Will The Daily Show survive Trevor Noah?

When Allahpundit wrote about this yesterday he began by acknowledging something which is fairly obvious. The change of command at the head of The Daily Show isn’t going to have a huge impact on most of Hot Air’s readership since there aren’t too many fans of Jon Stewart hanging around here. But was Trevor Noah the best pick? Even he seems a bit surprised by the honor.

Producers will want to give Noah time to settle into this new role before next year’s Presidential election.

Speaking to the New York Times from Dubai, where he is on tour, the comedian expressed disbelief at his appointment.

“You don’t believe it for the first few hours,” he said. “You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”

“I’m thrilled for the show and for Trevor,” said Stewart in a statement. “He’s a tremendous comic and talent that we’ve loved working with.”

I agree with AP that Amy Poehler, Tina Fey or Chris Rock would have all likely been safer choices. They’re each a good fit with the show’s core audience and have proven track records of delivering butts in seats, as network executives like to say. But I suspect that they would all carry a hefty price tag that Comedy Central might not have been able or willing to commit to when the show was in a rather perilous stage of transition. Stewart is supposedly the highest paid show host on the air, bringing home between 25 and 30 million per year and dwarfing hosts like Letterman and Leno. Given the margins in cable television advertising, Comedy Central may actually be happy to get that particular monkey off their back.

So a lower price tag host may be a good call, but I honestly don’t know if it will work. The Daily Show has only had two hosts, and when Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn following its second season it was really still in its infancy. TDS was more of a cult hit at that point and the structure of the program was more like an extended version of Weekend Update on SNL. It was only under Stewart that it grew into a political attack machine mixed with roaming correspondent sketch humor. After two decades on the air, all of that is sort of baked into the cake.

This isn’t really a criticism of Trevor Noah specifically. I’m not that familiar with his work aside from one appearance with Stewart and a clip of his recent work which has been making the rounds. He didn’t strike me as that blisteringly funny, but maybe he has a lot better material out there. But we could be talking about anyone here, not just Noah. How much has the audience come to expect Jon Stewart’s face, voice and individual style when they tune in each night? It’s not just a formula like the Late Show with Johnny Carson… TDS is sort of an extension of Stewart himself. Can you really just plop another person down in the chair and soldier on while keeping the same audience? Granted, the show’s ratings did well enough last summer when Jon went off to shoot Rosewater and John Oliver sat in. But by that time audiences were used to seeing Oliver on nearly every show anyway and they knew it was temporary.

The last question I have is more specific to Noah. He’s a standup comic by trade for the most part, and at least Stewart seems to be a fan so I’ll accept that he’s talented. But being a show host is a different skill set than either standup or even the sketch comedy such as the segment correspondents take on. Being good at one isn’t always a guarantee of being a top dog at the other. I always found Larry Wilmore to be hilarious in his brief segments on the show, but when they gave him The Nightly Show he seemed to be struggling right out of the gate and I really haven’t been drawn in as a regular viewer.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong on this one. Who knows… audiences can be fickle and funny. But when Stewart leaves, I can’t help but feel that he’ll be taking the mystique of The Daily Show out the door with him.

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