Jon Stewart on Meet the Press: A good idea?

A New York Magazine reported that NBC's news division wanted Daily Show host Jon Stewart to host its Sunday-morning political talk show 'Meet the Press.'

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
Jon Stewart speaks during a Daily Show taping in New York in 2012. NBC reportedly considered hiring Stewart to host its Sunday political talk show Meet the Press.

“You may remember earlier this year the Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice found himself in a little bit of hot water when an Atlantic City casino security camera caught him dragging his fiancé’s unconscious body out of an elevator after he had assaulted her,” Daily Show host Jon Stewart said on Sept. 10, opening a seven-minute diatribe against the National Football League to audience laughter. “Because a gentleman would never leave his fiancé’s unconscious body unattended in an elevator.” 

Edgy jokes like these are commonplace on late-night television, but can you imagine hearing it on a Sunday-morning network talk show? Apparently, executives at NBC News could. According to New York Magazine, NBC News president Deborah Turness tried to woo Stewart to Meet the Press, where Chuck Todd began as host on Sept. 7.

But were NBC's  attempts to snag Stewart, who has hosted the Daily Show for 15 years, misplaced? To Stephanie Edgerly, an assistant professor at Northwestern Unviersity’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications who studies how different pieces of news media change how audiences consume news, the answer is clear. She says that even with Stewart at the helm, younger viewers would not tune in at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings for a weekly dose of politics.

Though some younger viewers, professor Edgerly says, see Stewart as a journalist, others see him solely as a comedian, an entertainer “taking jabs and holding news media accountable.” Mixing entertainment and news would be an “abrupt turn” for Meet The Press, she says.

Instead, she says the decades-old television show should stay within their sphere of traditional journalism and simply “do a better job” by including cutting-edge interviews, public opinion data that shows margin of error, and critical, investigative journalism.

Michael Cremedas, an associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, disagrees. He says Stewart’s style could be a welcome change for a show like Meet the Press.

“I think older people can appreciate Jon Stewart," he says. "He’s not afraid to ask a question that will embarrass or make a political leader squirm. I think Meet the Press is not as willing to do that.”

Even if Meet the Press were to shift its format to short, digestible segments, he said the topics that the program covers may not interest young people.

What would? A figure like Jon Stewart.  

“I would love to see that happen, just to see what happens,” professor Cremedas says. 

The two shows attract different demographics and audiences, and the young viewers drawn to Stewart’s comedy would have given Meet the Press a new audience, noted New York Magazine.

Indeed, a September 2012 Pew Research Center report found that 43 percent of the Daily Show’s audience is 29 or younger, and 37 percent falls between age 30 and 49.  Of Meet the Press’s 2.1 million viewers on Aug. 3, just 584,000 — or just 28 percent — were aged 25-54, TV Newser reported.

While Stewart has interviewed political leaders — including Barack Obama and Tony Blair — he has maintained that he is a “comedian first.”

And over the years, Stewart has poked at more traditional news media. In an Oct. 12, 2009 segment, he derided CNN for fact checking a Saturday Night Live sketch without fact checking a senator who cited statistics on costs saved by health care reform. 

“You can’t bring your A- game every time,” he joked. Later in the segment, he played a mashed-up track of CNN reporters telling the audience “we’re going to have to leave it there” following news segments.

For his part, the person who ultimately got the job has taken it all in good humor.  “If it’s Sunday, it’s your moment of zen,” wrote Chuck Todd on his Twitter feed, mashing up slogans from the two shows.

Some Twitter users responded to Mr. Todd’s post by highlighting the same comparison. “I think the network wants you to be more pithy, @chucktodd,” wrote one, “the public, on the other hand, would like to see neutrality.” Another: “From a conservative who likes both you and Stewart (go figure), they made the right call.”

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