Comedy Central President Talks Jon Stewart's Departure, 'Daily Show' Future

Michele Ganeless Headshot - P 2013

Michele Ganeless Headshot - P 2013

Jon Stewart will be difficult to replace, but Comedy Central executives are confident that they can find the right person to build upon Stewart's legacy.

"This certainly is a moment of big change for us at 11 o'clock," Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless tells The Hollywood Reporter, "but we've never been in a better position to find the next great voice."

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The Daily Show has a roster of correspondents who could slide into Stewart's seat: Aasif Mandvi, Samantha Bee or her husband, Jason Jones. And the network also has relationships with rising stars including Amy Schumer and Chris Hardwick, both of whom have their own shows on Comedy Central. But Stewart's departure later this year after nearly 17 years behind The Daily Show's fake news desk will cap a period of great churn at the network, with protégés Stephen Colbert and John Oliver already gone. A formal search has yet to begin, but Ganeless stresses that The Daily Show, on which Stewart is also the executive producer, will retain its topical format while the content will evolve with the new host.

It's unclear if Stewart wants to retain a behind-the-scenes role on the show going forward. So far he has not tipped his hand about who he thinks might be a suitable heir apparent on the show that he built into a cultural touchstone. But Ganeless says she would obviously be open to input from Stewart.

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"He cares deeply about The Daily Show and its evolution and his legacy," she says.

In fact it was Stewart, not Comedy Central executives, who chose Larry Wilmore to replace Colbert. He came up with the format, and approached the Daily Show's "Senior Black Correspondent" about the opportunity.

Asked if it's harder to keep talent in the fold at a time of heightened competition for content, Ganeless points toward the network's "deep bench" of veterans including South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Key & Peele's Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.

"People come here and they share their talents for however long they feel creatively fulfilled," she reasons. "Stephen Colbert was a part of the network for almost 20 years. John Oliver was part of The Daily Show for eight years. I'm obviously wistful about Jon's decision to move on. But I understand it. It's a hard gig, that Daily Show — I don't think there's a harder job in television."

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Comedy Central executives were not under any illusions that they would get Stewart to sign another long-term deal when his current pact runs out this September.The timing of Stewart's exit also has yet to be determined. And Ganeless notes that he may stay beyond September. In his announcement on the show Tuesday night, Stewart said that he was "not going anywhere tomorrow." And he admitted that he doesn't "have any specific plans," though he does have "a lot of ideas."

In an interview last summer with THR, Stewart was clearly contemplating his exit:

"Look, there's only so many ways that I know how to evolve it," he said. "I'm sure even at this point I've overstayed my welcome to a good number of people."

And he did express some fatigue with the daily demands of spinning often grim headlines into comedy gold.

"I can't say that following the news cycle as closely as we do and trying to convert that into something either joyful or important to us doesn't have its fraught moments," he said.