A Year After Larry Wilmore, Comedy Central Sets Sights on Late-Night Stability

Network president Kent Alterman also looks to reboot '@midnight' — possibly with a new host.
Courtesy of Comedy Central
From left: Trevor Noah, Jordan Klepper, Anthony Atamanuik

A year after stunning industry observers with the abrupt cancellation of The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, Comedy Central is starting to find its late-night footing.

The Viacom-owned cable network recently saw late-night staple The Daily Show wrap its most-watched quarter since Trevor Noah took over as host (1.5 million total viewers, up 2 percent from the first quarter and an impressive 26 percent year-over-year). And rookie weekly series The President Show — featuring Anthony Atamanuik hosting as President Donald J. Trump — has helped improve Comedy Central's footing in Wilmore's former 11:30 p.m. slot by 17 percent among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic since its April 27 premiere. (When factoring in total viewers, The President Show is up 140 percent vs. a year ago.)

And, following a yearlong process that included searching for talent and developing new projects, come Sept. 25, Comedy Central will have a daily strip series to take over the 11:30 slot full-time in The Opposition With Jordan Klepper launching out of The Daily Show, with Noah producing both shows.

That will lead in to additional episodes of The President Show starting Thursday, Sept. 28, in its new slot at midnight as the cabler firms up its late-night block. The new lineup was nearly a year in the making and comes after Comedy Central president Kent Alterman made the difficult decision to cancel Wilmore's Nightly Show after 250-plus episodes. The series averaged a 0.2 in the 18-49 demo, making an additional episode order hard to justify.

Alterman notes that since then, he's been exploring everything from keeping Chris Hardwick's recently canceled @midnight at 11:30 p.m. to developing new projects. The executive, who took over for Michele Ganeless in May 2016, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Klepper emerged as a distinct possibility last summer.

"Maybe @midnight might have become more political or had a more organic fit with The Daily Show as far as the audience was concerned," Alterman says. "At a certain point, Jordan emerged as such a potent voice on The Daily Show, especially last summer through the presidential campaign and on through the election. Trevor was a big supporter of fostering Jordan taking over 11:30."

Klepper, who met the press Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, said his show will satirize both the left and the right during the country's current divisive political climate. The series will be more of an homage to The Colbert Report than The Nightly Show as Klepper plays a character a la Stephen Colbert.

"We wanted to have a show that felt integrated and simpatico with The Daily Show, and there couldn't be any more organic an expression of that than to have someone like Jordan host," Alterman says.

Meanwhile, The President Show — which added seven additional episodes to its run — will solidify the lineup when it returns in its new midnight time slot to launch after The Opposition. Alterman hopes to keep The President Show as a weekly series, though he wouldn't rule out turning it into a strip, too. Also not out of the question is reviving @midnight — potentially without Hardwick as its host.

To hear the exec tell it, the decision to wrap @midnight after 600 episodes stemmed from a conversation he had with Hardwick. The discussion included potentially relocating the show back to its pre-Nightly Show cancellation home at midnight.

"We never were looking to penalize the show, but at a certain point, the ratings were sliding a bit as The Daily Show's ratings were growing," Alterman says. "We had a very organic conversation about what would make the most sense; if we commit to a political show like Jordan Klepper at 11:30, should we keep going and move it back to midnight? We collectively came to the point of realizing that there's no shame in walking away after 600 episodes. … We don't rule out that we could bring @midnight back. We are having creative conversations about what would we do with this show if we wanted to reinvent it with the creative team. We have put a pin in it, but could be with Chris, I don't know that he'd necessarily host it; he feels like he's done, but I don't want to speak for him. There's no guarantees, but we're open to exploring if there is a 2.0 version of it."

Alterman has also found success on the front side of The Daily Show with The Jim Jefferies Show at 10:30 p.m., with the latter scoring an additional episode order as well, as Comedy Central looks to evolve the definition of late-night from strip shows into weekly fare a la The President Show and the Jefferies starrer.

"I hope that Jordan is a big success," Alterman says. "We're so robust in late-night right now with two strip shows and two weekly shows — God forbid those are all successful, that would be a great place to be. And we'll take it from there."

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