Jon Stewart's return to The Daily Show desk was not just a boost over John Oliver's stint as host—though that was probably to be expected—but also gave the show one of its best numbers of the year.
Over 2 million people tuned in to see what it would be like when Jon Stewart re-assumed the anchor desk at The Daily Show, Deadline's Lisa de Moraes reported. De Moraes explained that the episode gave Stewart his second second most-viewed episode of the year. She added that "about 640,000 of last night’s crowd was aged 18-34 — the show’s target audience. That’s 22 percent better than Stewart episodes have averaged this year."
The number for last night's episode also marks a big boost over the ratings in the two weeks before Stewart took a break to film his feature Rosewater and the show was averaging 1.415 million viewers.
The story of Stewart's departure was that the show didn't need Stewart to succeed. Oliver kept the ratings steady, averaging 1.3 million viewers, and critics agreed he did a great job. The story, though, of Stewart's return is that, regardless of whether the show needs him to survive, he has indelibly left his mark on it.
In his assessment of Stewart's return, James Poniewozik wrote at Time that the summer showed that "above all that the star of The Daily Show is, more than any one person, The Daily Show itself." But, as Poniewozik also noted, that also has a lot to do with Stewart himself.
Naturally, the question becomes, if this summer demonstrated The Daily Show can get along without Stewart, how long does Stewart want to keep hosting The Daily Show? It's unclear. His latest contract, announced last summer, runs through the middle of 2015. Alyssa Rosenberg wrote on Wednesday at ThinkProgress that "what sets Stewart apart most from other long-running commentators who seem desiccated by their tenures in their perches is that he still seems profoundly interested." On the other hand, de Moraes saw "telltale signs of a comic who has been through a life-changing experience and feels he should be doing something more serious." Stewart is, after all, heading to the Toronto Film Festival to pitch buyers on his movie. For now, Stewart the executive producer can take comfort in The Daily Show brand going strong.