The talk in late night is that there’s no talk in late night

Larry_Wilmore_desk3_photo_by_Bryan_Bedder
Image from Comedy Central.

Say good night to Larry Wilmore.

On Tuesday, the writer and comedian’s Comedy Central show, “The Nightly Show,” was canceled. The reason, said a Comedy Central exec, was simple: ratings.

“Unfortunately, it hasn’t connected with our audience in ways that we need it to,” Kent Alterman told The Hollywood Reporter.

Wilmore, puckish to the end, got in a poke at his soon-to-be former employer.

“I’m also saddened and surprised we won’t be covering this crazy election, or ‘The Unblackening’ as we’ve coined it,” he said. “And keeping it 100, I guess I hadn’t counted on ‘The Unblackening’ happening to my time slot as well.”

Indeed. With Wilmore gone, the only prominent black voice in late night is his stablemate, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.

I wish Comedy Central had done more to boost Wilmore’s show, but in this era, his determination to actually do a smart late-night talk show must have been a challenge. Because that’s the thing about “The Nightly Show”: As much as Wilmore was a funny and pointed voice on race issues and other topics, he actually tried to talk about them — particularly in panel discussions that, admittedly, could be hit or miss. They weren’t the kind of thing you could boil down to a 3-minute gag on YouTube.

Indeed, talk is something that late-night talk shows don’t do much, anymore.

Oh, they try. Stephen Colbert opened with an emotional interview with Joe Biden. Conan O’Brien isn’t afraid to show his intellectual side (though he tends to show it more on his “Serious Jibber-Jabber” online segments, which can last for an hour or more). Jimmy Kimmel, a David Letterman admirer, occasionally shows he likes to do more than feed the celebrity bullshit machine.

But what’s popular are Jimmy Fallon’s inane “Let’s do something childlike with a celebrity” bits or James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.”

That’s a long way from Oscar Levant and Alexander King chatting with Jack Paar, or David Niven’s guest spots on Johnny Carson.

Or Tom Snyder. Or Dick Cavett.

(Or Jon Stewart, who never lost his curiosity bona fides on “The Daily Show” and booked some really challenging authors along with the usual folks promoting their new movies.)

We can blame the decline of talk on decreasing attention spans, splintering demographics and increasing numbers of outlets, I suppose. But the writing has been on the screen since at least the early ’90s, when Jay Leno took over the “Tonight Show.” It’s little remembered now, but in his first few months he actually hosted lesser-known musical guests and authors and tried to have real conversations. Unfortunately, that didn’t work. What did was chirpy promotion and the “Dancing Itos.”

So Jimmy Fallon is a perfect representation of today’s late-night show. There just isn’t the (mass) audience for actual conversation anymore.

Wilmore will be fine. He’s a producer of “black-ish” and any smart show would be wise to hire him as a head writer, if not “Senior Black Correspondent.” But it’s a shame that his voice will be leaving late night. It’s just become a less colorful place.

 

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