It’s the end of the road for Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central series The Nightly Show.
The decision comes a year and a half after the rollout of the half-hour late-night panel show as a forum for underrepresented points of view. The last episode is slated to run Thursday, with the Viacom-owned network planning to slot in Chris Hardwick’s game show @Midnight at 11:30 p.m. until a permanent replacement is found.
In explaining the decision, Comedy Central president Kent Alterman said Monday it came down to the show’s inability to register with viewers. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t connected with our audience in ways that we need it to,” Alterman tells The Hollywood Reporter, “both in the linear channel and in terms of multiplatform outlets and with shareable content and on social platforms as well.”
At launch, The Nightly Show had the benefit of stalwart The Daily Show With Jon Stewart as its opener, and a landscape seemingly in desperate need of a diverse voice just as the Black Lives Matter movement was taking shape. In the many months since, however, Wilmore lost Stewart as his lead-in (he remains an executive producer on The Nightly Show) and instead follows another black voice in new Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
Wilmore, who informed his staff of the network’s decision early Monday, didn’t hide his disappointment. “I’m really grateful to Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, and our fans to have had this opportunity,” he says in a statement to THR, leaning on his “Keeping It 100” mantra as he continues: “But I’m also saddened and surprised we won’t be covering this crazy election or ‘The Unblackening‘ as we’ve coined it. And keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening‘ happening to my time slot as well.”
The timing — after two seasons or, as of Thursday, 259 episodes — is believed to have come down to contractual logistics. Comedy Central is said to have been faced with a looming decision to sign Wilmore and what insiders say amounted to about 15 members of the Nightly Show‘s on- and offscreen staff to new contracts. But with the series averaging a particularly grim night-of rating of 0.2 in the 18-49 demo, for instance, doing so was hard to justify.
“We just didn’t feel like we had enough traction to sign up for another year. It wasn’t about the election — it’s about another year of the show,” Alterman adds. “Sadly, we’ve been hoping against hope that it would start to resonate in any of those quarters and we just weren’t seeing evidence of it. As much as we like Larry and the uniqueness of the show and the voices that are on the show — not just in terms of ratings — it hasn’t resonated in terms of our fans engaging with the show with consuming or sharing content or having a dialogue about it on social platforms.”
In June, Wilmore, 54, told THR that growing that social footprint with viral videos wasn’t particularly important to him, nor was it the focus of his series. “It’s not designed to have the type of things that [Jimmy] Fallon and [James] Corden do, like the [carpool] karaoke type of thing or lip sync battle and those types of things because those are such pure comic things,” he said. “Ours is so much more specific and has different structure to it, so it does get shared, but it’s just a different tone.”
The decision puts an end to Wilmore’s decade-long tenure at the Viacom-owned network. He began in 2006 as the “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show. When Stephen Colbert announced he’d be leaving his Colbert Report post at Comedy Central for one at CBS, it was Stewart who suggested and ultimately lured Wilmore as his replacement. Initially, Wilmore’s series — billed early on as a mix between The Daily Show and Politically Incorrect — was set to be called The Minority Report, but he was forced to abandon the title because Fox had a scripted series of the same name in the works. Wilmore remains an executive producer on ABC’s Black-ish, which he was set to run before before being tapped at Comedy Central, as well as HBO’s upcoming Issa Rae comedy Insecure.
Alterman insists he remains fiercely committed to Noah, however, who is now the only prominent black voice in late-night. In fact, he downplayed the franchise’s ratings and critical drop-off, suggesting any early stumbles are akin to what Stewart faced when he took over from Daily Show predecessor Craig Kilborn many years ago. Despite an only slightly rosier night-of rating of 0.3 in the 18-49 demo, the network has been focused on Noah’s reach among a younger subset, both on TV and online, as well as his ability to create moments that travel beyond the show. “Trevor has been resonating increasingly,” says Alterman, adding that Noah has reached a “plateau” in his voice leading into and after the political conventions: “All of the original shows that we shot at the conventions were so strong, and they really resonated with our fans.”
Looking ahead, the attention will soon turn to who will fill the 11:30 p.m. slot, with Alterman suggesting he’d “consider everything” — and would look both inside and outside of the network stable: “We’re totally open to women and in whatever form of diversity would come, we’re open to it for sure.”
One option that seems not to be on the table, however, is former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams, who exited in June after a four-year run with the late-night show. “Jessica is more interested in developing a half-hour weekly scripted show,” says Alterman. “It’s not what she’s looking to do.”
As for whether Comedy Central would try to make a play to get Colbert — now the host of CBS’ The Late Show — back to the network, the exec quips: “I’m pretty sure he has a job right now.”