The Problem *Was* Jon Stewart

"There’s a mantra we all have to remember: Corporations are pussies."
Jon Stewart on Breakdown of His Apple TV Show: ‘Our Aims Don’t Align in Any Way’
Jon Stewart spoke about the breakdown of his Apple TV program “The Problem With Jon Stewart” this week, recalling when he knew the dispute began.

Alright, I've written about this topic enough, but this seemed like a good way to bookend the coverage – and I doubt there will be more unless Apple decides to weigh in, which they won't.

Backing up: in October of last year, Jon Stewart and Apple parted ways due to what were cited at the time to be "creative differences" on his Apple TV+ show The Problem with Jon Stewart. In February of this year, Stewart, now back on his old show, The Daily Show, gave Apple a slight knife poke, noting that the main issue was that they didn't want him to delve into certain topics. In April, he twisted the knife in a sit down with FTC Chair Lina Khan – one of the very people Apple preferred he not talk to. And adding salt to the wound, Stewart's old new show, The Daily Show, is doing huge ratings again – something the new old show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, failed to do for Apple TV+.

Anyway, Stewart sat down with Puck's Matt Belloni for his podcast The Town last week. He started out clearly trying to make peace with Apple – which, by his own account, did very right by him and his team upon exiting the relationship – and tone down the rhetoric:

"They didn’t censor me, it wasn’t free speech. When you work for a corporate entity, that’s part of the deal, even at Comedy Central. The deal is I get to do what I want until it’s going to hurt their beer sales or whatever it is they want to sell. And that’s the deal we all make."

Fair enough. But he also couldn't help but reveal more specifics about what led to the breakup:

He recalled a specific instance when he was shooting the show’s second season, which was during his interview with economist Larry Summers. As the two discussed high corporate profits and federal interest rates, Summers pointed out that Stewart’s program was airing on Apple. Stewart acknowledged it and said that all corporations are gouging customers, and Summers acknowledged that raising interest rates softens the labor market.

“We play the interview for the audience, they explode like we just hit a three-pointer at the buzzer,” Stewart recalled, adding that Apple raised concerns soon after. “The show ends, we go downstairs in full Rudy mode. The Apple executives walk into the dressing room afterwards with a look on their face and I was like ‘oh my God, did the factory explode, what happened?'”

“And they go ‘are you going to use that Summers thing,” Stewarts continued. “I was like ‘the one where the crowd cheered?’ We went back and forth for a couple of weeks before the show aired about that particular moment. It was then that I realized, ‘Oh, our aims don’t align in any way.’ We’re trying to make the best most insightful execution of the intention that we can make, but they’re protecting a different agenda. And that’s when I knew we were in trouble.”

First, that seems like an awfully small thing for Apple to get upset about. Yes, they can't be happy about Stewart implying that Apple is gouging their customers, but it's one of those punches that is so vanilla at this point that you just have to roll with it. If you don't, you risk Streisand effecting it. You know what else does that? Splitting with your high profile host over such issues, thus causing articles like these to be written about the issue.

Articles that may contain a quote from said podcast that will clearly reverberate:

Stewart said he had no ill will with Apple since The Problem ended, but further said that “the ethos of when you work for a company, whether it’s Amazon or Apple or now these new conglomerates, it’s a different calculus.”

Belloni further questioned Stewart on the changes the entertainment industry has faced while handling content alongside global geopolitical concerns, to which Stewart jokingly said: “There’s a mantra we all have to remember: Corporations are pussies.”

And just like that, the knife is right back in for a second stab.

Stewart, of course, is not wrong. And corporations may be wise to realize it's 2024 and most people don't care about such little controversies anymore. The cycles are such now that anything said yesterday will be forgotten about tomorrow unless you draw more attention to it by trying to silence it.

And all of this speaks to a larger question: why did Apple even want to hire Jon Stewart? They knew exactly what they were going to get. And that wasn't going to be someone who shied away from topics tied to Apple. But anyone in the world could have told you that 20 years ago. So either the creatives that struck the deal somehow tricked the overall powers-that-be at Apple, or they all just tricked themselves into thinking it would be fine.

And maybe it would have been had the show been more successful. But there as well Apple is to blame because they can't seem to do the thing they're one of the best at the world at doing in most cases: marketing. Apple TV+ has great content. Yes, they've long needed more of it, but that issue is getting alleviated with each passing week. Well, until they cancel shows because they don't like generic swipes at their amazing ability to make money.

And maybe the content of The Problem with Jon Stewart simply wasn't good enough. But that's also at least in part to blame on Apple, who could have and should have known what would work. That is, The Daily Show, or a closer approximation. Maybe Stewart didn't want to do that again, but I bet he would rather than have the show not work. Do you know how I know that? Because he's now doing The Daily Show again!

Anyway, this all just remains a weird own-goal by Apple. They hired Jon Stewart because he's Jon Stewart. Then they fired Jon Stewart because he was Jon Stewart.

One more thing: the rest of the interview is interesting as well. A lot of thoughts on AI, which Stewart is very wary about with regard to the future of entertainment, to say the least. Far too wary, I believe.1

Also, it sure sounds like he'll be extending his run on The Daily Show after his "temporary" stint is over. How Steve Jobs-ian of him.

1 And Stewart is certainly not always right...