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John Oliver’s ‘Daily Show’ Stint Comes to a Successful Close

The Brit's fill-in stint leaves the show stronger - and Comedy Central with options

There were media naysayers who acted like Comedy Central was crazy letting Jon Stewart take the summer off to go direct a movie, tapping correspondent John Oliver to fill in for him.

“Replacing Mr. Stewart for such an extended period of time is a risk for ‘The Daily Show,’ which has only rarely relied on a substitute host in the past,” the New York Times fretted myopically.

Well look who’s laughing now.

Frankly, the supposed dangers associated with letting Oliver keep the seat warm during this stretch always seemed minimal, and the rewards potentially significant. In fact, the only reason the decision was such big news is because A) the media love “The Daily Show;” and B) most modern TV hosts are so insecure they hate the idea of anybody else sitting behind their desk.

For starters, the writing staff remained intact, and as Oliver noted on Thursday, having observations punctuated by perfectly curated clips can make anybody look pretty damn funny. The news has also been accommodating, with lots of deliciously silly major stories — including the Royal birth, an event tailor-made to this British import. Oliver even extended a special thank you, appropriately, to New York mayoral hopeful and serial Twitter flirt Anthony Weiner, who provided him plenty of ripe material.

Already a gifted correspondent, Oliver grew more comfortable behind the desk during his run, starting out a trifle shaky before settling in and establishing himself as a fairly decent interviewer — an area where Stewart’s own performance is often uneven (occasionally bordering on indifferent), depending on the guest.

On Thursday, Oliver’s mention that this was his last show until Stewart returned post-Labor Day actually brought groans from the the audience, prompting the fill-in host to self-effacingly counter by yelling, “Stop hiding your joy!”

Still, Comedy Central comes away from Stewart’s hiatus with every reason to smile. Oliver is clearly another solid piece of manpower at its disposal, providing the channel a greater sense of security should the impulse arise to try spinning him or one of the other correspondents into a stand-alone vehicle. (Frankly, the field pieces seldom get any better than some of Jason Jones’ wilder outings, including this week’s raisin controversy.)

Not that everyone can be the next Stephen Colbert, but if nothing else, Comedy Central knows it has developed another highly poach-able commodity in Oliver, as well as a legitimate substitute should Stewart again be bitten by the “I want to stretch as an artist” bug.

All told, that sounds like a win-win — and perhaps even a win-win-win, if the movie actually turns out to be any good.

So lo and behold, Jon Stewart can take a break from “The Daily Show” and the globe doesn’t fly off its axis. That’s not just fake news; it’s also good news.

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