Larry Wilmore’s ‘Nightly Show’ canceled on Comedy Central

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Larry Wilmore | Comedy Central

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” spawned new shows for correspondents Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Samantha Bee, now on rival networks. But Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central’s spinoff, “The Nightly Show,” is ending Thursday after a disappointing 19-month run.

The show, a mixture of topical segments, a panel discussion and games (“Keep it 100”), just never caught on with viewers, says Comedy president Kent Alterman, despite heightened interest in the unprecedented presidential election and Wilmore’s stint hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner in April.

“Even as the show has evolved creatively … it hasn’t seemed to connect with our audience, which is disconcerting and disappointing to us,” Alterman says. With decisions looming on  third-season contract renewals for Wilmore and key producers, “When we took a hard look — especially after the conventions, where we also didn’t see any traction we were hoping for — we didn’t have enough evidence to justify committing to another year.”

In the second quarter of this year, “Nightly Show” averaged 738,000 viewers including 7-day delayed viewing, vs. 1.35 million for “Daily Show.”

Chris Hardwick’s “@midnight,” which has a larger audience than “Nightly,” will shift a half-hour earlier, to Wilmore’s 10:30 p.m. time slot for the next several months. Comedy is “actively developing” a replacement series eyed for next spring, though the network isn’t wedded to a specific format.

Wilmore, in a statement, said: “I’m really grateful to Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, and our fans to have had this opportunity. But I’m 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.”

“Nightly” premiered in January 2015 as a replacement for “The Colbert Report,” after Colbert quit to replace David Letterman on CBS. A month later, Jon Stewart announced plans to leave “The Daily Show,” but Alterman says Stewart’s exit last August wasn’t a factor in “Nightly’s” demise. Wilmore “kind of struggled out of the gate, even when Jon was still there.”

The ensemble of comedians on Wilmore show included two from Chicago’s Second City: Robin Thede (also the head writer) and Holly Walker.

The cancellation also raises questions about Stewart’s replacement, South African stand-up comedian Trevor Noah, who’s been eclipsed in the cultural conversation, and especially by critics, in favor of Oliver’s HBO series, “Last Week Tonight,” and Bee’s TBS show, “Full Frontal,” both of which air weekly.

But Alterman says Comedy is “fully committed” to Noah, citing improvement of his hosting skills, increased online viewing and his large social-media footprint. Comedy claims “Daily” is the top-rated late-night show among a narrow audience segment of men ages 18 to 34, although at his peak Stewart was No. 1 among all 18-to-49-year-olds.

“When we hired Trevor we didn’t hire him for his experience” — he had little in American TV — “we hired him for his talent, which is enormous.” He asserted that in recent months, Noah has “a new plateau of confidence, and he’s taken ownership of the show and exudes a strong point of view and voice.”

Despite a political bounce that has sharply boosted ratings for cable-news networks, Noah’s “Daily Show” is averaging less than half the same-day audience Stewart had last year.

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