For many years, Larry Wilmore was one of the great unheralded figures in American television comedy. At a time when there were very few African-Americans writing and producing TV shows, Wilmore wrote for In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, co-created the Eddie Murphy Claymation cartoon The PJs and executive-produced The Bernie Mac Show, before co-creating the current ABC hit Black-ish. In addition to occasional movie appearances, Wilmore also spent years in an on-air role on The Daily Show, as the “senior black correspondent.”
When Stephen Colbert left Comedy Central last year to replace David Letterman on CBS, Wilmore replaced him, with a new program called The Nightly Show. Debuting in January 2015, The Nightly Show used a panel-heavy format familiar from Bill Maher’s shows, with one key change: An African-American host, much more diverse panels than what are typical for TV and much discussion of racial issues. And now, just a year-and-a-half into its run, The Nightly Show is coming to an end.
Comedy Central is pulling the plug on The Nightly Show, and it will air its final show on Thursday, Variety reports. Chris Hardwick’s @Midnight, in a move that will put the lie to its first very title, will move to 11:30 following The Daily Show. A show featuring The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper is in development and may ultimately take the 11:30 time slot in the future.
According to Variety, the cancellation came following a failure to gain ratings traction with its target demographics, and a similar lack of social media performance. Variety also quoted Comedy Central president Kenneth Alterman:
”We hold Larry in the highest esteem, personally and professionally. He brought a strong voice and point of view to the late-night landscape,.. Unfortunately it hasn’t resonated with our audience…We’ve been monitoring it closely as for a year and a half now and we haven’t seen the signs we need in ratings or in consumption on digital platforms. We’ve been been hoping it would grow”
The news of Wilmore’s cancellation is unfortunate. In the year-and-a-half it aired, the show certainly wasn’t lacking for material, between the continuing Obama presidency, the rise of Donald Trump and various flare-ups related to violence by police and against police. Wilmore is a legitimate talent, and while the show didn’t always feature the best or most knowledgable panelists (leaning hard on its writing staff instead), The Nightly Show was clearly a fantastic use of Wilmore’s specific abilities.
The Nightly Show’s death also crystalizes something fascinating about the state of late night: The current genre is full of hosts who formerly worked on The Daily Show. John Oliver’s show on HBO and Samantha Bee’s on TBS are huge creative successes that frequently yield viral clips, as does Jon Stewart himself on the rare occasions that the resurfaces. Stephen Colbert, on CBS, has had more mixed success. But disturbingly devoid of buzz have been the shows remaining on Comedy Central: Wilmore’s Nightly Show, and the current Daily Show itself, with Trevor Noah. Did Comedy Central make wrong decisions about late night succession? Do they need to make another move to set things right?
The Nightly Show’s final episodes will air this week on Comedy Central.