It’s the end of the Comedy Central gig for Larry Wilmore.
The host of “Nightly Show” wraps up his run on Thursday night, just days after network bosses announced they were canceling the weeknight news satire created by Wilmore’s friend, former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.
TheWrap caught up with Wilmore for a phone interview as he prepared for the last show.
TheWrap: Sounds like you’ve had quite a week.
Larry Wilmore: Yeah, it’s been a tough week. It really has, because you become a family when you do these things. The emotions have been swirling.
The network announced Monday the show was ending Thursday. That’s a quick goodbye.
That was the biggest surprise, because I’ve been in television a long time. I know shows don’t always make it. That’s just the way it is. I’m very sober about business. I thought that if weren’t going to make it that we would not get renewed for a third season, because that’s a decision that’s being made. Are we going to pick you up for a third season? That’s what they’re deciding, which means we would have at least covered this election and then we would have been done and I would have said, “OK, at least we got to cover the election. We had our shot. We didn’t make it. We did two seasons. That’s a big success for me.” I was surprised that we didn’t get to finish the second season that was already picked up.
You got a lot of attention for your hosting of the White House Correspondents Dinner this year. Did that help the show at all?
It was never used for promotion. I had one of the most viral weeks you could have as a comedian, but it was never used for the show. That was very frustrating. There was never any network promotions based on the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Did you think something could have been done with that?
Oh, I would think so. I was the most-sought comedian for two weeks.
Did you try to persuade them to do promotion?
You’d have conversations, but sometimes when you’re off the radar, you’re just off the radar. That’s why it’s tough for me to even tell you these things. It’s not logical in television and when you try to explain it to people they try to make it logical, but it’s not. Television’s not logical. It never is. I was fired from “The Bernie Mac Show,” the show I created after winning every award you could possibly win, including an Emmy award. I won a Peabody for that, and they kept thinking I was destroying the show that I created. I was the problem. It was, “What are you talking about?” It was only because they didn’t understand the show. They wanted to do something else and they fired me from it. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Was Comedy Central giving you notes through the process of making “Nightly Show,” from premiere on?
Sure, absolutely. That’s part of the process of making a show, especially when you’re in the late night space, trying to figure it out. Our show evolved from the beginning. Jon Stewart, who created the show, had an idea, that it was all panel. [Then] we felt I needed to have a segment where I weighed in on the events, kind of a first act. Once we put that in, it reduced the time of the panel.
My head was exploding in those days, because it was so much information. I had to prepare the editorial. You had to book four guests a day, which was very difficult also. Those guests had to be able to talk about a certain topic. You probably have to figure out the topic further in advance, but then if you figure it out further in advance, you lose the immediacy of talking about something that happened that day. It was fraught with problems in the beginning with trying to produce [it all].
What was the network saying about the show?
A lot of the notes were about the feel of it, that type of thing. In the beginning, they were afraid that it felt too newsy, the panel part of it. It’s Comedy Central, so they wanted it to be more comedy. That’s why it evolved more into having contributors to the panel and one guest.
That was their big note really, that we evolved into over the first six months. Now what the show’s eventually become, what it is now, is we have two comedy segments and one panel segment. It went from three panel segments, to two panel segments, to one panel segment.
Did it seem like the bosses weren’t on your team anymore over the last few months?
Not the past few months. It felt that way for awhile. You just know when you’re the child that isn’t getting the attention, getting all the cool birthday parties or whatever. I think we had that feeling for awhile, but it’s also television, so some of that’s just the way things work. When you’re getting great ratings, then everybody’s your friend. You’re left alone a little bit til that changes.
Have you talked with Jon Stewart since all this happened? [‘The Nightly Show’ tweeted on Thursday that Stewart would be among the final guests.] Yeah, absolutely. Commiserating, that type of thing. Mutual frustration. Jon’s been great.
What did you personally think of the show?
This requires us to sit down and really have an hour conversation, that question. It’s very difficult to answer shortly, because I’ve created different shows and I love that creative process and there are many different factors that go into doing that. This show, because it started a certain way and you’re trying to evolve it in front of an audience, it’s very difficult to do that. It’s a very difficult task. Usually, I figured a show out before people see it. We have four test shows before it even went on the air.
Me, because I was not only producing this, but also performing in it, it’s very difficult to always keep yourself back and be able to just really have clear eyes all the time and be clear about what needs to be done. That’s probably the most difficult part being a star and a producer.
Any regrets? Things you wish you’d done differently?
Not really. You never know what’s going to make something click. Rory Albanese, who’s producing our show, worked on ‘The Daily Show’ for years and years and years. He said to us once, “Guys, our show feels like ‘The Daily Show’ felt before it really took off and we knew we were doing good shows, but we didn’t have all the eyeballs on it.” Then you had the election and the Iraq War and it just really took off. People really found it, and it became that cultural phenomenon.
Unfortunately, you’re leaving as the election year is reaching its climax – the richest comedy gold mine in years.
Believe me. It’s electus interruptus.
Donald Trump has made it memorable.
He gives us material when he’s sleeping for crissakes.
There’s a certain tragedy in you leaving now.
Completely. Now you’re just making me sad. “Hey Larry, when you lost your kid, were you sad that day? Did you go in his room and look at all his things?”