Last week Gabriel Sherman broke the news that before naming Chuck Todd the new host of Meet the Press (full disclosure— I am a huge Chuck Todd fan. He's simply one of the very best journalists working today), NBC offered Jon Stewart just about anything he wanted to take the post.
Would Stewart have been good in the role? I am tempted to say that he is so talented, and so in sync with the cynicism that many Americans feel about the political process that he would have been outstanding. Indeed, I've already written in a previous post about what a fantastic interviewer Stewart is. As he is free from the strictures of traditional journalism, he is able to call BS answers out. In the same post, I praised the work of The Daily Show in terms of reporting on critical issues. These skills also augur well for the job that Stewart would have done on Meet the Press.
Yet, the question requires more analysis. Much of what makes Stewart so effective stems from conditions that NBC could not offer.
For example, there are a lot of things he can say and do on cable at 11 PM at night that he could never do at 10 or 11 AM in the morning on broadcast television. The content on Meet the Press would have to be far tamer than it is on Daily Show. Sexual innuendo, coarse language, and other elements of The Daily Show would not be permissible, if for no other reason than the different regulations that govern what can be said on television and when.
Even John Oliver's fantastic Last Week Tonight, which might at first blush provide a model for how a comedian could host a weekly news show and provide real, serious, substantive reporting, demonstrates this problem. If anything, by virtue of being on HBO, Oliver has even more freedom to swear like a sailor, and make racy jokes in order to make his long form journalism entertaining.
Additionally, we must recognize a fundamental difference in purpose between the Daily Show and Meet the Press. The former focuses on entertaining. The later focuses on reporting and analysis. Even if we want to argue that Daily Show offers better reporting and analysis, the difference in purpose matters. It allows Stewart to pick stories because they lend themselves to entertaining presentations. He might not have the same freedom on a show like Meet the Press.
Instead, he would be forced to address the biggest topics for at least some of the show.
The end result of some of these constraints is that Stewart might disappoint on Meet the Press. People would tune in expecting the same entertaining presentation, and he might not be able to deliver.
Nonetheless, overall, I think he's a brilliant enough talent that he could have found a way to construct a successful program.
What might the model have looked like? Well, I think he could have used the reporting resources of NBC News to offer good long form journalism. While the types of humor that he could be employ would be constricted, he would have all week to find a way to make a 12-15 minute piece hold our attention. He also could have breathed new energy in the interview and roundtable portions of Meet the Press.
His BS detector, and his willingness to push interview subjects would offer refreshing segments that might actually produce news. He also could force politicians to address the topics that cynical Americans want addressed, but that politicians avoid with talking points. Now the end result of this style might be that politicians refused to go with Stewart.