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Stewart inks 4-year deal as ‘Daily’ host

Comic to replace Kilborn; Pact worth $1.5 mil per year

NEW YORK — Comic Jon Stewart is jumping back into the late- night wars, inking a four-year deal to take over from Craig Kilborn as anchor of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

The cabler has agreed to pay the former MTV funnyman an estimated $1.5 million per year to return to his cable roots. Comedy Central will announce Stewart’s signing to the late-night news parody show at a press conference today, with Stewart expected to make his “Daily” debut in January.

With Stewart in place, Kilborn may soon be free to take over from Tom Snyder as host of CBS’ “Late Late Show.” The Eye web signed Kilborn to replace Snyder last spring, but Comedy Central execs have said they won’t let Kilborn go until his contract expires in September 1999 or a new host is in place.

Industry insiders now believe Kilborn will exit “The Daily Show” in mid-December. CBS execs would like to have Kilborn on the Eye by January so that the new “Late Late Show” can be hyped during the web’s NFL playoff games, but it may take longer to put together a new program.

It’s ironic that Stewart is replacing the man who will soon replace Snyder, since Stewart was, until recently, the odds-on favorite to inherit Snyder’s 12:35 a.m. timeslot. Indeed, Stewart is the only person to ever fill in for Snyder on “Late Late Show,” hosting the Worldwide Pants-produced program several times since its 1995 debut.

Stewart also had a development deal with Worldwide Pants that called for the comic/actor to host a latenight series for CBS, but the two sides let the deal expire last year in part because Stewart seemed more interested in pursuing his film career.

Why Stewart decided to go back to latenight is unclear, but insiders say his deal with Comedy Central will give him enough time to maintain a bigscreen presence. “The Daily Show’s” half-hour format and ensemble qualities may also make it less draining for Stewart than a traditional hourlong talker.

Stewart is a familiar face in cable homes, first breaking through as the host of his own MTV latenight talker. The comic was also one of the early hosts of Comedy Central’s now defunct “Short Attention Span Theater” and MTV’s “You Wrote It, You Watch it.”

Despite solid reviews, Stewart’s self-titled syndicated latenight talker bit the dust in 1995 after one season.

Stewart, who’s been under a multipic development deal with Miramax, will be seen in theaters next with “Dancing About Architecture,” which co-stars Gillian Anderson and Sean Connery and hits screens Dec. 18. Stewart also has a role in “The Faculty,” which is skedded for a Christmas Day release.

A Comedy Central spokeswoman declined comment.

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