Comedy Central Needs To Look Ahead -- And What Network Doesn't?

OK, Comedy Central: What now?

Two of your biggest faces -- Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart -- are disappearing from the channel. “The Daily Show” alone pulled in some $55.6 million a year.

We know TV programming is often in flux -- much to the distress of TV executives. Remember that while running NBC, Jeff Zucker was particularly successful in this regard:  He was able to keep “Friends” around a few seasons longer than castmembers originally wanted.

As with any network, NBC was also working to come up with decent replacement programming -- which didn’t really happen for almost a decade afterwards. That’s the fear for Comedy Central.

The timing of new TV shows doesn’t always work well for networks. Comedy Central can blame David Letterman, in part, for deciding to retire -- leaving the door open for Colbert to enter. Also blame the longtime programming rule that you need to face much failure before coming up with something that works.



At cable networks, departures can be even more of a problem. When singularly original TV shows are a major reason why viewers show up, that puts more pressure on the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” senior executive mindset.

Comedy Central witnessed an 11% sinking among the prime-time 18-49 demographic in 2014 to 483,000; with total average primetime viewers also down 11% to 733,000.  The “Daily Show”, by itself, regularly  doubles that level around 1.4 million; “The Colbert Report” came in a bit less than the  “Daily Show.”

Mind you Comedy Central isn’t alone. A whole host of other cable networks -- big and small -- have lost viewership ground recently, with double-digit percentage declines during the fourth quarter and 2014  as a whole.

Still, Comedy Central actually improved to 11th place in prime time 18-49 viewers versus all cable networks in 2014. It was tied for 14th place in 2013.

The network didn’t waste time filling one spot, at least. Taking Colbert’s place is Larry Wilmore's "The Nightly Show." Viewing results are still too early to call.

This isn’t to say replacements don’t work. Stewart took over from the original host, of “The Daily Show,” Craig Kilborn, who also went off to CBS late night -- only to depart after a few years.

In TV, anything can happen. For example, NBC is still shocked at the surprise dominance of Jimmy Fallon in late night as host of “The Tonight Show.”

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