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Scott D. Pierce: Comedy Central let John Oliver get away

Published April 24, 2014 9:33 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Do you think maybe the folks at Comedy Central regret that they didn't get John Oliver under contract this past summer?

Oliver, a longtime contributor to "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," hosted that show for eight weeks while Stewart was off directing a movie. The reception to his performance, among critics and fans, was hugely positive.

And that's an understatement. Oliver received all sorts of rave reviews. Which is a huge accomplishment when you're replacing (albeit temporarily) a TV/pop-culture icon of sorts who is so closely identified with a show like that.

"It was a bizarre, exciting and terrifying experience," Oliver said. "And so, yeah, that is probably the key reason why I'm here right now."

Where he is right now is HBO. His new series, "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver," debuts Sunday/early Monday at midnight (with repeats at various times throughout the week).

It will be sort of a weekly version of "The Daily Show," with the same sort of comic sensibility we saw from Oliver last summer.

"It will be similar because it is me talking about things," Oliver said.

It will be the same sort of late-night sensibility we've seen from Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

"Jon Stewart … spawned Stephen Colbert," Oliver said. "That's not an image that I was ideally going to land on, but …

"And has, in turn, spawned me. So that's a triple spawn there."

Oliver's head writer, Tim Carvell, used to be head writer on "The Daily Show." But "Last Week Tonight" won't be just a weekly edition of "The Daily Show," Oliver promised.

"I am different, so we'll approach things in a different way," he said. "We're going to be on once a week, so we'll have extra time to have a different perspective on things."

Comedy Central certainly didn't have a functional crystal ball last summer. But who knew that David Letterman would decide to retire in 2015? That CBS would name Colbert as his successor, bringing the curtain down on "The Colbert Report" before the end of 2014?

Clearly, not the folks at Comedy Central, who apparently didn't see the need for an Oliver-hosted show when they might have been able to sign him. And who, now that they could really use him, are going to have to look elsewhere.

Bad timing for Comedy Central. Good luck for HBO subscribers.

Given that "Last Week Tonight" is going to be taped shortly before it airs, I can't offer you a review, of course. But given Oliver's performances on "The Daily Show" and his seriously hilarious podcast The Bugle (thebuglepodcast.com), it's hard not to expect big things out of his new show.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.