Why HBO Scrapped its Jon Stewart Animated Show

"You think about it like a pilot or development — you take a swing and hope it works. In this case, it didn’t work," said programming president Casey Bloys. "And you move on."
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Casey Bloys (left), Jon Stewart

HBO's top brass is finally opening up about its scrapped Jon Stewart project.

"You think about it like a pilot or development — you take a swing and hope it works. In this case, it didn’t work. And you move on," the premium cable network's programming president Casey Bloys told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.

"What Jon was trying to do, which was to get an animation turnaround time of one day, is a very difficult thing to do," the exec went on to explain, noting that the project centered on sophisticated animation that would involve, for example, facial expressions that could convey comedy. Stewart was ultimately able to get the turnaround time to about two days. "It’s very difficult to do. There’s a reason it hasn’t been done."

Bloys noted that there were technical issues on both the distribution side of things as well as the animation one. "Once Jon realized that he could get close on the animation, what he realized also was in terms of the quality control and in terms of the writing, when you’re putting something out a couple of times a day, the quality control still has to be here," Bloys said. "It just got to a point where it was like, is this worth his time? Is this worth our time? We kind of thought, ‘You know what? It was a good try, but ultimately not worth it.’”

Instead, HBO announced Wednesday that Stewart's next venture would be a pair of stand-up specials. The pair marks the first specials for the comedian since his debut effort in 1996, Jon Stewart: Unleavened, which also aired on the pay cabler. When asked if the network was in discussions with Stewart about other collaborations, Bloys confirmed that there will be additional projects coming. "Yes, there'll be other things. As a producer, I'm sure he's got other ideas that he's thinking about," he said. Could one of those ideas be a late-night series? "I'd be happy if he would, but I don't think that's where his mind is right now."

Back in May, HBO announced it would not be moving forward with its plans for a shortform animation venture from the former Daily Show host, a collaboration that was announced with heavy fanfare in November 2015 as part of a four-year production deal. Stewart was set to work with cloud-graphics company OTOY to develop new technology that would allow him to produce timely shortform digital content. “Appearing on television 22 minutes a night clearly broke me," Stewart said at the time. "I’m pretty sure I can produce a few minutes of content every now and again." 

In confirming the news that it would be forgoing the mysterious animation venture, HBO was careful to emphasize that both the network and Stewart together agreed to shelve the project, which sources say turned out to be more complicated than either party initially expected. "HBO and Jon Stewart have decided not to proceed with a shortform digital animated project," the pair said in a joint statement at the time. "We all thought the project had great potential but there were technical issues in terms of production and distribution that proved too difficult given the quick turnaround and topical nature of the material.”

The idea had been for the material to be refreshed on HBO's digital platforms, including HBO Now and HBO Go, multiple times throughout the day. But sources say it was the one-day turnaround that became a sticking point for the project. From a technological standpoint, it became clear to those involved that it would be next to impossible to create and distribute the sophisticated animation within the short window. The project had already been delayed due to its technological complexity. At one point, the digital shorts were expected to debut ahead of the presidential election, so as to provide commentary on the campaigns — but when challenges arose, HBO reportedly told Stewart he could have as much time as he needed to get it right.

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