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Not so good Nightly

| Friday, September 2, 2016

Not so good Nightly webJoseph Han

You know that feeling when you really want to like something, but can’t actually bring yourself to do it? That’s how I felt about Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show.”

The series represented something relatively unheard of in the late night sphere: a news program (albeit a satiric one) with an African-American focus. On top of that it was hosted, written and populated with black men and women. This was not a television show hoping to draw in minority viewers, it was a show clearly for minority viewers.

That is a large part of what made its cancellation so disappointing. “The Nightly Show” didn’t feel like a marketing ploy by Comedy Central executives. It seemed authentic. Every show ended with a discussion between a few Nightly correspondents and the celebrity guest of the night.

This was a substantial change from the interview format that most late-night talk shows employ. It meant that the guest wasn’t there purely to plug an upcoming project. They were there to hold a conversation. One that the showrunners hoped would continue on among audience members after the credits rolled.

Unfortunately, the program never came into its own. The writers who participated in the closing discussion always seemed more concerned with getting a laugh than promoting dialogue. As a result, I always turned off the TV feeling as though I had watched something both insubstantial and unfunny.

I found myself tuning in for “The Daily Show” and sticking around because “The Nightly Show” was there. When word started to spread, around Aug. 15, that “The Daily Show” spinoff was going to be cancelled after less than two years, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one watching it with a resounding sense of “meh.”

The cancellation was made even harder by the fact that, when watching the show, it was easy to see that Larry Wilmore was a decent human being. He may have joked a few too many times about killing people (usually Bill Cosby) for my liking, but all in all, he treated people well.

One of the first things I did after hearing that the show would be cancelled was check Wilmore’s Twitter account. I guess I was hoping to see him unload criticism on Comedy Central or something, but that wasn’t what happened.

Wilmore just tweeted some sad Beatles lyrics (from the song “Two of Us”) and proceeded to thank other programs for their alcoholic gifts while occasionally retweeting articles addressing his own show’s importance. The breakup wasn’t messy. Just mostly sad and a little funny. Even in death, the show managed to mitigate its own impact.

The new opening in Comedy Central’s lineup is attractive because of its potential to turn into a show that is far more entertaining than the lukewarm comedic stylings of “The Nightly Show.” However, the hole is also depressing, because it will be almost impossible to fill with something as culturally valuable.

With all the articles published in the wake of the cancellation pointing at the show’s lack of segments capable of going viral, it will be surprising if the next filler doesn’t check that box. If the network is interested in another minority-oriented program, former “Daily Show” contributor Jessica Williams is theoretically available (she left to work on her own pilot) and Aasif Mandvi, also of “The Daily Show,” has the experience to handle that sort of project.

In the meantime, the Comedy Central administration (and you) should check out “United Shades of America.” It is a legitimate news program (running on CNN) starring comedian W. Kamau Bell. In it, he does things like attend a cross-burning and spend time in prison, and somehow manages to make it hilarious. It isn’t nearly as topical as either of the “Shows,” but it is an incredible look into some of America’s subcultures.

“United Shades of America” is what I hoped “The Nightly Show” would be: a genuinely funny television program that uses race as both a lens through which to view societal issues and a fulcrum to elevate discomfort and promote change. So while it’s sad to see such a well-intentioned show go belly-up, a precedent exists for quality minority-focused nonfiction entertainment. We just have to hope that Comedy Central, and other networks, are willing to keep trying.

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