“The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” will call it a day after Thursday’s episode.
Comedy Central has canceled the half-hour series that replaced “The Colbert Report” on Jan. 19, 2015, making “Nightly” the first of the recent wave of late-night newcomers to shutter.
Wilmore informed his staff of the cabler’s decision Monday afternoon.
In the near term, Comedy Central will slide Chris Hardwick’s pop culture quiz show “@Midnight” to the 11:30 p.m. slot that follows “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”
Comedy Central president Kent Alterman said the decision was made because “Nightly” had failed to gain ratings traction with the cabler’s core demo of young adults, nor were there positive signs for the show in key social media metrics. Alterman made a point of praising Wilmore and the distinctive approach he brought to commenting on the day’s news.
“We hold Larry in the highest esteem, personally and professionally. He brought a strong voice and point of view to the late-night landscape,” Alterman told Variety. “Unfortunately it hasn’t resonated with our audience.”
Alterman called it a “business decision” to pull the plug.
“We’ve been monitoring it closely as for a year and a half now and we haven’t seen the signs we need in ratings or in consumption on digital platforms. We’ve been been hoping it would grow,” Alterman said.
Wilmore didn’t hide his disappointment in having to bring the show to an abrupt end this week, particularly before the climax of the presidential race that has yielded so much material.
“I’m really grateful to Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, and our fans to have had this opportunity,” Wilmore said in a statement. “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.”
Comedy Central is developing a project with “Daily Show” contributor Jordan Klepper that could be a potential successor to “Nightly” in the post-“Daily Show” slot. But Alterman said it was unlikely that any new program would be set before the start of the year.
“The next step is to open our doors to aggressive development in late night,” he said. They may well consider shows that are a departure from the “Colbert” and “Nightly” format focusing on topical news.
“We’re open to novel, creative, interesting ideas,” Alterman said. “I wouldn’t anticipate it being a scripted show. It needs to feel a part of our late-night landscape. But we’re very open and excited by the idea of someone we’re not even thinking about coming in the door. We’re really just trying to be open-minded about all possibilities.” Those possibilities include “@Midnight” earning its way to taking over the 11:30 p.m. timeslot on a permanent basis, he said.
Wilmore had been a regular presence on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” for years before Comedy Central tapped him in May 2014 to fill the void left by Stephen Colbert’s departure for CBS. Wilmore’s show, which bowed a month after Colbert’s sign off in December 2014, was originally titled “Minority Report with Larry Wilmore” but changed its moniker because the Fox network had a drama series in the works with the same title (based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie).
From the beginning, Wilmore brought an analytical as well as comedic spin to the day’s headlines. The show included a regular roundtable segment that featuring a mix of comedians, pundits, journalists and newsmakers discussing generally weighty subjects. Those segments were praised for offering a clear-eyed take on social, cultural and political issues that went beyond one-liners or the shouting matches found in other news roundtable shows. Wilmore also drew strong reviews for his commentary on racial politicking in the presidential race and horrifying acts of violence, from the slayings in San Bernardino, Calif., last year to the recent string of racially charged police shooting incidents.
“Nightly Show” premiered less than a month before Stewart announced his plan to step down as “Daily Show” host. Wilmore opened to nearly 1 million viewers but didn’t sustain that audience. After Stewart bowed out on Aug. 6, 2015, “Nightly Show” struggled with the smaller lead-in as Noah took the reins from Stewart.
In the past few months, “Daily Show” has seen an uptick particularly among the younger viewers that matter most to Comedy Central. In the second quarter of this year, “Daily Show” averaged 278,000 viewers in the adults 18-34 demo, second only to NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” (364,000). “Nightly Show” averaged 153,000 viewers in that demo.
Given the importance of “Daily Show” franchise to Comedy Central, it’s no surprise that the cabler would devote more energy and resources to promoting Noah rather than “Nightly.”
Alterman hailed Wilmore and his production team for their willingness to be collaborative and to experiment with the show.
“We applaud Larry and his team for evolving the show,” he said. “They created a community of contributors who were doing great comedy bits that were seamlessly woven into the show. As much as we thought ‘Nightly’ was evolving creatively it just wasn’t resonating with our audience.”
As the curtain falls on “Nightly,” Wilmore’s immediate focus will be on his work as a writer and showrunner, which took a backseat to his “Nightly” hosting and producing duties during the past 20 months. Wilmore is juggling numerous projects at present. He’s the co-creator and exec producer with Issa Rae of the upcoming HBO comedy “Insecure,” and he was instrumental in the launch of ABC’s “Black-ish” in the 2014-15 season.