| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Political satirist Jon Stewart, America's leading anti-establishment comic, will return in February as host of the Oscars, Hollywood's biggest insider event, organizers said on Wednesday.
It will mark the second stint as Academy Awards emcee for Stewart, 44, who debuted to mostly mixed reviews as host of the film industry top honors in 2006 and was succeeded at this year's event by comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
"I am thrilled to be asked to host the Academy Awards for the second time because, as they say, the third time's a charm," Stewart joked in a statement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Twice landing a job considered one of Hollywood's most prestigious assignments -- and one of its toughest -- further cements his transformation from a political humorist with a cult television following into a mainstream entertainer.
Stewart hosted the music industry's Grammy Awards in 2001 and 2002.
"He is smart, quick, funny, loves movies and is a great guy," Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates said. "What else could one ask for?"
Many critics wondered in 2006 whether the Emmy-winning star, who built his career skewering politicians and the media on the mock newscast "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," might prove too edgy for the glitzy setting of the Oscars.
Stewart's sharpest detractors judged him too dull, while others said he had struck the ideal balance between satire and sanctimony.
By comparison, many found DeGeneres' easy-going style as host of the 2007 show too low-key for Hollywood's biggest awards bash.
Although his late-night cable television following on Comedy Central averages only about 1.5 million viewers, Stewart and his show have become highly influential in U.S. politics and culture.
Young adults, the audience Oscar organizers are most eager to attract, make up the core of his fans.
Ratings for the 2006 telecast were down about 8 percent from the year before, averaging about 38.8 million U.S. viewers, still one of the year's biggest telecasts. The show rebounded to nearly 40 million with DeGeneres at the helm.
Pundits attributed the decline under Stewart to a relative lack of star power and somber, art-house subject matter of that year's crop of Oscar-nominated films including gay romance "Brokeback Mountain" and racial drama "Crash."
In contrast, this past year the top film nominees were led by box office hit "The Departed" and popular comedy "Little Miss Sunshine."
The 80th annual Academy Awards will be broadcast live on the Walt Disney Co.'s ABC network from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on February 24.