The current slate of late night talk shows exists in one overcrowded playing field. And aside from the likes of Fallon, Colbert, Kimmel and Conan, the shows that supply comedic commentary on current events have steadily grown since Jon Stewart stepped down from “The Daily Show.” What makes a successful late night show is no longer just measured by the caliber of guest, but by the viral power of the show itself.
With that thought in play, it comes as no surprise that Comedy Central has canceled “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.” With his last episode airing Thursday (Aug. 18), the network will temporarily put “@midnight” reruns in the time slot until finding a worthy replacement.
Wilmore never found ratings success with his series, which is unfortunate as his perspective on political and social issues feels more necessary than ever before. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to numbers.
With a lack of shareable content, connecting with the highly coveted millennial demographic became a tough challenge. Colbert also struggled with this problem earlier in the year, as “The Late Show” was labeled too smart for some viewers. Further proving this assertion was the popularity of Fallon and Corden’s silly bits — “Lip Sync Battle” and Carpool Karaoke come to mind — that has helped to keep “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Late Show” on top.
But aside from this, there was another component that plagued “The Nightly Show” since its first episode: Larry Wilmore. Having proven himself in the world of Hollywood as a writer — and then honing his comedic chops as Jon Stewart’s “Sr. Black Correspondent” — it felt like moving into the host position of his own show was the next logical step.
Yet, while he tackled the important issues in a semi-engaging light, he tended to lack a certain sense of confidence in his overall delivery. It’s an issue Trevor Noah has finally begun to overcome on “The Daily Show” and it’s one that is necessary for any late night host. There is some strong competition in late night, and for Wilmore to stand out from the likes of John Oliver and Samantha Bee, his commentary needed to have bite. Most of the time, it just wasn’t there.
This reminds us of a similarly short-lived series that hit FX a few years back. “Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell” discussed topics of race, culture and politics in a comedic light. And just like “The Nightly Show,” it failed to connect with viewers. Dare we say, the important issues discussed in both shows might have been overshadowed by the toned down delivery of both hosts?
Bell has moved on to CNN where he has continued his mission with a reality travel series called “United Shades of America.” We have no doubt that Wilmore will continue doing great work — he’s a producer on “Black-ish” and HBO’s upcoming comedy series “Insecure.” But, maybe Comedy Central should use this as a lesson when attempting to bring the next topical show about race and culture to late night.
No pressure, Jessica Williams. No pressure.