It’s true that the 11 p.m. broadcast of “The Daily Show” (which runs Monday through Thursday) plays to a relatively modest crowd – an average of just 1.8 million viewers a night thus far in October. But that doesn’t count four daily repeats on Comedy Central, which nearly double the program’s daily audience to 3.5 million. This means Stewart has roughly the same number of viewers as “Nightline,” David Letterman or Jay Leno, and a bigger audience than any show on the cable news networks except “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News Channel. Add in the untold millions who see “DS” clips embedded on Facebook pages, blogs and Web sites, or read about him in the mainstream media (media types love yakking about “The Daily Show”), and you’ve got a cultural force that transcends mere “basic cable.”
“He is mobilizing people like Glenn Beck does, but I suspect his cultural influence surpasses Beck’s,” says Geoffrey Baym, a media studies professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, who wrote one of the first scholarly studies of “The Daily Show” in 2005. “[Beck] has a narrow but very committed audience whereas Stewart resonates much wider with people who are fed up with the polemical aspects” of national affairs. “He’s reaching a watershed moment.”
Well, isn’t that good news.