Brow Beat

Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show Was the Sharpest Late-Night Voice on Race, and Comedy Central Just Killed It

Larry Wilmore
Wilmore covered politics with a refreshing blend of humor and substance.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Comedy Central

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.

Wilmore and new Daily Show host Trevor Noah replaced the beloved block that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert had occupied until 2015, and their mere presence in late night—as two comics of color—was considered radical, as all of their peers were (and remain) white. While Noah has struggled to reach the critical appreciation of his predecessor, Wilmore carved out a uniquely powerful space, provocatively covering the current presidential election as “The Unblackening” and responding to racial issues such as police brutality with sincere indignation.

“Unfortunately, [The Nightly Show] hasn’t connected with our audience in ways that we need it to,” Comedy Central president Kent Alterman told the Hollywood Reporter, which first broke news of the cancellation. “We just didn’t feel like we had enough traction to sign up for another year. It wasn’t about the election; it’s about another year of the show.” Alterman added that the decision did not come “just in terms of ratings,” arguing that the show “hasn’t resonated” with viewers.

Wilmore—an executive producer on Black-ish and the upcoming HBO comedy Insecure—expressed both sadness and surprise at the network’s decision. With this cancellation, Noah is now the lone voice of color in the late-night space, a regressive move rendered starker by the fact that Wilmore provided complex, destabilizing commentary on racial issues that was otherwise lacking in late night. The Nightly Show host echoed that sentiment in his response to the Hollywood Reporter regarding his exit, with a certain sly jab: “I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”