Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Which Host Has the Most?

By Devin D. O'Leary

MAY 10, 1999:  They've had a little over a month to settle into their new jobs, so I guess it's time to issue a little progress report on our TV talk show hosts du jour: Craig Kilborn and Jon Stewart.

Kilborn, of course, dipped his wick into the world of professional talk shows by hosting Comedy Central's "The Daily Show"--an irreverent send-up of nightly news programs. Thanks to Kilborn and the show's crack staff of media wags, "The Daily Show" became a cult favorite, quickly surpassing "Saturday Night Live" in the area of TV news satire (not a hard task now that gruff frat boy Colin Quinn has taken over "SNL's" Weekend Update anchor position).

Once the show became a breakout hit, Kilborn found himself courted by the big broadcast boys at CBS to take over for Tom Snyder in the sinking, post-Letterman time-slot. Kilborn, naturally, jumped ship, and fans worried who could possible replace Kilbie behind the "Daily Show" desk. CC execs came up with a coup and paid big bucks to land comedian/occasional movie star Jon Stewart.

Kilborn's transition to CBS has been a rocky one. On basic cable, Kilborn's snarky attitude came off as edgy. Now that he's playing with the big boys, it seems affected and smug. He's never been a professional interviewer, and "The Daily Show" never required him to be. Now that he's actually forced to talk to guests (a sub-par selection thus far), he seems uncomfortable--a trait that could change with time. Kilborn's new set for "The Late, Late Show" doesn't seem to be helping matters. The standard talk show set (desk, couch, fake window overlooking fake Los Angeles skyline) feels dark and claustrophobic.

Kilborn's biggest problem is his dogged retention of old "Daily Show" gags. Having Kilborn read the day's headlines is a weary throwback to his old gig. Without the "Daily Show" writers, it's just not as funny. Dennis Miller ground his act into the dirt by dragging his old "SNL" Weekend Update gag along to every talk show he ever hosted. Kilborn would be advised to dump it. Similarly, the once hilarious "Five Questions" segment in which Special K grills guests on silly trivia seems out of place. It made sense on "The Daily Show" since guests only appeared for about three minutes, and the rapid-fire quiz was a funny way of dealing with the truncated time. Tossing out "Five Questions" after Kilborn has already talked to a guest for 10 minutes or so is a little weird--it's really just "Five More Questions."

Jon Stewart, on the other hand, has weathered his new hosting duties over at "The Daily Show" admirably. Whereas Kilborn has grown more cocky and phony, Stewart has unleashed an energetic, eager-to-please charm. Stewart's versatility has given a shot of fresh air to "The Daily Show." Stewart is at once funny, rude and self-deprecating and has displayed an unerring ability to "read" his audience.

Kilborn's report card: C--Needs improvement.

Stewart's report card: A--Plays well with others.

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