Of course it's obscenely early to begin thinking about the future of "60 Minutes" without Andy Rooney . . .but believe me when I say: They've been thinking about it for a long time at the show anyway. And one name has on occasion come up: Jon Stewart.
The benefits seem obvious and perhaps all too obvious: He's a humorist (to point out the really all too obvious), a good writer, a highly skilled performer, and someone who -- though while clearly a little more on the left side of the ledger -- is palatable to many Republicans as well as Democrats. He is also -- of course -- a superb critic, and a brutal one at that.
He'd make noise, though intelligent noise. He'd get attention. He'd make some people laugh. Other people furious. He'd get attention for the show.
There's one little demerit here, which -- until 2005 when both companies split -- would not have been one: Viacom owns Comedy Central, not CBS Corp. Stewart's services are strictly for the Viacom subsidiary although certainly deals could be struck. Maybe he could be loaned out . . . like Louis B. Mayer used to loan out stars from the MGM lot.
Another demerit though a lesser one: He's already got a fulltime job. How much effort would be involved in putting together a weekly essay? Who knows . . . but it's not a quick little one-off essay that you bang out over morning coffee.
"60" could also go to the rotation again -- tried with "60 Minutes II," although I think that's a less satisfying alternative. Substitute columnists are just that -- substitutes who are neither comfortable with the pace of the broadcast nor entirely in sync with its tone. One columnist one week would be an entirely different flavor the next; that's off-putting to viewers, particularly the "60 Minuters" base.
Another possibility: Do nothing at all. I think the problem here is evident. Don Hewitt's old formulation for the show was that it was like a "meal:" You got the main course with Mike (Wallace), while Andy was the dessert. There was logic, truth and a certain amount of beauty to that analogy. If the show loses those two minutes at the end, that would mean longer reports in the body of the magazine. But longer at "60" has never necessarily meant "better." This is one of the best-edited programs on the air, and has been for decades. Fat is brutally, mercilessly excised. Two minutes more sounds like fat to me.
So why not Jon Stewart? Believe me when I say: Other people right now are asking the same question.