Williams, Stewart Stories Are Not Linked, But It's Fun To Connect Them Anyway

It is irresistible to write a column today expounding on the irony of Brian Williams’ suspension from NBC for fictionalizing the news coupled with the announcement by Jon Stewart that he’s stepping down from the role of fictional anchorman that he plays on TV.

I plan to resist this temptation, however -- not because it’s a bad idea, but because so many columnists have already chosen not to resist it today. As a result, I see no value in adding my own version of the same thing to this particular scrum.

Instead, maybe I’ll just comment on the commentary and move on to some other angle on these stories, if I can find one.

As you may have noticed today if you’ve been looking around for Stewart-Williams commentary, the irony columnists are all writing something like this: Ha ha -- maybe Brian Williams ought to sit out his six-month suspension from NBC News by replacing Stewart on “The Daily Show,” at least until Comedy Central hires a more permanent replacement for Stewart. 



Or, as many of these columns are suggesting, maybe Williams should be the permanent replacement. Not only is he an apparent fictionalizer (a word you can imagine Stewart actually coining) of the news, but he reportedly aspires to a career in late-night comedy too.   

Whether he’s “slow-jamming” the news on “Fallon” or embellishing his own career by telling untrue war stories on “Letterman,” Williams loves to cavort on late-night TV. There was even a report going around -- originating with a New York magazine story -– that Williams campaigned for Jay Leno’s job when it became apparent that NBC was easing Jay out of “The Tonight Show.”

These “ha ha” columns linking the Williams and Stewart stories are not inappropriate. Quite the contrary: This approach is so obvious that you can be forgiven for wondering if Stewart himself recognized this irony and timed his announcement last night to take advantage of it, if only to see how many columnists today would write these kinds of columns.

If that was the case, Stewart was correct in his assumption that journalism loves nothing more than two front-page stories that can be connected and exploited in one slug (“Slug” -- newspaper jargon for a particular story or column on a news list) even if they involve two different situations that, in fact, don’t intersect at all.

Perhaps it is needless to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: The Williams and Stewart stories are not connected in any way, except that they both involve television and they both create challenges for their networks that are not dissimilar -- namely, who to replace them with.

For Comedy Central, Stewart’s exit means the end of the Stewart era (1999-2015) and also the official end of the Stewart-Colbert era (2005-2014). Stephen Colbert has already been replaced by Larry Wilmore, who has benefited greatly from his “Daily Show” lead-in.

Without Stewart, however, the lead-in strength of “The Daily Show” will diminish and so will Wilmore’s ratings unless Comedy Central can find a replacement for Stewart with the potential to maintain Stewart’s viewership. At some point, John Oliver would have been the most obvious choice here, but he’s committed now to HBO. 

As for NBC News, among the challenges they face is whether to replace Williams at all. This six-month suspension strikes me as a way of easing Williams off “The Nightly News” permanently by saying it’s “just a suspension” but in reality not planning to ever really bring him back.

But if a suspension implies that his absence is supposed to be just temporary, then how can they search for, much less hire, a replacement for him?

Maybe there’s a faction at NBC News that supports the idea that the public will be in a forgiving mood if Williams disappears for six months and then returns after -- what? -- a stint in truth-telling rehab? Or maybe this suspension really is, as one columnist suggested today, something like a sports suspension -- like Alex Rodriguez getting suspended from baseball for a season.

Whether we like it or not, A-Rod’s coming back this spring. Maybe Williams can come back too.

2 comments about "Williams, Stewart Stories Are Not Linked, But It's Fun To Connect Them Anyway".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 12, 2015 at 9:05 a.m.

    A really interesting development would be if CNN hired Stewart to go head to head with Fox's O'Reilly at 8PM. Surely Stewart's classic anti-news humorous approach would be a relief from CNN's staid and boringly redundant rehashes----and, maybe, Stewart could lure some 18-34s to CNN.

  2. JOYCE WILLIAMS from BOREALIS PRODUCTIONS LTD, February 13, 2015 at 12:12 p.m.

    It would be a very anti-humorous situation, if upon Brian Williams
    departure and suspension would be a tremendous occupation
    of allowing Stewart to come in and take over the CNN spot.
    Surely, if we all could rehash some anti-bashing statements made
    in spite of the luring redundant remarks recently made, one would
    anticipate a tremendous move of the major networks.

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