'Daily Show' anchor tapped for Oscar hosting duties

When Hollywood gets political, so do the Oscars.

Capping an unusually lengthy search, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has inked Jon Stewart to host the 78th annual Academy Awards. It will be “The Daily Show” funnyman’s first stint as Oscar emcee.

But is he the right man for the job?

While Stewart is best known as a TV personality — his bigscreen credits include “Big Daddy” and “Death to Smoochy” — he’s also become a respected icon of pop culture and one of its sharpest critics.

Stewart’s outspokenness on politics and the media — which have earned him multiple fans, raves and Entertainment Weekly covers — could coincide with the topical nature of this year’s Oscar contenders, including “Brokeback Mountain,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana” and “Munich.”

Oscar producer Gil Cates characterized him as “a host who loves movies, and someone who feels like 2006.”

“The best host is someone who is a perceptive comic and can roll with the unexpected,” Cates told Daily Variety. “It seems to be Jon Stewart’s year.”

The Acad and ABC have tried to fight audience erosion in recent years by courting younger viewers. Last year’s edition, hosted by Chris Rock, pulled that off, drawing more viewers in the 18-34 demo, though overall viewership declined to 42.1 million from 43.5 million viewers the previous year, when Billy Crystal hosted.

But despite a few potshots at actors including Jude Law, Rock’s much-anticipated performance drew mixed reviews from some who felt he had toned down his act.

“I thought that Chris did a great job last year,” Cates said. “Many people thought he wasn’t edgy enough. Many people thought he was too edgy. You can’t win for trying.”

Cates said Stewart’s own youth appeal — “The “Daily Show” regularly wins its latenight timeslot in adults 18-34 — was of secondary concern.

“That’s something we’re aware of and happy about, but the real major issue was finding someone who could be a great host,” Cates said. “It wasn’t the cart pulling the horse. I would not have asked Jon Stewart to do the show for that reason.

“After all,” he said, “who wants a larger audience for a lousy show?”

The Academy’s announcement Thursday came late in the award-season game, as hosts typically have been named as early as September or October. Cates approached Stewart before the holidays.

Eight-time host Crystal declined the role due to a busy schedule, and Rock was not asked back.

“The Daily Show” will cease production the week of Feb. 28 so that Stewart can prep for the Oscars with the help of other scribes from the Comedy Central skein.

Stewart, 43, has hosted the Grammys twice, in 2001 and ’02, but the Oscar gig will mark his first foray as host of a film awards show.

The Academy Awards will be broadcast live March 5 on ABC from the Kodak Theater.

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