I was mindlessly checking Facebook one afternoon and was completely stunned and saddened to learn that one of the few new shows that I regularly watched, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore was cancelled by Comedy Central after two seasons.
Actually, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as there have been continuous signs that the show hasn’t clicked with many people. Ratings were always low and very rarely got media attention, until the announcement of the untimely cancellation, where the consensus is that this is a huge injustice and will leave a vacuum for sharp political commentary.
I am certainly disappointed by this news, even though it wasn’t a perfect show. In fact Nightly had lots of rough patches. Quite a number of the sketches from the earlier run such as the amateur theater reenactments of headline news were embarrassingly lame. There were far too many editions of “Nightly, Nightly” a misfire parody of the celebrity driven Entertainment Tonight-style of news stories, made totally unbearable by Grace Parra’s annoying overacting.
The most problematic element of the show, the panel discussions, were usually mediocre at best, hampered in part by the brevity of each episode and partly by the guests, entertainers who didn’t always have the best grasp of politics. Wilmore wasn’t always a forceful moderator, often kowtowing to guests, even when they’re obviously babbling idiocy, like ignorant loudmouth Anthony Anderson ranting about a New Zealand basketball player’s use of the word “monkey,” oblivious to the cultural differences of the word.
But out of that messiness came its greatest strength, originality. As network late-night is more about a set-in-stone brand, Wilmore’s flexible formula gave him a chance to create his own vibe of a no-nonsense truth teller who was also highly personable and compassionate.
Wilmore was better than anyone (yes, including John Oliver whose jokey asides often feel intrusive and pale to his sharp journalistic analysis) at seamlessly blending sardonic quips in the midst of commenting on tragic stories.
Social media went wild for Jon Stewart’s somber, no joke take on the Charleston church shooting, but while Stewart and others threw their hands up in the air, Wilmore immediately contextualized the tragedy and making mincemeat out of the ever-tacky Fox News who wasted no time spinning the shooting as a war against Christians rather than the race issue that it clearly was.
When everybody else dodged with sending their “thoughts” to the Paris terror victims for days after the massacre, Wilmore again was a first comedy responder. He humorously reminded his audience about France’s role in forming America, as well as some of America’s stupid foreign policies under Bush, all in the spirit of a genuine sense of grief.
I’m just as sad for the core team of correspondents as I am for Wilmore, most of whom I suspect will struggle to find another gig for a while. I greatly respect Wilmore for sharing the spotlight with strong scene-stealing comedians, especially MVP Mike Yard. Out of all the staff, Yard is consistently the sharpest and most subversive voice on the program and has a special knack at starting with an unexpected angle and taking it to an even more surprising direction; his report on the plantation weddings highlights his ability at uncomfortable hilarity. Even in the panel discussions where most people mince their words to act as a mutual agreement society, Yard is one of the only ones willing to say the hard truths, even when they weren’t met with wild applause.
My second fave is Holly Walker who brought an invigorating audacity to her slightly unhinged characters, best of which was the “incognegro” truther. I even kind of warmed to people who really put me off at first like Franchesca Ramsey and Robin Thede.
What galls me most about this cancellation was how little time they gave the fans. I’m not asking for a year’s notice a la Oprah, but certainly Comedy Central could have given us more than a week to process the news, most businesses at least give two weeks’ notice. Even Wilmore was blindsided, causing him to rightly quip, “…keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”
While Nightly may not have had the viewership that Comedy Central wanted, they have made a huge mistake of ending the only show on its network to substantially skewer our thoroughly demented and fraught socio-political climate and call out the entertainment media for its lopsided coverage and extreme intellectual dishonesty. Meanwhile, the craziness continues and late-night remains the same old, same old.