As I was watching Jon Stewart grill George Stephanopoulos tonight, I was reminded of just how useful and important the Daily Show has actually become. Not only is it bloody hilarious and not afraid to to take a critical stance on Bush and his administration (that "eeeexcellent" bit with Cheney and the riff on Bush's incredibly Simpsons-esque "embetterment" line were great examples), but Stewart is actually doing a lot of good things with his interviews.
For example, he's taking "policy guys" and he's making them interesting. One of the weirdest things about the Daily Show is that it's often the political wonks and administration figures (or diplomats, or congressmen, or whatever) are actually more interesting than the celebrities. The celebrity interviews are pretty good and it's often interesting to get their take on what's going on, but they're also pretty standard; it's the same sort of late-night interviewing that's been around since Carson. The wonks, though, not only get into much more interesting and detailed riffs back and forth with Stewart, but miraculously Stewart can take these guys and make them really, really funny. Not "be funny at their expense" or "be funny and ignore them", but actually help these guys to be funny in-and-of themselves.
More importantly is the stunning fact that he's doing a damned good job of bringing out political issues and presenting them in a fairly easy-to-follow fashion, especially when it comes to the war. The way that Jon's questioning style and choice of questions tonight quickly, clearly, and effectively laid out the case against invading Iraq was amazing to behold. It doesn't feel dumbed down and the jokes about the whole thing worked pretty damned well, and even though Stephanopoulos managed to riposte him, Jon did an amazing job. Jon wasn't insulting or hostile either, and to be honest he never is (even when faced with Ann Coulter). He might disagree, and might poke fun, but it's no Crossfire.
(He also provides the deathblow to the idiotic "only conservatives have fun" meme, which is always handy.)
Probably the best aspect, though, is the way that he's approaching the political interviews and the choice of subjects. He tends to get people who know about politics but who aren't either partisans or pundits, and if he does end up with a partisan, he's pretty careful to keep things light and veer around the talking points as much as possible without making the discussion pointless. Compare that with the drubbing that Bill Maher and his guests got daily on Politically Incorrect at the hands of those hired-gun conservative mouthpieces that managed to dominate and muddy practically every second on that show where Bill wasn't blathering on himself. It's stunning, really.
Honestly, I've been somewhat of a fan of Stewart for a long time, and I'm glad that he seems to have finally found his niche. I don't think that Comedy Central knows what kind of talent they're sitting on (Steve Colbert is good enough to headline a show as it is, and Lewis Black is, well, Lewis Black), and I hope they catch on and give Jon the hour-long program that he deserves. Honestly, it really is one of the best shows on television.