There's more than one reason John Oliver's imminent HBO deal is inconvenient news for The Daily Show. Here's the obvious one: Jon Stewart has lost his trusty (and well-liked!) sidekick. Here's the less obvious (but perhaps more troubling) one: Jon Stewart has lost his eventual successor—or so goes the conventional wisdom. Where does that leave The Daily Show now?
But let's back up. Oliver, a British comedian, has been with The Daily Show since 2006, but he didn't get his turn in the hot seat until this past summer, when he spent a whopping eight weeks filling the elder host's shoes while Stewart jetted off to make his directorial debut. And he did a good job! He made for a likable, frequently hilarious host, mocking the bejesus out of Anthony "Carlos Danger!" Weiner (an old friend of Stewart's, making Oliver a well-timed stand-in) and leading the helm for memorable sketches like stop-and-frisking Wall Street. Too good a job, really, considering HBO just swooped in and snatched him from Comedy Central's clutches.
But even before Oliver finished up his guest residency, critics and viewers were speculating that it was really more of an eight-week audition. Stewart's been with The Daily Show for 14 years now, and he can't stick around forever, can he? Everyone gets restless, and who better to take over than the show veteran who already took over for two months with almost unanimously heralded success? Entertainment Weekly's Hillary Busis speculated along such lines, writing that the Great John Oliver Experiment proved The Daily Show with Jon Stewart can, in fact, exist without Jon Stewart. "If there’s any justice," wrote Busis, "Oliver won’t have to stay a second stringer for long." Vulture's Jesse David Fox similarly declared back in August that "we can now consider John Oliver The Daily Show's heir apparent." Now what?