'Nightly Show' done: Where does Comedy Central stand post-Stewart?

Larry Wilmore's Comedy Central program has been canceled and will air its last episode Aug. 18. 'Our show going off the air has to only mean one thing: Racism is solved,' Wilmore joked. 'We did it.'

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Larry Wilmore speaks at the Viacom 2015 Winter Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

Comedy Central has canceled its late-night news program “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” 

Mr. Wilmore had been a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and Wilmore’s new program debuted in January 2015, about seven months before Mr. Stewart signed off.

Comedy Central reportedly says it’s canceling the show because of trouble with ratings.

“Nightly” “hasn’t resonated,” Comedy Central president Kent Alterman told The New York Times. “Even though we’ve given it a year and a half, we’ve been hoping against hope that it would start to click with our audience, but it hasn’t happened, and we haven’t seen evidence of it happening.” 

Wilmore himself said during an episode of “Nightly,” “When we started the show, we wanted to have a conversation on some very tough subjects, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing just that ... I must say, our show going off the air has to only mean one thing: Racism is solved. We did it,” he joked, cueing a picture of two men – one black, one white – atop a unicorn. 

“I’m also saddened and surprised we won’t be covering this crazy election or ‘The Unblackening,’ as we’ve coined it,” Wilmore said in a statement. “And keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.” 

The late-night lineup across networks is famously white, with Trevor Noah of "The Daily Show" currently the only other person of color heading up a late-night show. When "The Nightly Show" debuted, it appeared on “a landscape seemingly in desperate need of a diverse voice just as the Black Lives Matter movement was taking shape,” notes Lesley Goldberg of the Hollywood Reporter

As for Wilmore’s network, Comedy Central, where does it stand now? 

Many industry observers are saying the network’s in a troubled spot. Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” were two of its biggest stars. (Mr. Colbert left Comedy Central in 2014 and is now on CBS’s “The Late Show.”)

Losing the pair "has not been as easy for the network," writes The New York Times' John Koblin, calling the decision to cancel "The Nightly Show" the "first concession that the transition from Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert ... to Mr. Noah and Mr. Wilmore has not gone as smoothly as the network had hoped," for critical praise or viewer ratings.  

Fellow "Daily Show" graduates John Oliver and Samantha Bee have proven particularly popular on rival networks, with Mr. Oliver's HBO show "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" and Ms. Bee’s TBS program "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" doing well in the ratings. Meanwhile, “Nightly Show” lagged behind, perhaps since its competitors could "capitalize on airing weekly and with the looser restrictions of cable," as Daniel Fienberg noted in The Hollywood Reporter. 

However, Mr. Fienberg says that breaking up what is currently the most diverse late-night lineup doesn't look good. "Optics are important in television, and replacing 'The Nightly Show' with [Chris Hardwick's show] '@Midnight,' even temporarily, is dreadful optics," he writes.

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