The House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is looking for answers from Apple CEO Tim Cook after “The Problem with Jon Stewart” was reportedly axed due to creative differences.
The New York Times reported in October that Stewart and the tech giant’s leaders faced disagreements about the guests and content that would be covered in Season 3 of the AppleTV+ talk show, with the host telling his staffers that the company was concerned about topics Stewart had brought forward, including China and artificial intelligence. According to the Times and other reports, Stewart wanted creative control of the series and walked away after Apple threatened to cancel it.
The letter, which was signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, argues that if accurate, the reports potentially speak to “broader concerns about indirect Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence over the creative expression of American artists and companies on CCP-related topics” and highlights another reason why the committee encourages Apple to “accelerate its efforts to reduce its dependence on the [People’s Republic of China] in its core business.”
“While companies have the right to determine what content is appropriate for their streaming service, the coercive tactics of a foreign power should not be directly or indirectly influencing these determinations,” the lawmakers wrote. “Although we recognize the difficult situation companies may find themselves in, potential decisions to not renew shows, or not produce a film or show in the first place, due to anticipated CCP objections to particular content deny U.S. viewers and global audiences access to important information about the PRC that reflects a broader variety of perspectives.
“This means that the CCP’s coercive behavior harms creative workers who are unable to speak their minds through content without grave professional consequences, production companies and distribution channels that take a chance on controversial CCP-related content and often are retaliated against, as well as audiences who are potentially unable to view content that speaks to an important geopolitical challenge of our time,” the letter continues. “If Jon Stewart can potentially be impeded from offering commentary on the CCP, what does this mean for less prominent personalities?”
While acknowledging that Stewart could find a new streaming service for his show, the committee warned that “an aspiring comedian who wants to use satire to make broader points about human rights and authoritarianism faces even bleaker prospects.”
“Respectfully, we believe that this needs to change and responsible creative professionals should be able to freely write and perform on PRC-related topics,” the lawmakers added.
The letter requests that Apple representatives offer the committee’s staff a briefing by Dec. 15 regarding the concerns around Stewart’s show as well as related matters regarding Apple, the PRC and its supply chains. The committee also plans to speak with Stewart’s representatives.
“To reassure the creative community in light of these reports, we also respectfully request that Apple publicly commit that content that could be perceived as critical of the CCP or the PRC is welcome on Apple TV+ and other Apple services,” the letter concluded. “We support the ability of artists, writers, studios, and streaming services alike to create content without fear of potential CCP retaliation and punishment. We similarly encourage American technology companies to diversify their supply chains, reduce their potential susceptibility to CCP pressure, and decrease their overall dependence on the PRC.”
Representatives for Apple and Stewart did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for comment.
The first season of “The Problem” debuted in September 2021, marking Stewart’s return as a talk show host after a six-year break since he hosted Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015. Following his departure from “The Daily Show,” Stewart passed the hosting baton over to Trevor Noah.
“The Problem With Jon Stewart” originated from multiyear agreement Stewart inked with the streamer in 2020, which also covered other projects in development through his Busboy Productions banner. Its second season, which launched on Oct. 7, 2022, shifted to weekly release after the first installment dropped new episodes every other week.
Over the course of its two seasons at the streamer, “The Problem” scored five Emmy nominations, including outstanding directing for a variety series, outstanding talk series and outstanding technical direction and camerawork in 2023.
Stewart served as an executive producer for the series alongside showrunner Brinda Adhikari, James Dixon and Richard Plepler. Chris McShane served as co-executive producer while Lorrie Baranek took on the role of supervising producer and Chelsea Devantez served as head writer.