×

Memo to Jon Stewart: Stick With Your Day Job Behind the Desk

The comedic commentator should think twice about taking a break to direct. Films are a chore, and latenight is heating up.

(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)

Memo To: Jon Stewart
From: Peter Bart

Consistent with my habit of dispensing unsolicited advice, Jon, here is my response to your announcement that you plan to direct your first movie: Don’t do it.

It may seem exciting to take a three-month leave from your hit comedy show to assume the role of auteur, but the plan has never worked for anyone else. First pictures are always failures, Jon, especially in the case of stars and celebrities, and you are the type of person who disdains failure.

The classic was Bob Dylan’s first (and last) film, “Renaldo and Clara,” a four-hour snoozer that opened (and closed) in one week in 1978. As such, it probably did better than “Filth and Wisdom,” Madonna’s first directing effort in 2007.

The hard reality is that, while novelists occasionally strike magic in their first try (think Hemingway or Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell), film directors usually strike out initially. George Clooney is Mister Perfect, but his “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” went nowhere. Neither did Sean Penn’s “Indian Runner” or Martin Scorsese’s “I Call First” (later re-titled “Who’s That Knocking at My Door”).

In his memoir, Elia Kazan acknowledged that it wasn’t until his fourth film that he really knew what he was doing as a filmmaker. His first effort was a mushy movie titled “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” but, to be sure, he ultimately graduated to “On the Waterfront.” In the same vein, it took a few years for Oliver Stone to grow from “Seizure” to “Platoon.” Or for Francis Coppola to go from “You’re a Big Boy Now” to “The Godfather.”

You’re very good at what you do, Jon, but are you really prepared to take another hiatus after your first picture bombs and risk yet another directing venture? You’ll have to watch Stephen Colbert ultimately move into your time slot and maybe even see one of two Jimmys — Kimmel or Fallon — become the new King of Latenight.

The trouble with making movies is that, while it looks easy, it is in fact a very exacting discipline. It helps if you know how to talk to actors (not just interview them) and also have a command of the camera and a mastery of film editing. Then there’s also the craft of appeasing film financiers and bludgeoning distributors into good release dates.

Of course, your producer is Scott Rudin, the king of the bludgeon. You’ll want final cut, Jon — Rudin can tell you about what that entails as well (it involves lots of fighting).

Some first-time directors display their keen sense of self preservation by selecting very accessible and commercial subject matter. Ron Howard, who grew up on television, went with “Grand Theft Auto” first time out. He knocked it out of the park (if you can do that with autos). By contrast, you have selected a political drama titled “Rosewater” (what is that title supposed to connote?) dealing with the imprisonment in Iran of a journalist named Maziar Bahari (no, not Joy Behar).

It sounds like an absorbing story, but how will you persuade filmgoers to buy tickets? We’ve all visited Iran once in “Argo,” but I’m not sure many of us are up for a return trip.

I’m aware that you’ve always liked to break the rules, Jon, and I hope you defy conventional wisdom once again this time. The problem is that most of us always want to become something we aren’t. TV hosts want to direct. Stars like James Franco want to be college professors. Seth MacFarlane wants to be Lenny Bruce; or maybe Frank Sinatra.

I like you the way you are, Jon. I hope you ultimately decide to stay that way.

More TV

  • CBS This Morning Ed Sullivan Theater

    'CBS This Morning' Team Anchors From Home Because of Coronavirus Precautions

    “CBS This Morning” has opted to keep its three anchors working from home in light of the expanding coronavirus crisis in New York. Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil anchored the show from their respective homes on Monday. King told viewers at the top of the 7 a.m.-9 a.m. ET broadcast that the move [...]

  • His Dark Materials HBO

    'His Dark Materials' Costumers Make Scrubs for U.K. Medics Fighting Coronavirus

    Costumers behind the Bad Wolf-produced HBO and BBC fantasy series “His Dark Materials” have united to make scrubs for medical staff fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K. The initiative, titled “Helping Dress Medics,” brings together a number of staff in the series’ costume department in Cardiff, Wales, and around the U.K. to stitch garments [...]

  • Alex Mahon Channel 4

    The Science of Reinvention: How Alex Mahon is Making History With Channel 4

    Regardless of whom you ask in the U.K. television industry, the astronomical feat of expanding public service broadcaster Channel 4 outside the safety of its edgy, central London home and across three new locations in various corners of the country could only have been carried out by Alex Mahon — a would-be astronaut turned supersonic [...]

  • iheart living room concert for america

    Fox's 'IHeart Living Room Concert for America': TV Review

    There’s something refreshing about something being about what it’s actually about. This was the thought that came to mind as the Backstreet Boys — a band still riding on the afterburn of one massive hit — performed a five-way “socially distanced” version of “I Want It That Way” on Fox’s televised benefit to raise awareness [...]

  • Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in

    'Homeland': Carrie Mathison Says Goodbye to Longtime Ally (SPOILERS)

    “Homeland” reached another milestone in its final season with the passing of a fan-favorite character who has been with the show since its inception. SPOILER ALERT: The following includes spoilers for “Threnody(s),” episode 8 of the eighth and final season of Showtime’s “Homeland.”  Carrie Mathison has said goodbye to a longtime ally in her quest [...]

  • Jane Levy Breaks Down Special 'Zoey's

    Jane Levy on 'Panic' and Jim Carrey as Inspiration for Special 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Episode

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch,” the eighth episode of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” thrust Jane Levy back into the spotlight as a leading lady in a broadcast series, but the eighth episode of that NBC dramedy, entitled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch,” more literally thrust her into [...]

  • ‘Westworld’: 5 Burning Questions From Season

    ‘Westworld’: 5 Burning Questions From Season 3 Episode 3

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the third episode of “Westworld” Season 3. After Maeve (Thandie Newton) and Bernard’s (Jeffrey Wright) windy Westworld and Warworld antics from last time around, Episode 3 returned to the equally dangerous environment of future Los Angeles. The episode began with Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) playing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content