Why Larry Wilmore Should Return to the Talk Show Circuit
On Monday, August 15th, when I did my first internet check of the day, I was immediately sent into a state of shock and horror. The very first post in my Facebook timeline informed me that Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show had been canceled. This was absolutely stunning to me. Not only had the show only been on the air for 19 months, we were only three and a half months removed from Wilmore delivering a killer White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech that was likely the best since Colbert’s legendary Bush takedown a decade earlier. I assumed Wilmore would be around for years, and out of nowhere, he was gone. It was a stunning move, and in the weeks and months that have passed since Comedy’s Central’s decision to pull the plug on The Nightly Show, I still haven’t fully gotten over it.
That’s why I was thrilled last week to learn that Larry Wilmore had signed a contract to work with ABC. In addition to being a great late night host, Wilmore also helped create Black-ish as well as The Bernie Mac Show, so it makes sense that ABC would like to continue working with the man who brought them one of their most successful and critically acclaimed sitcoms. With that said, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when I read the entirety of the report and learned that as of now, there are no new plans to bring Larry Wilmore back into the late night world.
Admittedly, I have no idea if Wilmore even wants to host a talk show again, but still, I’d really love to see it happen. During its short run, The Nightly Show was consistently the most interesting of the ever-expanding number of late night programs that specialize in political satire. Wilmore spent segments carefully dissecting things like race relations and the rise of Donald Trump in ways that were thoughtful and insightful, and he would have been (and could still be) an essential voice during the approaching Trump administration. What I noticed about Wilmore is that while he spent plenty of time saying “fuck Donald Trump” (he even had YG on his show to perform a song of the same name), he seemed more willing to talk about how and why this was happening rather than merely condemning it. Through his lively panel discussions, as well as his own thoughtful commentary, Wilmore seemed as well-equipped as anyone else to explain How We Got Here and What We Should Do About It.
With that in mind, I’d like to make a suggestion to the folks at ABC as well as Wilmore himself: give him an hourlong show that would air at 12:35, right after Jimmy Kimmel Live. It’s strange — ABC has been in the late night business for 14 years with Kimmel’s show, yet even after moving him to 11:35 in 2013, they haven’t thought have adding a second show to compete with ABC and CBS. What are they clinging to? Nightline? Come on, everyone stopped caring about that show the moment Ted Koppel retired! It’s time to move on.
The 12:35 slot would be the perfect place to put Wilmore. When considering why The Nightly Show struggled ratings-wise, it’s worth thinking about just what it was up against. In addition to going against Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, there was also Fallon and Kimmel, so it was likely hard for him to consolidate a wide audience, particularly when he lost the lead-in of Jon Stewart after his departure from The Daily Show. At 12:35, his competition would be James Corden and Seth Meyers, and while I wouldn’t expect him to put up numbers that match what a “Carpool Karaoke” segment can do, I would imagine he’d have an easier to time finding an audience a little later in the evening.
Really, if this were to happen, Wilmore’s chief competition would be Meyers. After a slow start to his run as host of Late Night, Meyers carved out a place for himself with his “A Closer Look” segments, which take deep dives into the world of politics, and have seen the previously apolitical Meyers actually telling us how he feels about things (Trump tends to have that effect on people). But while the “A Closer Look” segments have been solid, an hourlong Wilmore show at 12:35 would have the chance to go even deeper into the issues. If The Nightly Show show had a flaw, it was that the topics were too complex and serious to be handled in 22 minutes of airtime. As strong as some of his panels were, they were often cut short just as things were really starting to heat up. If Wilmore were given a whole hour to work with, who knows what he might be able to do.
Of course, if Wilmore doesn’t want to return to the late night world, that’s his right, and it’s not like he hasn’t been able to start conversations with the sitcoms he’s helped create. That said, The Nightly Show proved that Wilmore is not only an affable host, but someone who is capable of tackling the issues of the day in ways that are captivating and thought-provoking. As great as The Nightly Show was, Wilmore might be able to create something even better if ABC gives him the proper tools. For now, there’s no plans of something like this happening, but that’s not going to stop me from dreaming about it.