A Brief History of The Jon Stewart Show
On October 25, 1993, late-night viewers of MTV caught a glimpse of the future of talk television when The Jon Stewart Show—a frenetically paced mash-up of celebrity chats, musical performances, and comedy sketches—made its debut. Stewart, who was then just 30 years old, was a mostly unknown face at the time. But his reputation on the standup comedy circuit had caught the attention of MTV executives, who were looking to make their first foray into late-night programming.
Though it was cancelled in 1995, Stewart's unique abilities did not go unnoticed by the television world at large. From 1996 to 1998, Stewart—playing an exaggerated version of himself—was the guy being eyed as the next host of The Larry Sanders Show, HBO's brilliant parody of the late-night talk show world. Perhaps it was prophetic, as Stewart did indeed land a real talk show of his own a year later when he took over hosting duties of The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn in early 1999.
Tonight, more than a decade and a half later, Stewart will bid farewell to what is now known as The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (they may want to fix that). So we're looking back at some fun facts about the MTV series that started it all.
1. STEWART WAS CONSIDERED AS A REPLACEMENT FOR LETTERMAN.
When David Letterman announced he would be moving his show from NBC to CBS in 1993, Stewart was actually a contender to replace the late-night great. The gig, of course, famously went to Conan O’Brien and Stewart instead launched The Jon Stewart Show.
2. THE SHOW WAS AN INSTANT HIT ON MTV.
The Jon Stewart Show quickly became one of the most-watched programs on MTV, second only to Beavis and Butt-Head in the channel’s ratings. Courteney Cox, Conan O’Brien, Alicia Silverstone, David Blaine, and Quentin Tarantino were among the show’s celebrity guests.
“Letterman's got a show he's doing, whereas this is much more casual,” Tarantino told Entertainment Weekly in 1994, when he appeared on The Jon Stewart Show just one night after doing Letterman. “This wasn't like doing a talk show. It was like we were just bulls---ting." (During the interview, Stewart had asked Tarantino whether he got his acting role in Pulp Fiction by sleeping with the director.)
3. STEWART'S DREAM GUEST: HELENA BONHAM CARTER.
In a 1994 interview with People, Stewart confessed his desire to have actress Helena Bonham Carter appear on the show. “She’s adorable,” he said. “I’m waiting for her to get fed up with this whole English accent thing and come home to Papa.”
4. THE SHOW MADE A HABIT OF INTRODUCING HOT MUSICAL GUESTS.
When Stewart described the show to USA Today as “Just an odd show with really cool music,” he wasn’t kidding. Being on MTV, music was a given. But Stewart helped to give a more mainstream platform to dozens of musicians who never would’ve made the cut on a network late-night show.
Among his menagerie of guests were Blind Melon, Slayer, Warren Zevon, Buffalo Tom, Naughty by Nature, White Zombie, Faith No More, Notorious B.I.G., and Marilyn Manson (who famously ended his set by trashing the musical stage and getting a piggyback ride from Stewart).
5. THE SHOW WAS REVAMPED AS A SUCCESSOR TO THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW.
Based on its popularity with MTV audiences, at the end of its first season The Jon Stewart Show was revamped by parent company Paramount to replace Arsenio, whose show had been canceled in May of 1994. The show was extended from 30 minutes to an hour and put into syndication. A poster of Arsenio hung on the wall of Stewart’s office at the time, with a word bubble that read: “Good Luck, Motherf*cker.”
6. STEWART DID NOT WANT TO MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT THE SHOW’S ARRIVAL.
Not a lot of publicity was given to Stewart’s move from MTV to syndication, and that was by Stewart’s design. “Some people here wanted to do a big press conference and make some announcement,” Stewart told the Sun Sentinel in 1994. “And I said ‘Why? Are we invading someone?’ I didn’t think fanfare was appropriate.”
7. STEWART’S LIFE IN SYNDICATION DID NOT LAST LONG.
Stewart quickly learned that success on MTV does not necessarily translate to success with the masses. The Jon Stewart Show was cancelled in 1995. The show’s failure on that larger scale was not a complete surprise to Stewart, who shared his mixed feelings about the move to syndication with the Chicago Tribune. “There are going to be people in the audience who are 20 years old that think it sucks and don't get it or don't like it. And there are going to be people who are 50 and do,” he said. “I had to make peace with the fact that if this works, great, and if it doesn't, you have to be OK with that, too. You can't go into it thinking, ‘If I do this and they take this away, what's going to happen to me?' You have to know that you can always open an ice-cream store.”
8. STEWART ANNOUNCED THE SHOW’S CANCELLATION ON LETTERMAN.
Stewart used an appearance on The Late Show on June 7, 1995 to announce that his own show had been cancelled.
9. LETTERMAN RETURNED THE FAVOR BY APPEARING ON STEWART’S FINAL SHOW.
Two weeks later, Letterman was sitting on Stewart’s couch as a guest on the final episode, which aired on June 23, 1995. Buffalo Tom provided the musical sendoff. Guests were served margaritas and given taxi rides home.
10. RUMORS ABOUNDED THAT STEWART WOULD BE HIRED BY ABC OR FOX.
But the rumors turned out to be just that—rumors. The Larry Sanders Show poked fun at this common talk show scenario by casting Stewart—as himself—as a possible replacement to the series’ fictional host (played by Garry Shandling).
11. THE SHOW’S WRITERS AND DIRECTORS WENT ON TO DO GREAT THINGS.
The Jon Stewart Show’s cancellation was only the beginning for many of the talented writers and directors behind the scenes: director Beth McCarthy-Miller has gone on to receive eight Emmy nominations for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Writers Chris Albers and Janine Ditullio were quickly hired by Conan O’Brien, and Brian Hartt went to Jay Leno. Dennis McNicholas, Andrew Steele, and Steve Higgins (also Jimmy Fallon’s announcer) went to Saturday Night Live. Tom Hertz, Alan Higgins, Josh Lieb, and Cliff Schoenberg moved into sitcoms and film. Brian Posehn, one of the Comedians of Comedy, and Dave Attell, host of Insomniac for Comedy Central, stepped in front of the camera.
12. STEWART DIDN'T MAKE OUT SO BADLY EITHER.
In 1999, you might recall, Stewart took over hosting duties on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show from Craig Kilborn. The now-married father of two—who took a 12-week hiatus from the show in 2013 to direct his first movie, Rosewater—is also a bestselling author, producer and occasional actor. He has hosted the Grammys and the Oscars and has won 20 Emmys (and counting). Not bad for the guy who once caused a scene by sitting on Captain Kirk’s lap.
This post originally appeared in 2013.