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Jon Stewart, HBO cancel daily animated project

‘Technical issues’ cited as reason for setback But statement mentions ‘future projects together’

Jon Stewart and HBO said in a joint

Jon Stewart and HBO said in a joint statement Tuesday, May 23, 2017, that they have decided not to proceed with a short-form digital animated project due to "technical issues." Here, Stewart hosts the 78th annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on Sunday, March 5, 2006. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times / Mark Boster

Jon Stewart’s return to television has been dealt a setback: Both he and HBO confirmed Tuesday they had mutually agreed to drop the daily animated series which was to have appeared on streaming platforms HBO Go and HBO Now.

In a statement to The New York Times, which first reported the project’s demise, HBO said, “we all thought the project had great potential, but there were technical issues in terms of production and distribution that proved too difficult given the quick turnaround and topical nature of the material. We’re excited to report that we have some future projects together, which you will be hearing about in the near future.”

The somewhat larger news here is that “future projects” kicker. Those could conceivably evolve at least two ways: Either Stewart could produce a series or series of stand-alone specials which would feature other stars, or he would appear in those himself. Taking a page from the old HBO playbook, Netflix has had considerable success with such specials, and recently signed Jerry Seinfeld to produce concert specials.

Announced to considerable fanfare in November 2015 -- just three months after Stewart ended a 17-year run at “The Daily Show” -- the short-form animated series had an alluring, if vague, hook. Stewart was to develop and produce content from the comfort of home, with the help of a new technology that could render his commentary in some sort of animated form. What sort of animated form? That was never made clear.

The statement at the time read, “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.”

Then began the waiting game. The fan assumption -- based on nothing other than wishful thinking -- was that Stewart would launch this in time for the president debates. HBO later indicated that a fall launch was in the works.

Meanwhile, Stewart has been involved in another important project over these past 18 months -- Stephen Colbert’s. He’s an executive producer on “The Late Show,” although his level of involvement is unknown. (Chris Licht is showrunner). He’s occasionally appeared on the show, too.

Recognizing that animation was never his strong suit anyway, will Stewart one day simply offer his comedy and commentary the old fashioned way? That seems hard to imagine at the moment. If not exactly the J.D. Salinger of talk show hosts, Stewart has been largely invisible over these months and the animated project offered a certain degree of anonymity, too. Therefore, it may be reasonable to assume those “future projects” will not involve another late night talk show.

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