NBCU's Zucker Courts Jon Stewart

After NBC Universal's high-profile signing of Ben Silverman for the top programming job, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart might be next on the Peacock's wish list.

NBC Universal President/Chief Executive Jeff Zucker and NBC Entertainment/Universal Media Studios Co-Chair Marc Graboff recently wined and dined the satirical news anchor and his agent, James Dixon.

According to a network source, Zucker and Graboff didn't focus on pitching any specific role at the dinner meeting. “They just made their interest known in finding a way to do business together if Jon was ever available,” says the source, who categorized the talks as “exploratory.”

That slow and easy approach mirrors another of Zucker's high-profile courtships, his successful play to snare Meredith Vieira from The View to replace Katie Couric on the Today show. While Zucker's play for Silverman was more abrupt after Silverman walked into his office and said he was a free agent, Zucker is known to be a master of the soft sell, knowing with certain talent he can't push too hard.

Stewart's The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is a franchise at Comedy Central, and Stewart's deal is up in 2008. Although Comedy Central has had its eye on off-net sitcoms such as The Office, as well as continuing its slew of originals, it is watching costs in part to have the resources to keep Stewart.

As for NBC, while its late night is in flux right now, the network's interest in Stewart is not limited to that daypart, according to sources. If Stewart were to jump to a network in late night, he has been said to covet David Letterman's chair on CBS.

But NBC is turning its attention to its own late-night future. The network has some major decisions to make in the wake of its announcement that Conan O'Brien is scheduled to replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2009. Leno is still printing money for NBC, and the show's profitability is even more important now, given the network's primetime struggles.

While NBC may decide to keep Leno and give O'Brien a reported $40 million payout, either way it has a hole at 12:30 a.m. ET, because O'Brien would undoubtedly leave the network if it pulled The Tonight Show from him.

Whoever ends up hosting at 11:30, NBC has begun actively working on a solution for the post-Tonight Show hole in 2009.

Representatives of Stewart, NBCU and Comedy Central declined comment.