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EXCLUSIVE: Daily Show's Jon Stewart Signs Comedy Central Extension

Jon Stewart signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him at Comedy Central through Dec. 31, 2010. Stewart informed his staff of the news Thursday afternoon and a formal announcement is expected shortly.

The length of the extension coincides with the 2010 expiration of David Letterman’s deal at CBS, which will fuel the speculation that the Daily Show host and Comedy Central franchise player could be in line to take over at CBS if Letterman decides to step away after his current deal is up.

Stewart’s current contract was set to expire at the end of 2008.

While the deal does not include any additional duties specifically, Comedy Central is already increasing Stewart’s presence on the Web. The network just launched a new Web site featuring clips dating back to 1999, when Stewart took over the show. Comedy Central plans to expand the site to include the show’s entire history, and increased online initiatives are a possibility down the road.

While Comedy Central would have liked to lock Stewart up for a longer period, the two-year deal is potentially good news for CBS. CBS chief Les Moonves is a fan of Stewart, and if the Daily Show star finally jumps to a network late-night show, he is said to covet Letterman’s chair.

Stewart has been courted by other networks, such as earlier this year, when he met with NBC executives Jeff Zucker and Marc Graboff, as reported in B&C.

The news adds to an already-fascinating landscape in coming years for the late-night world.

With Jay Leno not expected to hang up his microphone if and when Conan O'Brien supplants him on The Tonight Show, rampant speculation about a potential late-night game of musical chairs has been ongoing for months.

NBC said it is planning on handing the 11:30 p.m. slot to O'Brien, despite Leno's numbers still dominating the terrain. Should the network decide to change its mind, it could keep Leno and pay O'Brien a penalty in the neighborhood of $45 million, knowing that it would then lose him to the competition.

Either way, one of the two big names should be available in 2009, and Fox wants back in to late-night. Network executives have said that they would write the big check necessary to land an established star should the right one become available.

As reported by B&C, the network recently shot a pilot with sports personality Joe Buck as it looks to build out its late-night division.

Fox's competition for a Leno or O'Brien could come from ABC and even the syndication world, among other bidders. ABC's entertainment side still wants to wrestle the 11:30 p.m. time slot away from its news division's Nightline.

ABC's Jimmy Kimmel has grown into a strong asset and could be a smart play for Fox if he were ever to become available. Kimmel has consistently grown his audience despite the incompatible Nightline lead-in and the heavily female-oriented programming on ABC. Fox's lineup and the synergies with Fox Sports, for whom Kimmel has worked in the past, would be a nice fit to promote Kimmel's growing brand.

Stewart's deal with Comedy Central was negotiated by his attorney, Thomas Hansen, of Hansen, Jacobson, Teller. Stewart is managed by James Dixon of Dixon Talent.