Has “The Daily Show” supplanted “Saturday Night Live” as a launching pad for modern comedy talent? It’s a judgment call, but in light of the latest budding star to break out of the former, it’s a barroom debate well worth having.
Word that John Oliver has scored his own topical comedy show at HBO — a development that seemed inevitable, somewhere, in the wake of his successful fill-in stint for Jon Stewart — follows Stephen Colbert’s spinoff; Steve Carell’s stand-alone stardom, first on “The Office” and then in features; and Ed Helms’ similar career arc. Others, including Rob Corddry and Rob Riggle, have also been in pretty constant demand, with plenty of “Children’s Hospital” fans out there, even if Corddry’s Fox show — the unfortunately named “The Winner” — fizzled.
It’s not like Lorne Michaels has completely lost his touch, with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers slated to become NBC’s one-two latenight punch next year, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler having become fixtures in the comedy firmament, despite their peculiar attraction to hosting the Golden Globes.
Still, through its early years “SNL” launched a staggering string of not-ready-for-primetime players not just into other TV programs but feature-film stardom, including Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell and (sigh) Adam Sandler.
While the drain of talent has continued — prompting Variety to begin wondering about a cast crisis last spring — one can argue that the relatively meager wattage of those who have left the show in more recent years dovetails with its numbing creative drift, even if the ratings have inexplicably held up quite well.
Of course, there will be those who wonder how Comedy Central could have let Oliver get away after “The Daily Show” helped launch him, but that’s simply the nature of the beast and bidding wars. In a broader sense, Oliver’s opportunity only further enhances the program’s reputation for nurturing talent, with the understanding that as long as Stewart’s still around, the franchise is in good hands.
Oliver’s exit will be a blow, but no more so than the loss of Carell and Colbert were, and based on the current group of correspondents, the cupboard is hardly bare. Besides, while Stewart might not have much nice to say about the gun lobby, if there’s one thing his program knows how to do, clearly, it’s reload.