Now that Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” has been canceled, where else can viewers go to find a decidedly left-of-center take on the latest news?
Take away “The Daily Show,” “Last Week Tonight,” The Late Show,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and there’s virtually no place to air liberal views. Oops. Forgot “Saturday Night Live.”
So it’s not exactly surprising Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” got the heave-ho Monday after months of miniscule ratings. Comedy Central was so eager to pull the plug that it ignored we’re heading to the very heart of the presidential election cycle.
Wilmore simply had to go. Why? We can’t read the minds or view the balance sheets of Comedy Central bean counters, but we can survey the late-night landscape. First, Wilmore couldn’t get away with adding so little to the discussion. He hadn’t cultivated an established brand, like Stephen Colbert brought to “The Late Show.” He’s not an adept comic along the lines of Jon Stewart or John Oliver. “The Nightly Show” didn’t pull the big stars that regularly sit on Seth Meyers’ couch.
We’ll Be Moderate, I Promise
Wilmore kicked off his show in 2015, claiming to be a much-needed moderate voice on the late-night frontier. Wilmore wasn’t a raging partisan, or so he told reporters during those first few weeks. He was more considerate, able to see both sides of an issue. Sounds like a great show!
Like too many campaign promises, though, the truth turned out to be far different. He could be just as nasty as Samantha Bee, late-night’s new toxic queen, and the anger typically went in one direction. Hating half the country isn’t the best business model. Some still make that work—witness Stewart’s long tenure at “The Daily Show.” Yet Wilmore didn’t have that deft touch.
Consider the time he let one of the show’s correspondents question whether senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were “authentically Cuban-American.” He teed off the debate by insisting neither “embraces their Hispanic heritage.” Contributor Grace Parra added she didn’t consider them Latino herself. Voila! Instant ethnic cleansing.
When a deranged gunman entered a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility and killed three people, Wilmore blamed … Fox News. He had previously cheered when lawyers threw the book at the whistleblowing journalism team who taped Planned Parenthood officials making ghastly claims about their fetal harvesting practices.
Any Attack on a Republican Is Fair Game
Colbert is as liberal as any late-night host, but when he hosted Cruz on his show he defended his guest from his crowd’s partisan boos. That professionalism was nowhere to be found when a “Nightly Show” guest compared Cruz to the Klu Klux Klan. Guest Aida Rodriguez said Cruz “is going to do everything the KKK does. This is his agenda. He falls in line with the KKK.” Did Wilmore throw a penalty flag in response? Did he tell Rodriguez that comment crossed the line? He said nothing.
An equally vile attack on a GOP politician drew similar silence. Actor Michael Rapaport drew cheers from the “Nightly Show” crowd by comparing Donald Trump to a slavemaster. “Yo, my man’s got a strong, old-school, slave-owner mentality, and he’s not holding back!” Rapaport said. “Nightly Show” contributor Mike Yard added, “He’s not lying.” More silence from Wilmore.
Like other politically charged shows, Wilmore rarely featured an equal number of conservatives and liberals. Guess which group outnumbered the other? He also seemed willing to sidle up to the powerful—specifically President Obama—rather that hold them accountable. He once cheered Obama’s Pollyanna-like State of the Union address by crying, “Barry got his groove back!”
Last April, he dropped his clown mask to pay tribute to Obama’s two terms in office. “Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga,” he told the commander in chief while hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
So we probably won’t miss Wilmore after he signs off following his Thursday night broadcast. He couldn’t keep his moderate promises, peddling the same liberal attack lines as his superior peers. On the plus side, he’ll have plenty of time to watch the presidential race down to the wire.
UPDATE: In an interview published in Vanity Fair August 17, Wilmore blamed the show cancellation on its penchant for “making white people uncomfortable.”
I don’t think we do enough of making white people uncomfortable in this country. I really think we need to put our foot down on the gas on that card, definitely. Make white people as uncomfortable as possible!
Well, I don’t think late night was designed for that, necessarily. So it was a challenge doing that, but I’m very proud of the work that we did, and the things that we did to take that on. It was fun.