“The Daily Show” may be moving forward without a host. Is this a good thing or simply inevitable?

Chalking up the best talk series Emmy win for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” as merely a part of the ceremony’s overall tardiness is easy enough to do. When Noah claimed the award on Jan. 15, more than a year had passed since he ceded his time behind Comedy Central’s nightly news satire’s desk. 

This was also the first ever Emmy for Noah’s “Daily Show.” During his seven-year tenure “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” received 17 nominations in various categories, but Television Academy voters rewarded “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” instead time and again. 

Oliver was a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” before “Last Week Tonight,” which should not be lost on anyone. On the contrary, his winning streak in this category confirms what we already know about the TV late-night audience’s loyalty to certain shows and their hosts. We never miss something, or someone, so acutely until we don’t have them anymore.

A reporter implied as much backstage after Noah and “The Daily Show” writers and correspondents present and, in Roy Wood Jr.’s case, former, claimed their long overdue statue. “How are you going to help all of us get through this year when we’re not going to be able to see you every single night?” the man asked.

Noah responded, “The good news is I didn’t make this show by myself. You’re looking at all of the people who made it,” gesturing at “The Daily Show” writers and correspondents. “. . . ‘The Daily Show’ is still there, and you’re looking at them.”

A few days later, Variety released a story indicating that for the foreseeable future, those correspondents will be the show’s main faces. After more than a year of cycling through celebrities and tryout weeks for members of the show’s existing team, pausing between May and October for the Writers Guild of America’s strike, the show is reportedly moving forward without attaching its title to one name.

Instead, the team currently comprised of Dulce Sloan, Michael Kosta, Ronny Chieng and Desi Lydic will steer “The Daily Show” ship as the 2024 presidential election heats up. 

Financially this makes the most sense. Bumping up one of these correspondents to become the show’s new face or investing in a more established star comes with risks Comedy Central’s parent company Paramount Global may not be in the mood to absorb right now. It’s also a gamble to forgo a tradition that has been core to “The Daily Show” mission since the show’s inception.

Noah’s and Stewart’s respective visions shaped “The Daily Show” during their eras, with their comedic insight guiding their audiences during extremely anxious times. Stewart and his correspondents hit their stride during the post-9/11 portion of George W. Bush’s presidency. Noah took a while to cultivate a newer, younger audience, providing an essential contrast to the rising xenophobia of Donald Trump’s administration. He became TV’s go-to truth broker in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Noah’s viewers are also more likely to turn to social media for both up-to-the-minute information updates and comedy fixes.

As such, “The Daily Show” audience shrunk from Stewart’s heights. According to a 2022 IndieWire story tied to Noah’s departure, Stewart’s final season of “The Daily Show” in 2015 drew an average of 1.309 million total viewers per episode, versus Noah’s 372,000 per-episode viewership average during his last year. Stewart also announced his retirement six months before his final show, whereas Noah’s departure runway was slightly longer than two months.

Smaller audiences equal dwindling advertising revenue, and that impacts series’ overall budgets. As cited in my previous story about late-night’s history and its challenges, ad revenue for “The Daily Show” rose between 2020, when it pulled in $12.7 million, and 2021 when it earned $35 million, according to statistics supplied by to Salon by advertising intelligence firm Vivvix. It went up in 2022, with the show raking in just shy of $40 million.

That run came to an end in 2023, according to Vivvix data reported by Variety, indicating the show is on track to bring in around $19 million for 2023. However, that’s $19 million during a year that includes a double strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA that sidelined all of TV for six months. “The Daily Show” went dark between May and mid-October. (Salon’s unionized employees are represented by the WGA East.)

Ratings for “The Daily Show” rose 13% year over year during the first quarter of 2023 when Leslie Jones, Wanda Sykes, D. L. Hughley, Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Hasan Minhaj, Marlon Wayans, Kal Penn, Al Franken and John Leguizamo took turns in the host’s chair. 

When new episodes returned in October after the WGA strike ended, Kosta was the first correspondent featured and received the highest ratings based on Nielsen’s live-plus-seven data. But that may not provide the fullest picture of the existing team’s performance since new episodes only ran until mid-December. 

Comedy Central hasn’t officially confirmed Variety’s scoop; the report cites three unnamed sources “familiar with the matter.” Asked for comment, Comedy Central spokesperson provided to Salon this statement that released last week, directly in the wake of the show’s Emmy win.

“We are grateful to the Television Academy for recognizing our incredibly talented team and want to take this week to honor and thank them. Next week, we’ll be sharing our plans for The Daily Show’s next chapter.” 

Variety’s sources also indicated that executives may yet name a solo host – just not right now. Both Lydic and Wood previously expressed their desire for the job to Salon, although Wood left the show in October

They and others in the current crew can offer knowledgeable, personalized perspectives on topics driving the 2024 presidential hell ride – like race relations and reproductive rights, for example – that your standard issue late-night white guy can’t.

The same was also said of “The Nightly Show,” which was canceled two and a half months before the 2016 election, and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” which aired its last episode the day before Roe V. Wade was overturned. 

As many people to whom I’ve spoken about this show and late-night as a whole have observed, all of the business-as-usual formats are overdue for an overhaul because the medium itself is in the midst of a massive transformation. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Comedy Central’s current slate of original programming basically amounts to “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” Andy Samberg’s animated series “Digman!,” “The Daily Show” and “South Park,” which airs endlessly in syndication. In contrast, aside from a few timeless clips, the value of “The Daily Show” is in its freshness factor. 

This is why I’m reminded of what Bee, a former “Daily Show” correspondent, told me when I spoke to her last year. There’s no safety in television, she said: “Nobody from these enormous conglomerates is out there going, ‘What do the people need right now?’ Like, no. Sorry. I hate to disabuse you of that notion.”

Trying a news team approach may be a solid start. But whether that works or not is ultimately not up to critics or the show’s most loyal fans. It’s up to Paramount’s suits. 

As none other than Stewart discovered when he decided to end “The Problem with Jon Stewart” in October 2023, a show or star’s reputation or utility to political or civics-related conversation is meaningless when pitted against a corporation’s bottom line. 

Regardless of who is sitting at the desk during this election year, it remains an essential destination for anyone seeking to make sense of the escalating lunacy gripping the current campaign season. Keep that in mind when the show returns if you depend on its voices to make it through what is sure to be a bumpy trip.

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