Though the two series could not differ more in tone, news of Comedy Central’s cancellation of “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” brought to mind one of my favorite moments from “Key & Peele.” During one of its freewheeling opening segments, when hosts Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele would lightly riff on whatever they pleased, they discussed the differences between their young viewers and their older fans.
“The Nightly Show,” in contrast, had a different mandate from the start, evident in the fact that it was originally titled “The Minority Report.” It was created by Jon Stewart to filter distinct and frequently intersectional viewpoints informed by race, class and gender into a late night talk show format.
Wilmore inherited the timeslot from “The Colbert Report,” which enjoyed an average audience of 1.7 million viewers before Stephen Colbert departed to take over for David Letterman at CBS. After that, viewership for the first year of “The Nightly Show” fell to an average of 922,000 viewers.
What they got in Wilmore was a modern version of Ellis Haizlip with a bit of Tavis Smiley mixed in – an affable, well-informed figure doing his ablest to find punchlines within a never ending parade of stories about the police shootings of unarmed black men, the erosion of civil rights on a federal level and, among other items on the lighter menu of the world’s horrors, the unforgettable sliminess of Bill Cosby.
This is far from the last we’ll be seeing of Wilmore, who co-created and serves as an executive producer on Issa Rae’s upcoming HBO comedy “Insecure.” Wilmore’s work on “The Nightly Show” also meant putting his role as executive producer of ABC’s Emmy-nominated “Black-ish” on the backburner after helping to usher it into existence.
Perhaps Wilmore will get a gig on a channel better suited to his unflinching sensibilities, much in the way former FXX host W. Kamau Bell has done with the excellent “United Shades of America.” Both he and Wilmore have proven themselves to be vital facilitators in the tough conversations that need to be had. They were also rarities on the late night landscape, the only African American talk show hosts in a game overwhelmingly stocked with white guys.