I guess at some point people have to leave the nest, but I was still surprised yesterday afternoon when I saw that John Oliver was leaving The Daily Show for his own show on HBO. I actually fact checked the story in several different sources to make sure that it was in fact true and that it wasn’t just some crazy rumor or story from The Onion. But it all checked out and Oliver will depart sometime in 2014.
Now of course this isn’t the first time that correspondents from The Daily Show have spread their wings and gone off to other endeavors. In fact, the roster of former correspondents of the show is pretty darn impressive. Most people know that Stephen Colbert started on The Daily Show before spinning off to host his own very successful show on Comedy Central and Steve Carell is arguable the most famous alumni that the show has ever produced. Ed Helms, Rob Coddry, Rob Riggle, Olivia Munn and Jeff Ross also did time on the show before moving on to other projects (Spiltsider has a roundup of what former correspondents are up to these days). So The Daily Show has had its fair share of turnover during its run; some people even forget that The Daily Show existed before Jon Stewart. Originally hosted by Craig Kilborn, the show had a very different vibe to it and did less pointed political criticism. The only real holdover from the Kilborn era is the “Your Moment of Zen” segment, which has ended almost every episode of the show since the very beginning.
So The Daily Show has clearly demonstrated that it can adjust to staff departures and other changes. Correspondents that leave the show are not necessarily “pulling a Caruso” by jumping off a popular program; many go on to have long and successful careers after they leave The Daily Show. But the John Oliver departure feels a little different and raises more interesting questions.
I had always assumed that after John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart this summer that Oliver was now the heir apparent for eventually taking over the show. The Daily Show had never turned the reigns over to a guest host before and Oliver did a beautiful job of keeping the show rolling while Stewart was off directing a movie. The fact that the ratings didn’t dip with the temporary changing of the guard is a credit to Oliver; I personally got to see him live and in action doing the show and I thought that he did a tremendous job in the host’s chair. I don’t know how long Stewart plans to host – he’s certainly not an old guy – but I thought that Oliver’s success meant that he would take over at some point. The uncertainty of that possibility may have been a big factor in deciding to move on; when you are ambitious and waiting in the wings, it is extremely frustrating to have no idea when you’ll get a permanent spot in the limelight. Establishing and hosting your own show is a tricky endeavor, but it will be Oliver’s show, rather than Stewart’s, which may make it a more attractive option. So I understand why Oliver is making this move, even if it means starting over at a different network. The fact that he’s leaving Comedy Central is a bit surprising; I would have expected that if he was leaving The Daily Show for his own show it would have been on the same network (similar to Colbert). Oliver has a long standing relationship with Comedy Central; not only from his work on The Daily Show, but he also hosts John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up, a show that I quite enjoy and will be sad to see end (if that is the case).
I am a little more confused as to why HBO is doing this. I don’t doubt their interest in Oliver, as he has proven himself and is coming off a successful hosting stint that significantly raised his exposure and name recognition. Snatching him up makes sense. But as of now, they already have a weekly show that discusses politics in Real Time with Bill Maher. That show doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon – though if I was Maher, I’d be a little concerned (perhaps this is why he is out on the road, earning some stew) – so HBO will have two shows looking at politics. That seems like overkill and a change in focus. HBO shows also typically don’t air year round; their seasons are much shorter and spread out throughout the year. One of the reasons that The Daily Show is so successful, other than its excellent writing and sharp with, is that it is topical. Jon Stewart and crew are mixing it up in the world of politics four nights a week. They are absolutely current on what is going on and can keep up with American’s short attention spans. If Oliver is doing what sounds like a very similar show to The Daily Show – which raises some other issues – but is only doing it one night a week and sporadically throughout the year, I’d think that puts him at a substantial disadvantage. With the recent proliferation of new late night shows, there is more competition than ever in this genre. I also will be curious to see what time this new show airs on Sunday nights; HBO has a pretty solid roster of shows already on Sundays and I’ll be interested to see where Oliver’s show gets slotted in.
This is only speculation, obviously, since Oliver’s new show hasn’t even been filmed let alone aired, but I hope that it isn’t too close to the model created by The Daily Show. If Oliver is striking out to do his own thing, he really should make it as much his own thing as possible; I don’t know that I like the idea of a copy of The Daily Show, which not only would be a little disingenuous but just isn’t smart strategically. The Daily Show already exists and is good at what it does. Oliver’s new show is going to draw comparisons to The Daily Show regardless, but the last thing it should be is a pale imitation of the original.
All this being said, I like John Oliver and wish him the best of luck with his move to HBO. He’s a talented guy and I hope that this decision works out for him. The Daily Show is suffering a big loss with his departure, but they will bounce back like always; that show is bigger than any one person. I don’t necessarily like change, but I’ll make my peace with it and will tune into Oliver’s new show when it debuts sometime in 2014. As of now, Oliver’s last appearance on The Daily Show is scheduled for December 19th and I look forward to the sendoff that he will receive (or lack thereof; if they don’t do much of anything, that is a clue to some behind the scenes tensions). I should also start dusting off my resume and working on my on-screen presence. This means that there is a vacancy at The Daily Show and I think I’d make one hell of a writer/correspondent.