When Trevor Noah took over “The Daily Show” at the end of September, critics mostly responded with ambivalence. They knew replacing Jon Stewart would require patience, but many were still lukewarm to Noah’s early episodes.
"The Disappointing Shallowness of Trevor Noah's' 'Daily Show'" read a headline from a December review on The Awl’s comedy-focused blog, Splitsider. “Noah seems to trade in caricatures of politicians and nothing more,” read a negative Salon critique.
But now, five months into his run as host, Noah seems to have turned a corner, said Brian Stelter, CNN’s senior media correspondent, even if it came later than some had hoped.
“He is slowly but surely turning it into his own version of ‘The Daily Show,’” Stelter, a Towson University alum, said on the phone from New York recently. “I would say emphasis on the word ‘slowly,’ and maybe too slowly for some people’s liking.”
Ratings dipped after the transition from Stewart to Noah. From launch to the end of 2015, Noah averaged 818,000 viewers per night, according to Nielsen. Stewart’s last full year, 2013-2014, earned an average of 1.5 million per night. (His peak average came during the 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 seasons at an average of 1.7 million viewers per night.)
Stelter said expectations of Noah smoothly picking up where Stewart left off were unrealistic for anyone.
“A replacement for a legend deserves years, not months, to settle in and make it his or her own show,” Stelter said. “Broadly speaking, Trevor deserves the same thing Jon Stewart deserved: time.”
In Stewart’s first full season as host, from 1999-2000, he averaged 645,000 viewers per night, according to Nielsen.
It’s simply too early to render a verdict on how Noah’s done, Stelter said. The difference between Stewart’s taking of the job and Noah’s, he argued, was the audience’s raised awareness in how TV works behind the scenes.
“It’s too soon to really know, and that’s kind of the fun of it,” he said. “I think some viewers really enjoy this process of watching, then finding out and seeing him try new things. Seeing some succeed and some fail. I think viewers are savvy enough nowadays where they’re actually in on it, and they know what’s happening.”