Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show behind. The host, who’s been with the show for more than 15 years, announced his departure during his Tuesday taping.
A network statement from Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless read as follows: “For the better part of the last two decades, I have had the incredible honor and privilege of working with Jon Stewart. His comedic brilliance is second to none. Jon has been at the heart of Comedy Central, championing and nurturing the best talent in the industry, in front of and behind the camera. Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come. Jon will remain at the helm of The Daily Show until later this year. He is a comic genius, generous with his time and talent, and will always be a part of the Comedy Central family.”
Stewart, who joined the network in 1999, turned the Daily Show into a phenomenon when he stepped into Craig Kilborn‘s former post. It has spent much of the time since as the highest-rated late-night talk show among younger viewers, and it has become one of the most influential political programs in the U.S. — despite its satirical nature.
Talk of Stewart’s time at the network coming to an end first bubbled up in 2013 when he took the summer off to direct his first feature, Rosewater. Upon the film’s release last year, Stewart admitted that the job could often be a grind. “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. “But there will come a point where I’m sure.”
A liberal folk hero, Stewart’s political coverage has seen him push elected officials and politicos on either side of the spectrum. He’s interviewed President Obama multiple times during his tenure, has (often chummily) bumped heads with Bill O’Reilly and just last year pressured Hillary Clinton to announce whether or not she intended to run for president in the next election. In 2004, Stewart famously ripped into CNN’s Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson for their one-note debate style, and many attribute Crossfire‘s ensuing cancelation to his takedown.
His departure comes at a time of big change in Comedy Central’s late-night lineup. It was barely two months ago that Stephen Colbert left his post at The Colbert Report in preparation for his new gig as host of CBS’ The Late Show later in 2015. The 11:30 p.m. half-hour is now occupied by Larry Wilmore‘s The Nightly Show. Finding a replacement for Stewart extends the game of late-night musical chairs that began last year when Jimmy Fallon took over for Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman announced his own retirement.
John Oliver seemed primed for his own vehicle on Comedy Central after pinch-hitting for Stewart during his 2013 break, but he left the network for a deal and weekly series at HBO. Colbert, Oliver and Wilmore all got their biggest exposure from their respective tenures at The Daily Show. Under Stewart’s leadership, it served as an incubator for comedic talent only rivaled by Saturday Night Live and notably launched the career of Steve Carell.
If Colbert’s exit stung Comedy Central, Stewart’s is a sharp blow — albeit an inevitable one. The Daily Show ranks as the cable network’s highest-rated program, dominating its time period with adults 18-49 and young men on the four nights a week that it airs. Comedy Central did not respond to questions about the timing of Stewart’s exit or plans for a successor, but Ganeless’ statement certainly seems to emphasize the network’s faith the in franchise.