Comedy Central's cancelled late night show failed because it couldn't go viral

On Monday, Comedy Central announced that it is cancelling “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.”

According to The New York Times, Comedy Central’s president Kent Alterman believes the show, which first debuted in January 2015, “hasn’t resonated.”

This comes as a blow to Comedy Central, after losing late night stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and seeing former “Daily Show” correspondents John Oliver and Samantha Bee succeed on other networks.

Wilmore, a “Daily Show” alumni himself, has had an incredible run on television on both sides of the camera. In the past, he was a chief creative force behind the scenes of “The Fresh Price of Bel-Air,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “The Office,” and “Black-ish.”

But if you want to know why “The Nightly Show” didn’t succeed, just ask Wilmore, who inadvertently explained the show’s cancellation in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter back in June:

“It’s not designed to have the type of things that [Jimmy] Fallon and [James] Corden do, like the [carpool] karaoke type of thing or lip sync battle and those types of things because those are such pure comic things. Ours is so much more specific and has different structure to it, so it does get shared, but it’s just a different tone.”

Wilmore is alluding to the fact that the fun bits Fallon and Corden do, usually involving big-name celebrities, are often what resonate the most with audiences. Late night shows are no longer just about ratings: they’re about creating YouTube hits.

Michelle Obama carpool karaokeThe Late Late Show with James CordenMichelle Obama and Missy Elliott in the latest carpool karaoke on ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden.’

Wilmore is right; that is how you succeed in late night now.

However, it is possible take a more politically-charged tone and still go viral. Look at “Full Frontal,” where Bee’s comments the day after the Orlando massacre captured the country’s pain and anger. Meanwhile, a bit John Oliver did in 2014 about net neutrality, a fairly inaccessible topic, got 11 million views on YouTube and inspired a national debate.

Wilmore has had some smart commentary as well. Among his standouts were constant tirades against Bill Cosby as the rape allegations against the actor came to light. But unlike Bee and Oliver, Wilmore has a much more laid back demeanour that didn’t seem to resonate the same way with viewers. It also might not be to his benefit that Wilmore chose to speak with a panel during a segment of his show, which didn’t allow him to really shine on his own.

Wilmore, as he has done in the past, will go on to create more great things on television. This is a lesson that succeeding in late night isn’t just about getting Adele to perform with you, but rather to find a way to yell your message loud enough. Unfortunately, “The Nightly Show” never became the hit it could have been.

The final episode of “The Nightly Show” airs this Thursday at 11:30 p.m. EST.

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