Or, How I Learned to Keep Mourning The Nightly Show and Love the Bomb
It’s no secret that the measure of late night programming is often in the viral video.
It explains why Jimmy Fallon was killing the late night game and why James Cordon is becoming the singing jester that stole his crown. That’s the explanation for why Colbert might’ve defined the cultural landscape as a character while nearly vanishing as he wedges himself into the talk show format. And it’s why every Monday morning you see headlines about how John Oliver eviscerated, dominated, and destroyed some concept or another. Each of them has that sharability—and that fresh Youtube account.
As cord-cutting drops TV subscriptions about eight percent overall and 19 percent in young adults (the theoretical cable buyers of the future), networks aren’t counting on pulling viewers in through the traditional means at the traditional times. But it turns out the only thing better than water cooler talk is hundreds of thousands of shares on social media. Sharing videos, segments, and even episodes in whole on the internet is just one more way of show viability through virality.
And it’s something The Nightly Show never had. Comedy Central was (oddly) one of the slower adopters of internet video sharing. For the longest time clips to their content could only be found through their own website, on a special video service all their own. Eventually they warmed to the idea, and now The Daily Show is sharing segments from its own Youtube account. But The Nightly Show isn’t; they only come from the Comedy Central account. Sure, you can search for them in Youtube, but if you’re just trolling the account page, The Nightly show is buried under clips and segments from Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, Tosh.O, and even more Daily Show clips. Heck, it doesn’t even come up on the initial account page for its own subchannel.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s probably a whole cocktail of reasons The Nightly Show will be keeping it 100 for only one more night. But not having access to the modern means of getting itself out there? Definitely didn’t help.
Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central talk show might not have found a lot of viewers. It might’ve been a bit odd; a meandering change of pace compared to the quick zingers that flew from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for all those years. But it shouldn’t have been cancelled.
This is not a unique opinion. Since the news broke yesterday many people have bemoaned the fact that the late night landscape has a hole, and as a whole is that much whiter. Clearly not enough for Comedy Central to count them as viewers, but not an insignificant number.
From my view, The Nightly Show was trying to do something no one else was. Like the best of The Daily Show alum from its prime in the aughts, Wilmore adopted the humor and insightfulness of his time with Jon Stewart but recalibrated it into a new format and a different style of talk show. The result was unique: Like Last Week Tonight or Full Frontal, Wilmore was able to use talk show set ups and comedy people were familiar with to discuss similar issues. To some it seemed light on jokes. And it was arguably not going to reach the people it should’ve, but for once there was someone consistently “reporting” and doing in depth discussions on the major issues of the day. Often the show dealt with the racial inequality and police violence that has been at the forefront of American politics for two years. Wilmore and his gaggle of guests never had to shy away from topics, they only needed to illuminate them.
Any problems with The Nightly Show itself could’ve been overcome had there been a stronger base supporting it. By which I mean, The Colbert Report could count on at least some built in, carry over audience from The Daily Show; Jon Stewart even threw to him at the end so audiences could get a taste. But since Stewart’s departure and Trevor Noah’s time at the helm, TDS has lost its cultural foothold. In an election year it used to be a thriving factory of jokes and burns. Now it’s barely on the radar.
Whil Wilmore’s format might’ve been a bit too fresh, his topics a bit hot button, his jokes a bit drawn apart, I’m guessing audiences could’ve ultimately found time to adjust, as they did when Colbert went full into character on his own show. But you can’t cancel an institution (at least not within two years of its first change in more than a decade) and so The Nightly Show got the ax.
It will be missed.