Jon Stewart, who left Comedy Central in August, is back, or will be soon: He and HBO have agreed to a four-year production pact that will involve short-run "digital content," per both parties.
“Jon Stewart led a revolution that changed the face of TV comedy on the ‘Daily Show,’” said HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo. “He graced our network nearly 20 years ago [referring to Stewart's 1996 comedy special, 'Jon Stewart: Unleavened'], so we’re thrilled to welcome back his immense talents in this next chapter of his career.”
“I’m so excited to be working with Richard [Plepler], Michael and the entire HBO family,” says Stewart. “Appearing on television 22 minutes a night clearly broke me. I’m pretty sure I can produce a few minutes of content every now and again.”
The terms of this new deal were a little vague, no doubt purposely so, although initially the digital shorts will stream on HBO Go (the platform for HBO subscribers) and HBO Now (the service launched in April for non-cable subscribers). Timing is unclear and so are future projects.But the foot, and it is a huge one, is in the HBO door.
"Stewart will view current events through his unique prism. Working with the pioneering cloud graphics company OTOY Inc., he is developing new technology that will allow him to produce timely short-form digital content, which will be refreshed on HBO NOW multiple times throughout the day. Additional projects will be announced as they are confirmed."
By landing Jon Stewart -- in what could conceivably lead to yet another talk show -- one of the culture's leading arbiters has secured the talents of one of the culture's leading critics -- of the media, and politicians, and anything else within scolding (or scalding) distance. When Stewart left Comedy Central in August, he also left every impression that the move was personal, dictated by a desire to spend more time with the kids (whom, he joked, he barely knew) and with his wife.
But no one of course completely believed that: At 52, and at the height of his powers, Stewart was definitely going somewhere. The question: Where?
"60 Minutes" has long been considered a possibility, but a remote one. The show has evinced little interest in filling the role vacated by Andy Rooney, who died four years ago next week. Another talk show seemed logical, although Stewart had made no secret of his utter weariness of both the form and grind.
Indeed, the key line in the HBO release is this one: "The partnership marks the next phase of Stewart’s groundbreaking career, beginning with short-form digital content, which will be showcased on HBO NOW, HBO GO and other platforms, and includes a first-look option for other film and TV ventures."
In those fifty-odd words lies a world of possibility, and a world of questions too: When will these shorts stream, and will they ever air on HBO itself? (And why not?) What about topics? A presidential election is looming and a vital voice has been missing all the while. Will these shorties fill that void?
Moreover, what does that "first-look option for other film and TV ventures" entail? Does Jon Stewart, who directed "Rosewater," have another movie or two in him? Does he have ideas for TV series? Does he want to star in one of them? Or has he left that particular "grind" behind as well?
The Stewart/HBO deal marks the second "new media" deal within as many days. Yesterday, CBS said it would produce a new "Star Trek" series for its All Access service, essentially bypassing broadcast TV. Today, HBO announced a deal that will essentially leap-frog the core cable networks (at least for the foreseeable future).
Meaning? That it is indeed a whole new media world, and that companies like CBS and Time Warner perhaps see even greater growth potential and upside in these exciting new media configurations than in the not-quite-as-exciting old ones.