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Larry Wilmore Gets Fired By Comedy Central, Says He’s A Victim Of ‘The Unblackening’

CREDIT: Comedy Central/Bryan Bedder
CREDIT: Comedy Central/Bryan Bedder

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore will be with Larry Wilmore no more: Comedy Central is pulling the plug on the series. The final episode will air this Thursday night.

Kent Alterman, Comedy Central’s president, told the New York Times that he gave Wilmore the news at the end of last week. The show, Alterman said, simply “hasn’t resonated.”

“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’ve haven’t seen evidence of it happening.”

With Wilmore’s departure from the late night ranks, the already overwhelmingly white-and-male world of late night is, well, even whiter. (Chris Hardwick, who is white, is the host of @midnight, which will slide into Wilmore’s old 11:30 timeslot, show name be damned.) After Thursday night, Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, will be the only person of color hosting a late night show.

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Wilmore had been referring to this year’s election as “The Unblackening.” As he said in a statement about his show’s cancellation, he is “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.”

It’s hard to say what exactly it means for a “fake news” (for lack of a better term of art) show to “resonate” in this ever-fractured marketplace. The Times draws comparisons between The Nightly Show and the last show to hold that 11:30 p.m. timeslot, The Colbert Report. Wilmore’s ratings are also found lacking next to those of his lead-in, Noah, who is just finishing out his first year at The Daily Show.

As the Times points out, Noah’s audience hovers around 1.3 million. (Stewart’s last year at The Daily Show desk brought in an average of 2.1 million viewers a night.) Wilmore “has lost more than half the audience that he inherited” from Colbert. Colbert’s last year at The Colbert Report raked in an average of 1.7 million viewers a night; in Wilmore’s first year, The Nightly Show audience was, on average, only 922,000 viewers strong. (This year’s average: 776,000 viewers per night.)

But none of those side-by-sides feels quite fair. Wilmore’s Nightly Show isn’t really a successor to The Colbert Report. Sure, Wilmore inherited a timeslot when his show premiered in January 2015, but that’s about it. He wasn’t replacing Colbert’s character with, say, a liberal alternative. Wilmore’s show was, by design, a totally different animal than Colbert’s: less of a manic, high-wire, absurdist feat and more of a bemused, wry take on the events of the day. Colbert had Stewart as a lead-in; Wilmore has the decidedly less popular Noah. (Comedy Central is sticking by Noah, though; Alterman says he “couldn’t be happier” with the host’s performance.)

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Almost a year ago, Comedy Central renewed The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore for a second season, which was slated to run through January 2017; presumably, the plan was for Wilmore to co-anchor election night coverage with Noah, as Stewart and Colbert did in years past.

Wilmore is just the latest in a series of high-profile exits of Daily Show alumni from Comedy Central. In 2014, John Oliver headed to HBO, where his thoroughly-reported Last Week Tonight bits consistently go viral, defying conventional wisdom that the only way to get those sweet, sweet clicks is through some form of celebrity-infused karaoke (lip sync, carpool). LWT has also scooped up plenty of impressive hardware, including a Peabody Award. Stewart, too, found a new home at HBO; his new series may well premiere shortly after Wilmore’s goes off the air.

Samantha Bee took her formidable talents to TBS, where her weekly Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is a critical darling — the series, only in its first season, won a Television Critics Association award for Outstanding Achievement in News and Information, beating Oliver, a fellow nominee whose Last Week Tonight earned the honor in 2015.

Colbert headed to CBS to host The Late Show (mixed results) and while he might be an outlier here — it’s possible that nothing at Comedy Central could have appealed to him as much as sitting in David Letterman’s old desk — overall, it looks like Comedy Central can’t, or won’t, hold on to its talent.