A celebration of “The Daily Show” took place earlier this week — but not on the network that airs it.
The program won an Emmy award for “Outstanding Variety Series” and its former host, Trevor Noah, and one of its former top contributors, Roy Wood, Jr., were on hand to take part. Veteran behind-the-scenes executives like Jen Flanz, who runs the program, and Daniel Radosh, a writer who has been with the series since the days of Jon Stewart, were easily viewed.
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Despite the hoopla, there has not been a new episode of “The Daily Show” broadcast on its home, Paramount Global’s Comedy Central, since Kal Penn served as a guest on host on Thursday, December 14. There has not been a regular host of the series since Noah, who took over for Jon Stewart in 2015, left unexpectedly in December of 2022. You can’t blame the network for the whole thing. Like other entertainment businesses, it has had to contend with two Hollywood labor strikes that kept many new talent deals from being consummated. It also had to navigate a surprise backlash against one of its leading choices for the host job, Hasan Minhaj, whose eligibility dimmed after a New Yorker article probed the accuracy of many of the anecdotes he uses in his comedy.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed in the comedy world. “Please. Hire. A. Host.” mouthed Roy Wood Jr. as Noah made an Emmys acceptance speech.
The network says it has something in the works. “We are grateful to the Television Academy for recognizing our incredibly talented team and want to take this week to honor and thank them,” Comedy Central said in a statement. “Next week, we’ll be sharing our plans for ‘The Daily Show’s’ next chapter.”
Still, Comedy Central hasn’t necessarily boosted the cause of what has arguably been its flagship program since Craig Kilborn launched it in 1996. When ABC, NBC and CBS had to take wee-hours mainstays like “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show” or “Jimmy Kimmel Live” out of regular broadcasts due to the strikes, they at least aired repeats, all to keep viewers in the habit of monitoring the programs at a regular time. Comedy Central let the program go dark for weeks, choosing not to repeat recent guest bids by Leslie Jones or Chelsea Handler. That strategy seems to be at play once again. As rivals keep broadcasting originals, there is no “Daily Show” with which to compare them; the program has once again faded away in support of airings of “The Office” or episodes of “South Park.”
There is some hope in entertainment circles that the show will get back on track soon. One person familiar with Comedy Central’s host search says the network remains supportive of the program, but notes that executives were keeping their talent choices “close to the vest,” There has been chatter in various circles that Kal Penn could remain a candidate or that producers might opt to lure Wood back with an offer to take over the show’s top role. Some think the network just might surprise all observers with an unexpected choice.
Every decision about a late-night host is seismic for the network making it. These days, it is even more so. The business of wee-hours programming is not as robust as it once was, with many viewers choosing to watch the programs at times they choose, in ways they see fit. A 25-year old might hop from clip to clip on YouTube six to 12 hours after the programs first aired, or check in with one of the series only when a celebrity that captures their interest pays a visit.
There is good reason for Comedy Central to ramp things back up. Like many other cable networks owned by Paramount, the outlet has become heavily reliant on repeats of old programs, including “Seinfeld.” and “South Park.” Gone are the days, however, when Comedy Central had its own primetime lineup (“Drunk History” or “Broad City”).
With that comes projections of declines in the economics of the network. Average subscribers to Comedy Central are projected to decline a little more than 13%, between the end of 2023 and the end of 2025, according to Kagan, a market-research firm that is part of S&P Global Intelligence. The firm sees average subscribers standing at 58.6 million in 2025, compared with 67.5 million at the end of 2023.
With that downturn comes similar falls in ad sales and and affiliate fees. Kagan estimates advertising revenue will tumble 10% between the end of 2023 and 2025, falling to $221.1 million from about $247.5 million. Distribution revenue will slip 4.2% over the same time period, according to Kagan,. landing at at about $217.4 million from about $227.1 million.
Perhaps Comedy Channel has waited a bit because Paramount has been in the process of launching another late-night program and new host. Taylor Tomlinson started early Wednesday morning at the center of “After Midnight,” and has been feted with a handful of media profiled, appearances on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and the placement of the program’s debut episode on YouTube for free.
Tomlinson may be getting a lot of attention, but her show is actually a retooled version of a series that once did well in late night for, yes, Comedy Central. Perhaps a new “Daily Show” — with a host to lead it — will capture similar interest.
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