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How Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ Defined an Era

Not just fake news, but real news underwent a shift during the host’s run

Jon Stewart has dropped several bombs over his 17-year tenure as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” But the biggest one of all arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and it was about him.

Social media erupted minutes after a taping of the parody news show’s episode. The audience in shock, as shown by what seems to be the very first tweet that effectively hit the social stratosphere from an audience member named Danielle Jurman.

“Guys!!! #jonstewart is leaving he [sic.] show!!! Just saw the live taping!!!! #sosad @ The Daily Show with…,” Jurman wrote frantically.

From Tweeter Zero to every notable media and television journalist to fans, the news hit hard.

Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn in 1999. He had already cut his teeth on several comedic series including Comedy Central’s stand-up/sketch show “Short Attention Span Theater,” MTV’s “The Jon Stewart Show” and was even considered a frontrunner to replace David Letterman on “Late Night” before unknown “Saturday Night Live” writer Conan O’Brien got the gig.

Kilborn was considered irreplaceable at the time. There was no way anyone else could carry on “The Daily Show” successfully after Kilborn. Stewart would go on to help shepherd young viewers through some of the nation’s biggest controversies, wars, party splits and then the most terrible of all, 9/11.

That trust would build over the years and would be marked a decade after taking the post when Stewart would be named in a poll by Time Magazine as America’s most trusted newsman. Yes, a man fronting a fake news show beat Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and — wait for it — Brian Williams, for the confidence of their viewers.

He did that by speaking frankly about issues with his younger-skewing audience who were so used to being spoken down to – Generation X and Y and Z did care about what was happening in the world and could still understand when things were serious even if we could laugh about it – and hard-hitting interviews with newsmakers that often made actual news reporters look soft.

There’s a certain synergy in the news of Stewart’s departure from the show on the same day that Williams is placed on suspension for lying. Over the years, Stewart’s desire for the show to be simply about laughs morphed into a daily meeting for those fighting to find the truth.

What will Comedy Central do now? It will begin what will be a difficult search for Stewart’s replacement.

The problem is that the audience who started watching “The Daily Show” nearly two decades ago have grown up. It’s a dirty little secret that “The Daily Show” audience isn’t as younger-skewing as it used to be.

So, what they should really do is find someone who’s much more like Stewart was 20 years ago – someone who can start to build his or her own audience, gain their trust and live through what’s to be America’s roughest times with them – just as Stewart did with us.