3 Lessons From Comedy Central’s Cancellation of Larry Wilmore’s ‘Nightly Show’

News satire show fell victim to a common TV malady

Last Updated: August 15, 2016 @ 8:59 AM

That was a quick trip around the track for “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.”

Comedy Central announced Monday that it is canceling the late-night news satire, less than two years after it premiered as a high-profile replacement for “The Colbert Report.” Wilmore’s last original episode will be Thursday.

Critics generally liked the show, even if they didn’t give it enthusiastic raves. And the likable Wilmore was still enough of a troublemaker to grab some juicy headlines — a necessary skill for a late-night comic riffing on the news.

He had a controversial hosting gig at the White House Correspondents Dinner — just as Colbert did years ago. He even got attacked by science nerds for allegedly being unfair to Bill Nye.

So what happened, and what does this mean for Comedy Central? Some points to consider:

1. Ratings, ratings, ratings

Well, doesn’t it always come down to ratings in the TV business? “Nightly Show” started strong, delivering nearly 1 million total viewers for its premiere episode, according to Nielsen.

But viewers soon began to drift away, and the program really stumbled once Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show,” which served as Wilmore’s lead-in. By the end of last year, “Nightly Show” was down to fewer than half a million viewers per night.

Worse, the program wasn’t catching on among the young viewers Comedy Central favors. Network bosses were especially unhappy that the show’s comedy bits weren’t getting many shares on social media — increasingly an important sign of acceptance by millennials.

2. A misfire for Jon Stewart

Stewart is the creator of “Nightly Show,” which his production company makes. The former “Daily Show” host saw Wilmore — a former writer for his show and ex-showrunner for ABC’s hit sitcom “black-ish” — as the perfect vehicle for underrepresented voices in late-night comedy.

But “Nightly Report” may have been styled a little too similarly to “Daily Show” — and ended up suffering in comparison. Wilmore is a talented writer and producer, but he has nowhere near Stewart’s performance chops behind the desk. And ultimately, late-night viewers watch for the host more than the guests or the jokes.

3. What now, Comedy Central?

The network is keeping Trevor Noah, the new host of “Daily Show,” whom the bosses feel has done a much better job of connecting with young viewers.

“We’re thrilled with Trevor’s progress,” Comedy Central President Kent Alterman told TheWrap.

But it’s important to remember “Colbert Report” was a spin-off of “Daily Show” — two news programs that became wildly popular a decade ago, when social media were just starting to gather force. Now Colbert has taken his news satire to his CBS late-night show, and the Internet is filled with memes, gag videos and riffs on the news.

It’s entirely possible that in today’s crowded environment, a funny show that riffs on the headlines is, well, yesterday’s news.

Tony Maglio contributed reporting to this story.