The Larry Wilmore Edition
I’m very sad to report that The Nightly Show has been cancelled with Thursday being its last day.
And this cancellation carries business ethics implications. What is a network trying to do when it creates television programs? The current Neoliberal answer is maximise revenue but there are also question of talent, art and public comment that also need to be addressed.
In my judgment Wilmore’s show shouldn’t have been cancelled. I believe this is one of those situations in which the long term benefits outweighed the losses. Wilmore was a powerful and distinctive voice and he said a lot of things that needed to be said. That he spoke from a minority perspective and used powerful discussion formats to convey idea were critical to the intellectual weight of the show.
Caroline Framke (quoted below) discusses how the show was not designed to produce clips for You-Tube but was apparently expected to. Both she and I agree this is unfair. Comedy Central understood the show’s format from the beginning. There was never going to be any drive along sing along segments for multi-media distribution.
And Josef Adalian writing for Vulture says Wilmore’s firing calls into question whether or not Trevor Noah’s lead role at The Daily Show is a success.
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Comedy Central has canceled The Nightly Show, which will end its run on Thursday, with a re-slotted @Midnight taking its place until a permanent option is determined. The move effectively cuts ties with host Larry Wilmore, who gained notoriety back in 2006 on the network’s Daily Show as its “Senior Black Correspondent” and then segued into a late-night series of his own. However, his Nightly Show—which featured sharp political commentary and roundtable discussions—was never a strong ratings performer over its year-and-a-half run, with Wilmore vocally preferring substantive content to more viral-friendly, “pure comic” fodder such as James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke or Jimmy Fallon’s Lip Sync Battle.
Comedy Central had high hopes for The Nightly Show, which premiered alongside the final days of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in early 2015, in the high-profile spot formerly occupied by Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. But Comedy Central president Kent Altermantold the Hollywood Reporter that the show never quite “connected with our audience in ways that we need it to, both in the linear channel and in terms of multi-platform outlets and with shareable content and on social platforms as well.”
Read that statement again. If you saw a Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync Battle or a James Corden Carpool Karaoke session flash before your eyes, congratulations, you’re basically an expert on how network executives view late-night TV in 2016.
I don’t mean to suggest that Comedy Central necessarily wanted Wilmore to start playing party games with celebrities in a bid to attract more attention online. That’s still not the network’s style, and besides, Trevor Noah’s version of The Daily Show (as well as John Oliver’s HBO series Last Week Tonight) have proved that it’s possible to get viral traction out of political breakdowns and bits that address serious topics and themes.
But it’s significant that Alterman cited a lack of “shareable content” from The Nightly Showas part of the reason the show can’t work, because The Nightly Show was never built to produce shareable content in the first place.
Still, as confident as Alterman is in the 2016 version of The Daily Show, the cancellation of The Nightly Show will once again bring into question whether Noah’s takeover of Stewart’s franchise has been a success. There may be signs of growth, and reason for hope, but with just three months left in the 2016 election cycle, Noah’s voice seems weak compared to rivals such as Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Seth Meyers, and nowhere in the same league, influence-wise, as Stewart. Two years ago, the Stewart and Stephen Colbert lineup was sort of the late-night equivalent of NBC’s Must-See TV lineup, particularly among cultural and political elites. Now? The network’s shows often seem an afterthought compared to the aforementioned hosts.