Perhaps the only people who are emotionally ready for Jon Stewart to leave The Daily Show are working at CNN and Fox News.
Stewart's greatest achievement in 16 years as host and producer of the show has been his mocking, often indignant scrutiny of TV news and punditry. Viewers relished it, of course, and imagined what Stewart's targets must be feeling. Embarrassment? Anger?
According to Bill Carter's recent report in The Hollywood Reporter, sometimes it was worse than that. CNN staff acknowledge that Wolf Blitzer took Stewart's savage mockery "especially hard." Even Fox's Megyn Kelly was, apparently, once reduced to tears after a Stewart demolition. That's a surprise, since Kelly has always seemed so icily certain in her attitude and tone.
Mind you, Stewart never limited his scrutiny to TV or right-wing media. He's complained in his comic manner about The New York Times and many other mainstream print outlets.
As such he's been powerful and unique. The Daily Show's rise to high-grade influence coincided with both the rise of cable's importance and the decline of newspapers and magazines, and thus the decline of print as a one-stop antidote to the natural tendency of television toward pomposity and self-importance. He took on the media-critic role with relish and with his staff provided ample evidence to back up his attacks and puncture balloons.
Now there are vast numbers of viewers who anticipate Stewart's takedown of a day's news coverage with zest. It's a before-bedtime routine, one that gives liberals and progressives – especially in the United States – a better sleep, knowing that somebody is on their side. Somebody is as outraged as they by Fox News, Republican senators and, at the moment, the perambulating monstrosity that is Donald Trump.
Those viewers will be bereft and especially with Stephen Colbert already gone, the late night TV take on the looming U.S. presidential election just won't be the same. At all.
But, just as we acknowledge Stewart's importance as a media analyst, mocker and truth-teller, we have to acknowledge that he is entitled to leave when he decides it's time for someone else to do the job.
There were hints from his replacement Trevor Noah this week, here at the TV critics press tour, that the new incarnation of The Daily Show will be less about jabbing at Fox News or CNN. However, that's not to say that Noah and his team – most of it Stewart's team – will go easy on politicians and their spin.
In the context of Stewart's leaving, it's best to remember what Stewart himself has said. Not in the past few months while he's been preoccupied with his last hurrah, but a short few years ago.
In a famous and surreal interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace in 2011, Stewart tried to make Wallace understand, with some difficulty, the job he and The Daily Show perform.
"What am I at my highest aspiration?" he asked rhetorically of Wallace. "Who am I? Am I Edward R. Murrow or Mark Twain?" Then he told Wallace: "I've existed in this country forever. There have been people like me who have satirized the political process … I've existed forever. The box that I exist in has always been around."
Those who are ready to mourn and who are prepared to be disgruntled, remember that. Someone or some outlet, finger-wagging and jeering, has always been there. Jon Stewart is one link in a long tradition. He's part of a tradition that connects Mark Twain to The Onion.
There are points to remember as Stewart leaves. While Fox News and CNN might welcome his departure, he didn't stop Fox News from being outrageously partisan no matter how many tears Megyn Kelly shed. He didn't cease the decline of CNN. He simply gave succour to the other side of the American cultural divide.
Stewart cannot be begrudged a departure. (His celebratory final show will be 50 minutes long on Thursday, on Comedy at 11 p.m., CTV at midnight.) He begat so much – Colbert, Larry Wilmore – and he helped a generation be attuned to skepticism.
It is one of the strength's of the American culture that it produces such figures as Stewart. Maybe Noah can eventually fulfill the necessary role, maybe not. But another figure will emerge, inevitably to scrutinize media and mock politicians.
It's waiting that's the hardest part, but Fox News and CNN will only sleep easier for a short while.