Jon Stewart, who turned Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" into a sharp-edged commentary on current events, delivering the news in layers of silliness and mockery, said on Tuesday that he would step down after more than 16 years as its anchor.
Stewart, whose contract with Comedy Central ends in September, disclosed his plans during a taping of the program on Tuesday. Saying that "in my heart, I know it is time for someone else" to have the opportunity he had, Stewart told his audience that he was still working out the details of his departure, which "might be December, might be July."
"I don't have any specific plans," Stewart said, addressing the camera at the end of his show, at times seeming close to tears. "Got a lot of ideas. I got a lot of things in my head. I'm going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people."
"I'm not going anywhere tomorrow," Stewart added, "but this show doesn't deserve an even slightly restless host, and neither do you." Comedy Central did not elaborate on the future of the show, except to say that it "will endure for years to come."
In becoming the nation's satirist in chief, Stewart imbued the program with a personal sense of justice, even indignation. For a segment of the audience that had lost its faith in broadcast and print news outlets or never regarded them as sacrosanct in the first place, Stewart emerged a figure as trusted as Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow.
Stewart, 52, became the host of "The Daily Show" in 1999, entering with the identity of a hard-working standup, if not necessarily an astute political commentator.
A decade and a half later, his satirical sensibility helped turn "The Daily Show," where he also serves as an executive producer, into an influential platform for news and media commentary, both in the United States and around the world. The program - which averaged a respectable 2.2 million viewers a night last year - has been a humorous release valve for politically frustrated (often left-leaning) viewers and a bête noire of (often right-leaning) critics who saw him as a member of the liberal media elite.
As recently as Monday night on the show, Stewart had been taking aim at the recent scandal that has engulfed the NBC news anchor Brian Williams, a frequent "Daily Show" guest who on Tuesday was suspended without pay for six months. Stewart cast him as a journalist with a propensity for personal exaggeration and commented on the failure of the news media to thoroughly question the underpinnings of the Iraq War.
Speaking of Williams, Stewart said, "See, I see the problem. We got us a case here of infotainment confusion syndrome."
Noting the widespread media coverage of Williams' woes, Stewart wryly added, "Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War."
Created by Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg, "The Daily Show" had its debut in 1996 with Craig Kilborn, the former "SportsCenter" anchor, gaining buzz for its mixture of "Weekend Update"-style, news-driven comedy and Kilborn's sarcastic celebrity interviews.
Under Stewart, "The Daily Show" made Comedy Central a formidable player in late-night entertainment, a field that had largely belonged to the broadcast networks and programs like David Letterman's "Late Show" (on CBS) and Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" (on NBC).
During Stewart's tenure, "The Daily Show" won 20 Emmy Awards, including numerous trophies for outstanding variety series and outstanding writing of a variety series. The program also became remarkable for its success rate in boosting the careers of other comedic talents, who generally started out as on-air correspondents on "The Daily Show." Stephen Colbert used "The Daily Show" to refine his persona as a blowhard commentator and parlay it into his own companion series on Comedy Central, "The Colbert Report." In April, CBS announced that Colbert would succeed Letterman as the host of its "Late Show."
Steve Carell, who went on to become the lead actor of NBC's "The Office" and an Academy Award-nominated star of "Foxcatcher," broke through as a "Daily Show" correspondent under Stewart. So did John Oliver, now the host of HBO's news satire program "Last Week Tonight," and Larry Wilmore, who now hosts Comedy Central's "Nightly Show," following "The Daily Show."
For a generation of television viewers, Stewart and his "Indecision" coverage of presidential and congressional elections became the satirical prism through which they viewed the American political process. Stewart spoke for audience members who became jaded about electoral democracy (some before they were old enough to vote) and was often cited as a primary source of information for a viewership that had given up on the staid evening-news programs of the broadcast networks and the shouting-match arenas of cable television.
Whether or not they shared Stewart's viewpoints, guests from across the political and media spectrums frequently appeared on "The Daily Show" to promote projects and discuss current events. President Barack Obama gave interviews to Stewart (including one in October 2012, with that year's presidential campaign in full swing). So too did former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; Hillary Rodham Clinton; John McCain; Mike Huckabee; and Nancy Pelosi.
Bill O'Reilly, the host of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News and a frequent critic of Stewart's, was nonetheless a willing and able sparring partner, and often appeared on "The Daily Show" or invited Stewart onto his show for boisterous debates.
Stewart saw no need to pretend to be a neutral host, and sometimes confronted his targets on their home turf.
During an October 2004 appearance on the CNN program "Crossfire," Stewart criticized its hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson as "partisan hacks" who were participating in mere "theater," and said to them: "Stop hurting America."
In the summer of 2013, Stewart took a hiatus from "The Daily Show" to direct a movie, "Rosewater," adapted from a memoir by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist who had been held prisoner in Iran for 118 days after reporting on its disputed 2009 election.
Speaking about why he pursued the "Rosewater" project, Stewart told The New York Times that his desire to celebrate journalists like Bahari was no different from his impulse to make fun of others on "The Daily Show."
"The only reason you mock something is when it doesn't live up to the ideal," Stewart said. "There's a huge difference between what these journalists are doing on the ground, and the perversion of it that is the 24-hour news networks."