Trevor Noah Inks Film and TV Deal With Viacom (Exclusive)

The joint venture between 'The Daily Show' host and Comedy Central's parent company signals the latter's desire to be more than just a launching pad for its homegrown talent.
Comedy Central
Trevor Noah

Viacom is taking steps to lock down its top talent.

The parent company of Comedy Central is launching an international production and distribution company with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah called Day Zero Productions. The multiyear partnership gives Viacom the first-look rights to Noah’s future projects — be they television, feature films or shortform video content — and is similar to the deal the Bob Bakish-led company struck last year with Tyler Perry. As part of the pact with Noah, Viacom will also make what sources describe as a “generous” investment in the venture.

The first project to be born out of the newly expanded relationship is Noah’s previously announced movie adaptation of his best-selling memoir Born a Crime, which will star Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o as Noah’s mother. Paramount Players, Viacom’s new film division led by former AwesomenessTV exec Brian Robbins, will produce the film in conjunction with Day Zero. South Africa born Liesl Tommy (Queen Sugar), who earned a Tony nomination for directing Nyong’o in the play Eclipsed, will direct the movie. In addition to Noah, producers include Mainstay Entertainment’s Norman Aladjem, Derek Van Pelt and Sanaz Yamin, and Nyong’o via her Eba Productions.

The joint venture signals Viacom’s desire to keep its homegrown talent in-house, something the company has long struggled to do. The move comes mere weeks after Comedy Central lost arguably its two highest-profile Daily Show correspondents — Hasan Minhaj and Michelle Wolf — to Netflix, where they’ll host their own talk shows. Their paths are not dissimilar to those of former Daily Show personalities Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and Jessica Williams, who all became stars on the network’s flagship series only to later leave the network for other platforms in their success.

Since Noah took over The Daily Show from Stewart in 2015, he's established his own version of the biting political commentary for which the show is beloved, his largely filtered through the lens of his upbringing as the biracial son of a black mother and white father in apartheid South Africa. Noah has helped The Daily Show become the second highest-rated late night talk show among millennials ages 18-34, only behind The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. In addition, Daily Show viewership was up 15 percent in 2017 compared with 2016, and the show's current season is steady at 1.3 million total viewers. Noah will remain in the host's seat through 2022, as Comedy Central renewed the series for five more years in September.

“Working with the best, most versatile talent in the entertainment industry is a strategic priority for Viacom, which is why we are thrilled to expand our relationship with Trevor and his creative team at Day Zero with this cross-house partnership,” said Bakish, Viacom's president and chief executive officer. “Trevor’s creative sensibilities and ability to drive the cultural conversation around issues that matter to our young, global audiences make him an ideal partner for Viacom across every screen we serve. We are particularly proud that Born a Crime will be produced and distributed by Paramount.”

Added Comedy Central president Kent Alterman, “The degree to which people underestimated Trevor as he took over The Daily Show has made his success all the more meaningful. Seeing audiences on multiple platforms embrace his incredible comedy chops, his thoughtful and nuanced point of view, and his global perspective has been gratifying beyond measure. Trevor has limitless curiosity, vision and passion. He is just getting started.”

“I've found a strong and incredibly valuable partnership in Viacom,” noted Noah. “Our shared vision of bringing diverse cultural conversations and exciting creative projects to the forefront of the entertainment industry and to our constantly expanding audience, continues to strengthen our relationship. I couldn't be more excited to share Born A Crime with Paramount and the very talented Lupita Nyong’o.”

Noah is repped by CAA, Mainstay Entertainment and Hansen Jacobson.