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Comedy Central Pulls the Plug on 'The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore'

Low Ratings, Little Viral Buzz Dooms 'Colbert Report' Replacement

By Published on .

'The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore'
'The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore' Credit: Bryan Bedder/Comedy Central

Less than two years after it launched as the successor to "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" has reached a dead end.

The Viacom cable network on Monday confirmed that "The Nightly Show" would air its final episode on Thursday, August 18, a move that leaves it with a significant hole in its satirical late-night lineup.

"We thank Larry and the 'Nightly Show' staff for their tireless efforts across the past two years and the conversations the show generated by addressing social issues of great importance to the country, always challenging people's attitudes, perceptions and bias," the network said in a statement.

While Comedy Central has yet to alight upon a permanent replacement for "The Nightly Show" -- a new 11:30 p.m. project is said to be in development for the second quarter of 2017 -- in the near term Mr. Wilmore's time slot will be filled by the Chris Hardwick improv comedy/game show "@midnight."

After debuting in January 2015 to 963,000 viewers and a 0.5 rating among adults 18-49, "The Nightly Show" enjoyed two months of solid deliveries before it started losing ground. The show was hit hard by Jon Stewart's August 2015 abdication from "The Daily Show;" once Mr. Wilmore lost his big lead-in (the Trevor Noah era began on Sept. 28 of that same year), his ratings began to fall off considerably. With Mr. Stewart setting the table in the 11 p.m. slot, Mr. Wilmore's show averaged 761,000 live-plus-same-day viewers and a 0.4 rating, a tally that dropped to 521,000 viewers and a 0.2 in the demo for all episodes that led out of Mr. Noah's version of "The Daily Show."

By way of comparison, at its peak "The Colbert Report" averaged 1.9 million viewers and a 1.0 in the demo.

Linear TV ratings are no longer the only metric that determines a show's fate, as other late-night programs have managed to thrive by virtue of their ability to generate "viral" video content that gets breathlessly passed around on social media platforms. CBS's "The Late Late Show with James Corden," which ekes out around 1 million viewers and a 0.2 rating per episode, is the poster child for this new way of thinking; his 24 "Carpool Karaoke" segments have amassed a staggering 30.7 million views on YouTube since the first video was posted back in March 2015. In contrast, the 372 "Nightly Show" clips have generated a relatively meager 884,072 views.

Mr. Wilmore expressed his disappointment with the network's decision to shut down his show, suggesting that his absence from the late-night lineup would silence a crucial voice as the presidential election steams to its increasingly chaotic and undignified conclusion.

"I'm really grateful to Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, and our fans to have had this opportunity," Mr. Wilmore said in a statement released Monday morning. "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."

Year-to-date, some of the biggest "Nightly Show" backers have been representatives of the telecom category (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile), as well as beer brands (Modelo, Bud Light, Corona) and movie studios (Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, TriStar Pictures). The show also did brisk business with automakers such as Acura, Chevrolet, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz).

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