Title: The Jon Stewart Show
Host: Jon Stewart
Produced by: Jon Stewart, Barry Secunda; Busboy Productions, MTV Productions and Paramount Television
Format: 30 minutes (MTV), 60 minutes (syndication)
Original Broadcast: The Jon Stewart Show taped at Chelsea Television Studios in New York City.
Premiere Date: October 25, 1993
Finale Date: June 23, 1995
Long before The Daily Show made him the “most trusted name in news,” a multi-Emmy Award winning talk show host and a pop culture and political phenomenon, Jon Stewart hosted a laid-back, loosely produced talk show on basic cable’s MTV.
So how’d Stewart get from a low-budget late night show on MTV (still playing some music in those days) to a bigger budget late night show on Comedy Central? Let’s start at the beginning.
The beginning, for this story, is 1987, three years out of college for Stewart (he graduated from the College of William & Mary) and one year after moving to New York City to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comic. It took him a year, it’s reported, to drum up the courage to go on stage. After that, he spent two years perfecting his act, going on stage last every night – 2 a.m. – at New York’s Comedy Cellar.
Once he did, Stewart caught on with audiences pretty quick. By 1989, he was comedy writing for television. And soon after, co-hosting a handful of high-concept shows on Comedy Central, including You Wrote It, You Watch It and Short Attention Span Theater.
As his popularity grew, so did his broadcast opportunities. He was a finalist to takeover for David Letterman on Late Night after the host left NBC. Instead, after the job went to Conan O’Brien, Stewart launched his MTV talker.
Late Night with Jon Stewart
Stewart developed The Jon Stewart Show for MTV as its first official late night talk show. When it debuted, it was only a 30 minute show, appearing after MTV’s most popular program, Beavis and Butt-head. Stewart interviewed guests in a stripped down studio from – if memory serves – a couch that looked like it was pulled from someone’s mom’s basement.
Stewart wore a leather jacket a lot, big baggy jeans in the post-grunge Friends style, and wore his bangs floppy. Guests included Howard Stern, Courtney Cox, Sherry Stringfield and Bronson Pinchot (all actors from popular shows of the day – Friends, ER, Perfect Strangers).
He also featured bands that weren’t featured on any other late night show back then. And remember, this is before cable really took off. Late night was nothing more than a handful of show, like the Late Show, The Tonight Show and Arsenio Hall. Bands that made Stewart’s show included Blind Melon, White Zombine, Faith No More, The Breeders, The Notorious B.I.G. and Marilyn Manson.
Manson’s appearance was notorious, as the theatrical singer went wild on stage, throwing guitars and knocking over set pieces. He eventually left the stage on Stewart’s back.
Moving into syndication – and off the air
The Jon Stewart Show was MTV’s second most popular program. Because of its ratings strength, sister company Paramount Television wanted to capitalize off of that popularity – considering its hit program, The Arsenio Hall Show, was leaving the air.
Paramount brought The Jon Stewart Show into syndication and expanded it into an hour. The show remained relatively the same in terms of content, though Paramount reworked elements of the show with the hope of appealing to a wider audience.
Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work and The Jon Stewart Show, in syndication¸ dropped dramatically in ratings. After only one season, the show was cancelled.
Letterman was Stewart’s final guest, spending an hour chatting with the host. In the interview you could see the first spark of what would become Stewart’s signature style and attention to detail.
Four years after the show’s cancellation, Stewart would return to television talk as host of The Daily Show, replacing departing host Craig Kilborn.