Fri Dec 8 2006
On Dec 2, the New York Times announced the departure of Daily Show and Colbert Report executive producer Ben Karlin with an article that read like a story announcing that Paul McCartney just had quit the Beatles. On Monday, the Paper of Record followed up with a joint interview with Karlin and Jon Stewart—whose partnership had begun to "unravel so abruptly," as the first article put itthat amounted to both the paper and the Daily Show brain trust saying "move along, nothing to see here." Until 10:59pm Monday, It was easy to suspect the second piece was the result of a sleepless weekend of stage-managing by Comedy Central's PR staff...but when the clock struck 11, a week of barnburner shows began and the rumors of backstage chaos were instantly rendered moot.
Maybe Karlin was beginning the process of going out in style (his departure becomes official at the end of the year), or maybe his successor, head writer David Javerbaum, was stepping up to emphasize continuity. No matter what, the result was a string of blue-chip shows highlighting the full range of The Daily Show's strengths. There were sterling contributions from contributors John Hodgman and Lewis Black, the return of prodigal correspondent Ed Helms (who has been a terrific addition to The Office), ace contributions from newer reporters Rob Riggle and John Oliver, plus multiple examples of the author sitdowns that have helped Stewart quietly establish himself as one of the best interviewers on TV. The Report is more of a one-man show, of course, and it too was in rare form, with highlights that included the latest Tek Jansen adventure and Colbert's Thursday interview doubleheader with author Elizabeth De La Vega and Dr. Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project.
Of course, between the release of the report by the Iraq Study Group and the annual litany of right-wing complaints about an alleged "war on Christmas," both shows had a larger-than-usual trove of primo material to draw on. But if you hadn't read the Times, it would have been impossible to tell that a change of the guard was in progress. The Gray Lady's saturation coverage was a pretty clear attempt to get ahead of the competition, but once it became clear that Karlin really does just want a less stressful life and that he's still buds with Stewart, it all began to seem like overkill. In part, that could be because the site that broke the story, theapiary.org (a haven for comedy insiders), admirably declined to use the story to increase its profile as TMZ did with the Mel Gibson brouhaha this summer. A week later, their original story still had a mere three reader comments, maybe a fifth of what there would be if the scoop came from Gawker.