Comedy Central Boss Doug Herzog On Hiring Jon Stewart For ‘The Daily Show’, His Evolution & Impact On The Network

In 1995, Doug Herzog, having risen through the ranks to president of MTV Productions, was named president of Comedy Central. He went on to launch programs that continue to define the network, including The Daily Show. Herzog has a special connection to Jon Stewart, who tomorrow is ending a 16-year run as host of The Daily Show. Herzog developed The Jon Stewart Show at MTV in the early 1990s. When original Daily Show host Craig Kilborn left in 1998, Herzog recruited Stewart as replacement in one of his last moves before leaving to become president of entertainment for Fox. When Herzog returned to Viacom in 2004, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart had just begun its ascent to the pinnacle of pop culture, one year into its impressive 10-year Emmy winning streak as best variety series. This year, Herzog is overseeing another Daily Show host transition, following Stewart’s decision to leave the program, which resulted in the promotion of correspondent Trevor Noah.

In an interview with Deadline, Herzog talks about the longevity of Stewart’s run while poking fun at his own brief stint at Fox, and discusses Stewart’s legacy and The Daily Show‘s future with Noah. Herzog also shares memories of The Daily Show, probably the only series where the staff’s dogs have their own blog.

DEADLINE: You had launched The Daily Show with original host Craig Kilborn. When he left, how extensive was the replacement search?

HERZOG: Not terribly extensive. Eileen Katz was the head of programming at the time. Madeleine Smithberg was the original EP and co-creator of The Daily Show. All three of us had worked extensively with Jon at MTV and at his syndicated talk show. He was always top of mind for us. Initially we didn’t think he would be interested. It was hard for us to imagine that he was going to replace Craig Kilborn on a basic cable network. But Jon — to his credit — saw a real opportunity for himself and what The Daily Show could ultimately become.

DEADLINE: When did you know Jon Stewart was the guy? What was it about Stewart that made you go with him?

HERZOG: I knew Jon Stewart was the guy the first time I laid eyes on him in the early ’90s. Jon is the smartest, funniest, quickest guy around. We had already seem him host his own show. We were pretty certain we couldn’t find anyone better.

DEADLINE: Can you share any fun memories you have of Jon at The Daily Show?

HERZOG: After I hired Jon, I left Comedy Central to join the Fox Network in January 1999. Ironically, I started at Fox network the same day Jon started at The Daily Show. It worked out a lot better for him. When I returned to Comedy Central in 2004, I went down to The Daily Show for the first time and I was immediately struck by all the dogs. There are dogs everywhere. It’s one of the most dog-friendly work environments I’ve ever seen. Everyone brings their dog into the office. It ends up creating a real family-like atmosphere at The Daily Show.

DEADLINE: What do you think about the evolution of The Daily Show, which became far more political under Jon? How far is the current Daily Show from the original idea at its launch?

HERZOG: The basic structure of The Daily Show goes back to our original idea when we launched the show. Headlines, taped piece, interview. Jon has evolved and elevated that over time – but the broadest notion of The Daily Show is not unlike the original conception. Lucky for us – for the past 16 years it has been coming through the specific filter and POV of Jon Stewart.

DEADLINE: How important has Jon Stewart been to Comedy Central?

HERZOG: Jon has been incredibly important to the network. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and South Park are the foundations upon which Comedy Central was built. Jon and The Daily Show helped transform a fledgling basic cable network into one of the — if not THE — premier brands in comedy.

DEADLINE: What are your expectations for the new incarnation of The Daily Show with host Trevor Noah?

HERZOG: We have a lot of confidence in Trevor. We’re excited to see what the next iteration of The Daily Show will be. He is not going to be out there imitating Jon Stewart – just as Jay Leno’s Tonight Show was not Johnny Carson’s. Jimmy Fallon’s was not Jay Leno’s. It will still be The Daily Show – but it will be Trevor Noah’s.

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