January 19, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore”


THE NIGHTLY SHOW WITH LARRY WILMORE:  Mon-Thurs @11:30PM on Comedy Central

When Stephen Colbert made his decision to leave Comedy Central and serve as David Letterman’s successor on CBS, replacing The Colbert Report with a new show hosted by Larry Wilmore was about as no-brainer as these things get.  Wilmore’s regular guest appearances on The Daily Show, from which all these other comedy news series flow (also including HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver) have been a reliably smart and incisive high point of Jon Stewart’s show for nearly a decade, and Wilmore’s spots have a privileged place in the Daily Show universe, because like Lewis Black, he only occasionally “reports” a story, instead serving as his own host of a mini show-within-the-show.   Add to that the how-did-it-take-this-long? ability to provide a different perspective on the news (the original, and better, title of the new series, Minority Report, was unfortunately claimed by Fox, which is producing a new pilot based on the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg movie), and the network seized the chance to combine a familiar face with a distinctive viewpoint.

Tonight’s premiere of THE NIGHTLY SHOW WITH LARRY WILMORE was highly promising, if also–probably inevitably–a bit ragged.  The first act was very much in keeping with Wilmore’s Daily Show pieces, a monologue on the events of the day, which left no doubt about the show’s premise by kicking off with a joke about how Oscar voters, having mostly neglected Selma, are so white that a grand jury had failed to indict them.

Nightly Show‘s second and third acts marked its departure from the Daily Show model, opting instead for a feel not unlike Real Time With Bill Maher via a panel discussion that will feature some recurring cast members (tonight Shenaz Treasury) with guests (Senator Cory Booker, hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and comic Bill Burr) for what’s meant to be a relatively free-form discussion about current issues.  Wilmore doesn’t have the luxury of time that Maher does, with an hour of commercial-free HBO air at his disposal, and consequently the Nightly Show panel felt heavily edited into its two 5-7 minute segments, and the disparate guests never settled into a conversational rhythm together or with their host.  Act 3 was somewhat more successful thanks to a “Keep It 100,” gimmick in which each guest was asked one tough question that had to be answered frankly.  The results were mixed (Burr, whose wife is black, had no trouble volunteering that he’d prefer his child to be considered white, but Booker gave a politician’s answer to whether he wants to be President), yet worthwhile for giving focus to the proceedings.  The best part was actually the night’s tag, where Wilmore himself was asked a “Keep It 100” question, one that he convincingly seemed not to have seen before (about his own most recent racist thought) even though it came from his staff.  (Future questions will purportedly come from viewers.)

Brand-new talk shows are never instantly perfect, and The Nightly Show will need to work on its format, especially the central panel.  It’s off to a good start, though, with a polished host and some sharp writing.  If people are going to learn their news from comic outlets, as polls increasingly suggest, this will at least give them a point of view that’s been mostly absent from the scene until now.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."