"It's Comedy Central's worst nightmare. A brother finally gets a show on late night TV!"
When The Colbert Report first aired in 2006 on the 11:30 p.m. slot on Comedy Central, America was an entirely different nation and the show's humor was both a product and a reflection of that culture. And so, as Mr. Colbert announced his departure last year, the question would become to whom the burden, and opportunity, of filling his vacant time-slot would fall. It came with no surprise that the kingmaker himself, Jon Stewart, hand chose Larry Wilmore, who decided early on that he was going to stay true to his humor and make a show that both reflected and embodied that.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore aired on Monday, January 19. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Though many viewers may only be familiar with Mr. Wilmore from his deadpan and brutally accurate observations as Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show, he is far from an amateur in the television industry. The Nightly Show may be the first time in his career that Larry Wilmore is consistently in front of the camera, so far in his career include co-writing and producing the wholly original and utterly hilarious first season of The Bernie Mac Show along side the late comedian, one of the first network television series since The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (which he also wrote for) to address issues of black identity in upper-middle-class and affluent African-American families. He also until recently served as a main producer on the critically acclaimed and wildly popular new ABC series Black-ish.
Larry Wilmore is the first African-American in the history (that's not hyperbole because it's a fact) of television to host a late night show. And Larry Wilmore not quite oblivious to this fact himself, had initially planned for title of the show to be The Minority Report but was forced to change it during production due to a conflict with Fox, which is currently producing a television series based on the 2003 Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg film of the same name. But while initially the change in name was seen as a massive loss, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Wilmore. It has allowed him to expand his appeal and perspective and opened up his show a multiracial forum to have a necessary discussion on the racial and societal issues currently faced America currently.
The Nightly Show breaks new ground in its approach to covering issues as well as by foregoing the typical anchor desk formats used by Stewart, Colbert, and Oliver. Each episode begins with a monologue that presents the issue or topic of the evening and in its relatively short time on air has touched on issues ranging from America's relationship to war, to the state of black fathers, to the anti-vaccination movement. It then transitions to Wilmore at the head of a four-guest panel made up of experts, comedians, musicians, and politicians for a discussion segment. Larry Wilmore serves as the moderator of the panel occasional commenter, preferring to find the show's humor in conversation than as a camera-delivered monologue.
In the show's most popular segment, Keep it 100, Wilmore asks the guests difficult questions or presents them with morally ambiguous hypothetical scenarios that they have to answer honestly, or Keep it 100, with the audiences cheers or jeers serving as judge. Controversial and occasionally shocking, the segment allows the show to delve into more taboo topics and to find its humor in the sincerity of the responder's honesty. He's asked past guests such as rapper Common, "Would you rather be there for the birth of your son or go play in the Super Bowl," New York Times reporter David Remnick, "Is President Obama a bit of an asshole?" and New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, "Do you want to be President?"
Many critics have less-often-than-not been quick to point out that the show is above all, about race. The show's host is a product of his race so race inherently informs his perspective. To proclaim the show is about race is a failure to regard its quality and merits independent of any preconceived notions. That guy can't be a good actor. He's got to be a good Black Actor. That girl can't be a good actress. She's got to be a good Asian-American actress. So on and so forth, always qualified. It's the same high-society and race-conscious perspective that resulted in the flood of op-ed complaints from the typical conservative publications and even a surprise liberal media pundit or two (cough, Maureen Dowd) on Ava Duvernay's film Selma and 'The Treatment of LBJ in a Fictional Movie.'
Though it has occasionally stumbled in its first few weeks to find a natural rhythm, Larry Wilmore's growing confidence is evident even as the show uses its initial episodes to experiment with different formats and presentation. The Nightly Show clearly knows its voice and if one thing is for sure, it's that the show is in the infancy of what will be a great run. Unique and irreverent, Wilmore's a breath of fresh air that provides a new perspective to balance out the 50 shade of white that make up late night television today. With Jon Stewart's decision to abandon the anchor chair on The Daily Show after 16 years, Comedy Central would be wise to snap out of their existential crisis and properly invest in their new anchor, given that he may become the network's next anchor.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore airs Monday through Thursday, at 11:30 PM on Comedy Central.