Jon Stewart announced that he's leaving his fake-news-comedy program The Daily Show and the media promptly wet itself with grief. For days afterwards everyone with an internet connection was bombarded with people wailing and rending their garments over losing the voice of the younger generation.
Which makes this article on Five Thirty-Eight very intriguing since it boiled down the numbers of who watched and listened to Jon Stewart to see just who he was influencing.
Turns out Stewart was looking at declining ratings, declining influence, and an aging demographic where the average age went from 35 to 40. It seems Stewart's most devoted audience was his colleagues in the media and they were the secret of his success and his supposed influence.
The only times I went a week without seeing someone somewhere posting a think-piece about how Jon Stewart "destroyed" some politician he didn't like was when he was on vacation. The people in the media loved him, and they proclaimed this love from every rooftop.
This created the impression of influence far beyond the actual people he was influencing, the majority of them probably already voted his way anyway.
He achieve a perfect state of being what I call a "Media Appealer." A celebrity whose success is based almost entirely on their appeal to their colleagues in the media.
His emergence as a media superstar was perfectly timed. Rivals Jay Leno and David Letterman were on a long decline. Both had lost interest in their work and their guests, and seem most interested in outlasting the other by any means necessary except being the most entertaining.
The critics and media navel gazers needed someone to talk about. They already looked down on Leno, and knew Letterman was only interested in proving that he was somehow better than his guests and the audience, and needed someone to love.
That someone was Jon Stewart.
Their adulation was how Stewart could sneak in and become the highest paid host in late night television, earning $25-$30 million a year double the salaries of Leno and Letterman, despite averaging half their numbers in real audiences, even during his peak times at election years. Comedy Central thought they were paying the most influential man in the country because everyone in their social circle told them he was.
However, all good things must come to an end. Leno is out, Letterman is on his way out, new blood is getting into late night, including his former colleague, channel-mate, and fellow media darling Stephen Colbert, and at any moment any one of them could snatch the media's precious love from Stewart.
Stewart's a smart man, and he probably saw that this new competition was going to make Comedy Central take a long hard look at his numbers in relation to his salary, and figured it was best to go out while he was still the media's favourite.
Because in comedy, timing is everything.