After a year and a half of keeping things 100, The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore has been canceled, Comedy Central confirmed to the New York Times. The show’s final episode aired Thursday, August 18.
Wilmore is understandably disappointed, saying in a prepared statement that while he’s grateful to have had the chance to host The Nightly Show, he’s "also saddened and surprised we won't be covering this crazy election or 'The Unblackening' as we've coined it. And keeping it 100," he continued, using the phrase that has always anchored his segment devoted to making guests tell the truth, "I guess I hadn't counted on 'The Unblackening' happening to my time slot as well."
According to the New York Times, the seemingly abrupt, pre-election cancellation is due to the fact that Wilmore’s contract, along with those of many Nightly Show staffers, was up for renewal within the next few weeks, forcing Comedy Central to make a call earlier than it otherwise might have.
Wilmore himself will have plenty to occupy his time if he wants it, given his producing credits on both ABC’s Black-ish and HBO’s upcoming Issa Rae comedy Insecure. But getting kicked out of late night right before the election has to sting — even if it’s not entirely surprising.
The Nightly Show didn’t cater to 2016’s late-night TV standards, which made it both unique and doomed
Comedy Central had high hopes for The Nightly Show, which premiered alongside the final days of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in early 2015, in the high-profile spot formerly occupied by Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. But Comedy Central president Kent Alterman told the Hollywood Reporter that the show never quite "connected with our audience in ways that we need it to, both in the linear channel and in terms of multi-platform outlets and with shareable content and on social platforms as well."
Read that statement again. If you saw a Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync Battle or a James Corden Carpool Karaoke session flash before your eyes, congratulations, you’re basically an expert on how network executives view late-night TV in 2016.
I don’t mean to suggest that Comedy Central necessarily wanted Wilmore to start playing party games with celebrities in a bid to attract more attention online. That’s still not the network’s style, and besides, Trevor Noah’s version of The Daily Show (as well as John Oliver’s HBO series Last Week Tonight) have proved that it’s possible to get viral traction out of political breakdowns and bits that address serious topics and themes.
But it’s significant that Alterman cited a lack of "shareable content" from The Nightly Show as part of the reason the show can’t work, because The Nightly Show was never built to produce shareable content in the first place.
Though its format has undergone a few changes since it debuted, the current iteration of The Nightly Show looks something like a combination of The Daily Show and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher. Wilmore opens each episode with a short monologue, interjects some quick scripted banter with a correspondent — like standout Mike Yard — before pivoting to a topical roundtable discussion featuring actors, writers, and pundits alike. While all the segments make sense in context of the show itself, the majority of them aren’t very conducive to being lifted out and shared as standalone clips.
Today, when TV ratings are the lowest they’ve ever been and viewers many rely on streaming services and the internet to catch up on watercooler programming, The Nightly Show’s lack of bite-size content might have made it more inaccessible than Comedy Central realized.
Wilmore brought a different perspective to late night, and it will be missed
It’s a real shame The Nightly Show won’t have the chance to work toward striking a balance between appealing to a wider audience and doing its own thing. The show has had its bumps — the roundtables in particular never got quite the amount of time they needed to be effective — but there truly is no one else like Wilmore in late night right now.
Wilmore is frank, and unafraid to piss people off, even if they’re sitting in his own studio audience. Notably, he was one of the first late-night hosts to immediately and unequivocally condemn Bill Cosby as the accusations against the comedian piled up, a position from which he has never once wavered. When he reminds you he has no time for bullshit, he does it with a wry grin.
And, yes, it’s significant that he’s the only African-American host in the game right now, at a time when racial disparity and injustice are at the forefront of the national conversation.
One of the best things about how much TV has expanded in recent years is that it gives a wider variety of people and formats a chance to thrive. But The Nightly Show drowned in the ever-ballooning and incredibly competitive fray of late night, and it’s a shame that Wilmore, his staff, and Comedy Central never quite figured out a way to bring the show to a bigger audience that could appreciate — and, more crucially, learn from — Wilmore’s valuable perspective.