How Jon Stewart Is Still Making an Impact on Late-Night TV

'He is a constant resource,' said Late Show host Stephen Colbert

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If you're lamenting Jon Stewart's departure from The Daily Show last August and wishing he was still a presence in late night, your wish has come true.

In the end, Stewart's late-night hiatus didn't even last a month. The former host has been an important force on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert where he serves as one of the show's four executive producers, Colbert told Adweek during his interview for this week's cover story.

While Stewart's inclusion as a Late Show executive producer was a surprise reveal on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert's Sept. 8 debut, his exact role on the show had remained unclear, until now.

Colbert said Stewart has been a part of his Late Show plans since April 10, 2014 when CBS first revealed that Colbert would leave The Colbert Report and take over the show after David Letterman's retirement. "The minute it was announced that I was going to be the new host, that day, he called me up to congratulate me and I said, 'Thank you. Would you come help with the show and be an executive producer?'" said Colbert.

"I had many motivations for that. One is I'm very grateful to Jon for everything I learned from him at The Daily Show and for him putting his weight behind my last show [The Colbert Report] getting on the air and helping us with that show. I wouldn't have this position if it hadn't been for what Jon did for me. So on one level it's gratitude and loyalty to Jon," said Colbert.

"But on another level, he's been immensely helpful because he's also a real consultant. As a matter of fact, the reason this interview started late is that I have not had a moment for him to download his thoughts to me. We were talking about ways to open up the show, how to make it more play, less planned. Because our head is in it so much, he is someone who I trust completely. He understands me and my personal process and also understands the flaming toboggan ride that is doing a nightly show. And he's a constant resource."

In addition to frequently checking in with Colbert via phone, Stewart has also been hands-on with helping the Late Show staff figure out their day-to-day producing process. "After the first two-and-a-half months, he came in and spent a week with us, watched everything and went, 'This is what you're doing right, this is where people are getting in each other's lanes.' He worked with my executive producer Tom Purcell—they get along famously—and they came up with lane charts. They changed everything," said Colbert.

Beyond Stewart's "great managerial mind," Colbert is also tapping his friend's brainstorming abilities. "We're beyond his process input. Now we're on to, 'OK, I like what I do, this is where I want to go. How do I get to these goals that I established once I had a moment to think about it?' I don't have time to think about how to get there. And he's doing that for me now," said Colbert.

Stewart is also trying to give Colbert some perspective, especially as he adjusts to shooting five hours of The Late Show each week, versus four half-hours a week at The Colbert Report. "Now that he has done this for so many years and he's not doing it, he's like, 'Take a breath. Don't get your head too much in the sand,'" said Colbert.

While Stewart has mostly remained behind the scenes, he did make a surprise Late Show appearance on Dec. 10, as part of his (successful) campaign to get Congress to renew the Zadroga Act, which authorizes health benefits to 9/11 first responders. Before long, however, Colbert had convinced Stewart that his message would be more effective if he dressed up like Donald Trump.

When he's not working on The Late Show, Stewart is creating short-form digital content for HBO platforms as part of his four-year deal with the premium cable network.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.