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Jon Stewart heads to HBO

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Four-year agreement to begin with topical news hits

Jon Stewart's post-Daily Show hiatus will be a short one, it seems: The celebrated host has signed a four-year deal with HBO, the company announced today, although he'll be starting not on television but in the digital realm.

Stewart's unnamed first project for HBO will consist of "short-form digital content," the company said in a press release. He will "view current events through his unique prism" and work with OTOY, a Los Angeles-based company that provides cloud-based rendering for real-time graphics production, on "developing new technology" for the content.

The vignettes Stewart produces will be featured on HBO's digital platforms, including the company's two streaming services: HBO Go, which requires authentication with an existing cable or satellite TV package, and HBO Now, which is its own over-the-top subscription. The content "will be refreshed on HBO Now multiple times throughout the day," according to HBO, and in a prepared statement, Stewart suggested that this production plan will work better for him than the rigors of The Daily Show's four-days-a-week schedule.

"I'm so excited to be working with Richard, Michael and the entire HBO family," said Stewart, referring to HBO CEO Richard Plepler and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo. "Appearing on television 22 minutes a night clearly broke me. I'm pretty sure I can produce a few minutes of content every now and again."

"Jon Stewart led a revolution that changed the face of TV comedy on the Daily Show," said Lombardo. "He graced our network nearly 20 years ago, so we're thrilled to welcome back his immense talents in this next chapter of his career." (Stewart was a frequent guest on HBO's The Larry Sanders Show in the mid-'90s.)

Stewart's four-year pact with HBO doesn't only cover this digital project. He could eventually return to television on HBO, or work on a movie — the deal "includes a first-look option for other film and TV ventures," and HBO said it will announce additional projects from Stewart "as they are confirmed." HBO did not announce a premiere window for Stewart's new venture.

Stewart, 52, concluded a 16-year run as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central this past August. He took time off from The Daily Show in 2013 to direct the film Rosewater. The movie tells the story of Maziar Bahari's imprisonment by the Iranian government, following the journalist and activist's appearance on The Daily Show in 2009. During Stewart's break, John Oliver served as The Daily Show's interim host; that gig led to Oliver getting his own series on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. After Stewart's departure, Comedy Central moved ahead with a new host: The Daily Show with Trevor Noah premiered in September.

The deal between Stewart and HBO appears to be part of an increasing focus at the network on the digital realm. It doesn't sound like Stewart's current-events riffs will air on HBO, the TV channel, at all — at least not initially — and television isn't necessarily the best medium for content of that length, anyway. HBO already posts lengthy segments from Last Week Tonight on YouTube the morning after an episode airs, and those clips often go viral.

In July, HBO announced a multi-year contract with Bill Simmons, the famed sports columnist whom ESPN let go in May, for a talk show set to premiere on HBO next spring. Simmons' multiplatform deal also provides for a digital presence, including audio and video podcasts, which he frequently hosted at ESPN and Grantland, the now-defunct site he founded under ESPN.