’s career (it’s a real show, and aired on Sunday nights in the UK on BBC2, but only five episodes aired in total, so it’s largely forgotten now).

The next show, however, is the one we’re all sad is coming to an end. It all began back in January 1999, after Craig Kilborn announced he was stepping down from his job as the host of “The Daily Show” in order to replace Tom Snyder on “The Late Late Show,” and doing a nightly talk show on the Comedy Central channel — which was partially-owned by MTV at the time — could have even been a risky move for Stewart, at first. After all, he’d already had the one failed TV show and there was a lot of speculation in the media that he wasn’t the right host to replace Kilborn, but a curious thing happened: his show happened to debut right along the same time as the Fox News channel, which had launched, along with the MSNBC network’s programming, three years earlier. Stewart began to seize upon what he was hearing on Fox News on a regular basis and used it for the foundation of his show’s plan of attack.

JON STEWART 6

The New York Times have a new article out this week where they look back at some of the key moments on “The Daily Show,” including the first ever broadcast on January 11, 1995, and it’s well worth your time.

Stewart’s “Daily Show” also preceded the 9/11 attacks (which tapes in New York City), followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and suddenly there was a conscious voice adding colorful commentary to counter what we were being told by political administrations, corporately-run national news channels and others, and the show’s audience grew exponentially and Stewart had finally found his niche, mixing day-to-day politically-charged and outrage-fueled comedy bits with crazy ass interview segments and other humorous ephemera.

Not only did Stewart find his audience, but the audience fell in love with some of his “correspondents” too, including Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell who went on to huge success, as you probably know. The formula for the show went from feeling almost experimental at first — because there was nothing like it on TV at the time — to becoming, particularly in the past ten years or so, a tautly-written almost nightly comic dissection of current events, politics and the media. He became a national figure, and representation to entire generation of viewers, some of whom didn’t watch any traditional news shows for their news. They watched Jon Stewart, their Gen-Y Walter Conkrite.

JON STEWART 1

If you’re reading this you probably don’t really need us to point out what Jon Stewart’s show has meant for all these years to a whole swatch of the population. Sure, his political perspective tends to lean left-wardly, but moreover, we think Stewart has tried to be honest in what he’s been saying, more than it has tried to be partisan, at least that’s how it seems to us.

Even more than using the lies on Fox News as a springboard for comedic routines and visceral rants Stewart has gone after CNN’s programs and news coverage — which should probably be seen as a letdown considering how they had such a strong beginning and then tapered off — and also CNBC, which got skewered pretty regularly (in a memorable show back in 2009, Stewart absolutely eviscerated financial commentator Jim Cramer, the host of “Mad Money” on CNBC, after he swore up and down that Bear Stearns was in no danger, right before the company’s stock price collapsed).

JON STEWART 5

In addition to hosting “The Daily Show,” Stewart has written or co-written several books, hosted the Emmys and the Oscars, and last year directed his first feature film, Rosewater. Stewart has won a total of nineteen Emmys for “The Daily Show” as either a writer or producer. In 2005, both “The Daily Show” and Stewart received a Best Comedy Album Grammy Award for the audio book edition of America (The Book). In 2000 and 2004, the show won two Peabody Awards for its coverage of the presidential elections relevant to those years, called “Indecision 2000″ and “Indecision 2004″, respectively.

None of this was even possible for Stewart, however, without first making an impact with his first self-titled talk show, way back in the mid-90s, a show that paved the way for his entire career, changing television in the process.

Have a look at the last episode of this first show, and we’re hoping that perhaps, since Stewart came back stronger than ever after his first show, maybe it means he’ll come back strong again, maybe with some new show that will knock us out for all the reasons we’ve been knocked out by Stewart for at least the past sixteen years with “The Daily Show.”

At any rate, please come back to TV soon, Jon, you know you’re already missed. You can even wear a windbreaker or a black leather jacket again if you want, we kinda liked that casual Jon anyway.

JON STEWART 8

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.