Jon Stewart returns to “The Daily Show” as the voice of past generations. What about future ones?

Second time around . . . or Second Coming? Measuring the explosive ovation at the news of Jon Stewart’s once-a-week return to “The Daily Show” hosting chair makes either description accurate. Directly in the wake of Comedy Central announcing Stewart’s return his biggest fans weighed in.

Doug Herzog, the former president of Viacom Music and Entertainment Group and the man responsible for hiring Stewart for the job back in the late ‘90s, described it to The Wrap as “a baller move.”

“I was thrilled to see that,” Rob Reiner told Dean Obeidallah on his Sirius XM show, “because we need his voice and his mind to be commenting on what’s going to unfold in the next 10 months.”

Pollster Nate Silver and Mark Hamill also endorsed that decision along with – no surprise here – Trevor Noah, who took over for Stewart in 2015. Noah left at the end of 2022, explaining that he missed touring and being out in a world where he’s a much bigger player than he was when he joined “The Dailly Show” as a correspondent in 2014.

Conversely, the audience Noah left behind in 2022 is much smaller than Stewart’s in 2015, when Nielsen indicates “The Daily Show” averaged just over 1.3 million viewers. That dwarfs Noah’s 372,000 per-episode viewership average in 2022, the season that recently earned his “Daily Show” its first and only Emmy. (Stewart’s era racked up 23 Emmys and three Peabody Awards.)

You might say Noah got out while getting was good. The story of late night’s decline is a tale told many times over along with that of linear TV as a whole. But “The Daily Show” is a special case because of how Stewart sculpted it to be not merely a satirical sorta newscast. He made it the opposition to Fox News and its pundits.

In 2013, “The Daily Show” pulled around 2.5 million viewers a night.

But when Stewart left in 2015, so did most of his flock, many of them migrating over to his former correspondents-turned-hosts Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, who expanded the “Daily Show” format into seriously reported longform satire for HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.” But the audiences for all conventional late-night were starting to contract. Social media robbed monologues of their immediacy. Streaming video on demand converted younger viewers to the habit of watching TV on their own schedules instead of a network’s.

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So the people who still turn to these shows after their local stations sign off aren’t getting their news from them, as polls claimed about “The Daily Show” more than a decade ago. We’re watching because we want to hear what these hosts have to say about the headlines. More to the point, we’re willing to watch them based on when the networks have scheduled them. Why? Because we’re in the habit of watching live TV. Ergo, we’re old.

Notice I said we. If you are excited about Stewart’s return, you were probably with him when he dragged us through the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections. That makes you old. Hell, if you didn’t have to look up Reiner to figure out who he is, you are not a part of this channel’s current target demo. Who uses the term “baller” anymore? You, that’s who.

Embrace your power and drink your collagen supplements. Comedy Central and “The Daily Show” are counting on us.

We are the viewers that made “Yellowstone” a hit, on cable and in repeats of years-old seasons on CBS. We are the viewers who make Hallmark Channel a live ratings force every holiday season. Sometimes during the rest of the year too. Gen X and Boomers are linear TV’s life support.

We were a big part of the reason that in 2014, “The Daily Show” commanded just over $129 million in ad revenue, according to data supplied to Salon by advertising intelligence firm Vivvix.

In 2015, when Stewart left and Noah took over, the show still earned an impressive $118 million. But it was all downhill from there. Vivvix says Noah’s “Daily Show” show pulled in just under $40 million in 2022, reflective of its 65% ratings plummet between 2015 and August 2022, according to Nielsen. Variety recently shared Vivvix data estimating the show brought in around $19 million in 2023. 

We’re also the viewers who showed up when “The Daily Show” kicked off its celebrity host rotation a little over a year ago. The proof is in which stars came out on top. Out of everyone who played behind that desk before the Writers Guild Strike halted all late-night productions in May, the name who pulled the highest audience was 72-year-old Al Franken. Second place went to 63-year-old John Leguizamo. Fellow Xer Silverman won the bronze. She’s 53.

We Olds are excited to make Monday nights on Comedy Central appointment viewing again.

What we’re saying is, when Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios head Chris McCarthy called “the voice of our generation” in his official company statement announcing the chief’s return, he wasn’t referring to Gen Z. He meant Gen X and Boomers, Stewart’s cohort.

We still pay for cable by a large margin, but might not have forked over extra cash to watch “The Problem with Jon Stewart” before Apple TV+ ended it. Those who did encountered a more severe version of the guy who gleefully lobbed truth bombs at Bulls**t Mountain back in the day. He’s also improved as an interviewer along the way. The best “Problem” episodes deployed Stewart to joust with an Arkansas state official’s promotion of damaging anti-trans laws, for example. One of the least effective showed him glad-handing Bob Iger, the guy who threatened to sell ABC, while asking him if he thought the news could be fixed.

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How well Stewart fits into the current landscape is hard to say. But we Olds are excited to make Monday nights on Comedy Central appointment viewing again. And who knows? Maybe enough of us will be inspired to stick around Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when the chair rotates among the show’s younger correspondents.

After the November elections, what then? This is fundamentally the same question that’s hounded “The Daily Show” and its producers since Noah left. Stewart and his manager James Dixon will serve as executive producers through 2025, which should be more than enough time to get its house in order.

But what form will the show take? Whom will it target? “The Daily Show” still needs a permanent host along with a revamp, just like the rest of late-night. These are some of the problems Stewart is taking on in part, and he may not be in a position (or of the right generation) to solve them.

But he may wield his influence to ease his successor’s ascent including, as Oliver suggested on NBC’s Today, luring Roy Wood, Jr. back into the fold (good luck!) or perhaps coronating Amber Ruffin. But if that happens just in time for the genre to fold up for good, what was the point of all this frustration?

Maybe it’s better to refrain from pondering the road ahead, which looks dark enough with or without Stewart and other late-night hosts shepherding us through the murk. At least “The Daily Show” has chosen a way forward, although it may take a miracle to convince younger viewers to follow.

Jon Stewart returns to “The Daily Show” Monday, Feb.12 on Comedy Central.

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