THE notion that for a generation many young Americans have tuned in to a comedy channel to get broadcast journalism and a take on politics which they feel they can trust is hilarious, disturbing and enlightening.

We have a tendency to patronise the US but for years we have been sticking our political satire into the safe quarantine zone that is the quiz show format.

That is why we have big news-comedy hitters like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, but do not have our own The Daily Show, from which Jon Stewart has just announced his resignation as anchor after a run of four nights a week for more than 16 years.

Frankie Boyle was in good company when he tweeted: "Hopefully some of the stuff about Jon Stewart retiring will mention that we don't have anything like his show here because we're not allowed."

It wasn't always this way. In 1962-63 That Was The Week That Was used elements of the news magazine in its format, even abandoning humour completely for a shortened non-comedy version to reflect on the Kennedy assassination.

TW3 was then dropped by the BBC because 1964 was an election year and topical satire could compromise the corporation's impartiality. But TW3 had gained sufficient traction (modern political word) that in the US a spin-off was produced by NBC using such stars as Henry Fonda and Gene Hackman.

In the UK the spirit of TW3 lived on in Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, another David Frost vehicle, which was dropped for giving offence to the Catholic Church and, heaven forfend, the Royal family.

Frost got a third bite at news satire on the BBC with The Frost Report - a programme which also gave us elements of the Monty Python team, the Two Ronnies and The Goodies. But soon Frost himself crossed the no-man's land between satire and current affairs. History does not record in which direction.

That is not to say that there has not been news satire in the UK over the decades, just that it has followed diverse formats - from the magnificent puppeteers of Spitting Image, to comic creations of genius such as Sir Humphrey Appleby, Alan B'Stard and Malcolm Tucker.

In a different, more radical league is Chris Morris who teamed up with Armando Iannucci to create the radio pastiche On the Hour and its television spin-off The Day Today. Then Morris segued into his ultimate documentary spoofs, Brass Eye, tackling drugs and paedophilia and duping celebrities and politicians into dumb contributions, even parliamentary questions.

This would likely be too strong for the US to stomach, even on the Comedy Channel, and nothing with this edge is being created today on either side of the Atlantic.

In the US comedy and satire has continued to straddle the mainstream and the fringe but this is the ground we seem to have abandoned to the quiz show format. Is there a causal link between the former and the latter?

What is clear is that in the US The Daily Show is a cultural phenomenon for which we have no direct equivalent: a confirmed, if niche fixture, crossing between news and satire, railing against the smugness and formulaic rigidity of mainstream broadcasters, as well as the partisan stridency of Fox News which has no long-standing similar programme here.

Is he funny? For sure, but Bill Maher is funnier and neither is as spot-on as, say, the late George Carlin. Did he gain a cultural foothold? Absolutely, with no direct comparison here. Deep down, and perhaps the real reason for Jon Stewart's success, is that he is no iconoclast.

For all the ordnance of satire and black humour deployed, he is a deeply respectful observer of his nation's traditions, saying in reference to both politics and the media: "The only reason you mock something is when it doesn't live up to the ideal."

When he agreed to go on NBC's Crossfire he did so because he hated its parody of genuine, respectful debate, stark and without shades of grey, if we can still use that phrase. Debate, so to speak, which doesn't require bondage restraints. He and his mock-Conservative Daily Show alter ego Stephen Colbert attracted more than 200,000 to a rally for "sanity and/or fear" in a sideswipe at conventional adversarial politics which were turning people off.

There may be no direct parallel here, but in voters' distrust of current politics there are lessons to be learned.