NBC Wanted to Hire Jon Stewart to Host Meet the Press

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Photo: Comedy Central

This Sunday marks Chuck Todd’s one-month anniversary in the anchor chair at Meet the Press. Despite an opening-week ratings spike from his exclusive sit-down interview with President Obama, the Todd-helmed show has settled back into third place behind ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation. This has been frustrating to NBC News executives, who at one point had considered going in a radically different direction with the show.

Before choosing Todd, NBC News president Deborah Turness held negotiations with Jon Stewart about hosting Meet the Press, according to three senior television sources with knowledge of the talks. One source explained that NBC was prepared to offer Stewart virtually “anything” to bring him over. “They were ready to back the Brink’s truck up,” the source said. A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment. James Dixon, Stewart’s agent, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

It makes sense that NBC would make a run at Stewart. The comedian-cum-media-critic possesses something that broadcast executives covet: a loyal, young audience. And it’s not the first time NBC tried recruiting him. According to sources, NBC Entertainment courted Stewart several years ago for a 10 p.m. variety show (the slot ultimately went to Jay Leno). This April, CBS announced Stewart’s Comedy Central colleague Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman next year.

Though not a traditional journalist, Stewart can be a devastatingly effective interrogator, and his Meet the Press might have made a worthy successor to Tim Russert’s no-bullshit interviews. During the home stretch of the 2012 campaign, Stewart grilled Obama for his wan presidential debate performance, asking: “Do you feel you have a stronger affirmative case for a second Barack Obama presidency or a stronger negative case for a Romney presidency?” And last October, Stewart’s clinical dissection of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius laid bare the disaster of the Obamacare rollout, from which Sebelius never recovered.

Perhaps NBC executives were hoping Stewart’s sabbatical from The Daily Show to direct his first feature film last year indicated a certain restlessness they could capitalize on. Alas, they were unsuccessful. Stewart, whose Comedy Central contract extends through next year, declined NBC’s aggressive courtship. He probably recognized that much of his audience wouldn’t rush to turn on their televisions early on a Sunday morning. As Todd told a reporter last month, it’s a tough time slot for the young folks: “Are they rejecting the brand or are they just not getting up?”