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Too Black. Wilmore’s Demise

17 Aug

Knew when Wilmore made the speech at the National Press Club, and called President Obama “My N888ga”,

He was on the way out.

I borrowed something here from my friend Steve who owns Urban Profile, over at Urbanprofile.com. He has sold a line of T-Shirts with the logo “Too Black” for a while, and I think the message there sums up what made Comedy Central so uncomfortable with Wilmore. If you like the message, I suggest you go over and give Steve some business.

TOO BLACK

They take my kindness for. . . . . WEAKNESS.

They take my silence for. . . . . SPEECHLESS.

They consider my uniqueness. . . . . STRANGE.

They call my language. . . . . . SLANG.

They see my confidence as. . . . . CONCEIT.

They see my mistakes as. . . . . DEFEAT.

They consider my success. . . . . ACCIDENTAL.

They minimize my intelligence to. . . . . POTENTIAL.

My questions mean I am. . . . . UNAWARE.

My advancement is somehow. . . . . UNFAIR.

To voice concern is. . . . . DISCONTENTMENT.

Ifi I stand up for myself I am too. . . . . DEFENSIVE.

If I don’t trust them I am too. . . . . APPREHENSIVE.

I am defiant if I. . . . . SEPARATE.

I am fake if I. . . . . ASSIMILATE.

My character is constantly. . . . . UNDER ATTACK.

Pride for my race makes me. . . . . “TOO BLACK.”

No compromises, no regrets — Larry Wilmore and the price of “Keeping it 100″

A laser focus on uncomfortable topics is what made “The Nightly Show” so essential — and so ripe for “unblackening”

…“The Nightly Show,” in contrast, had a different mandate from the start, evident in the fact that it was originally titled “The Minority Report.” It was created by Jon Stewart to filter distinct and frequently intersectional viewpoints informed by race, class and gender into a late night talk show format.

Knowing this, African American viewers of a certain age, and with a long memory, may have guessed that Comedy Central’s latest unblackening would come around sooner or later. Perhaps not 12 weeks before the Presidential election — that’s particularly surprising, given the precarious status of the rest of network’s faux-news block right now. But anyone who watched “The Nightly Show” had to know that Wilmore couldn’t maintain the show’s socio-politically fearless viewpoint indefinitely.

In fairness, “The Nightly Show”’s cancellation had far less to do with the show’s high melanin quotient than colorblind Nielsen ratings data. Wilmore inherited the timeslot from “The Colbert Report,” which enjoyed an average audience of 1.7 million viewers before Stephen Colbert departed to take over for David Letterman at CBS.

After that, viewership for the first year of “The Nightly Show” fell to an average of 922,000 viewers. In 2016, the year-to-date average has hovered somewhere around 776,000 viewers per night.

One can easily list the reasons for this, starting with the fact that “The Nightly Show”’s ratings were never quite as robust following Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show,” which gave the show a strong lead-in when it launched in January 2015, but has been experiencing its own set of ratings woes since Trevor Noah took over as host.

Both Noah and Wilmore had to contend with withering in the shadows of giants. But Wilmore’s unique challenge was to follow Colbert’s larger-than-life, right-skewering trickster — the goofball counterbalance to Stewart, the liberal viewer’s deeply rankled, brutally honest best friend.

If Comedy Central had conducted a chemistry test with Stewart and Colbert’s dynamic in mind, Colbert’s successor would have similarly offset Noah’s weaknesses. What they got in Wilmore, however, was a modern version of Ellis Haizlip with a bit of Tavis Smiley mixed in — an affable, well-informed figure doing his ablest to find punchlines within a never ending parade of stories about the police shootings of unarmed black men, the erosion of civil rights on a federal level and, among other items on the lighter menu of the world’s horrors, the unforgettable sliminess of Bill Cosby.

It’s not as if Wilmore wasn’t doing the job for which he was hired. In tapping Wilmore, previously known to Comedy Central viewers the Senior Black Correspondent for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Stewart was sending a message to the industry.

Under Stewart’s regime, “The Daily Show” achieved new ratings heights and became a go-to destination for politically-inclined news junkies. But it was also overwhelmingly Caucasian and male in its writers room, even if it gave us a cast of alums that included the fabulous Samantha Bee (who has gone on to carry on Stewart’s legacy as the host of TBS’s “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”), Aasif Mandvi, Wyatt Cenac and Jessica Williams (who is developing her own show at Comedy Central), as well as Wilmore.

Building “The Nightly Show” around Wilmore, then, was Stewart’s way of highlighting viewpoints that aren’t typically represented in mainstream media. Wilmore didn’t shoulder that task alone: He made Robin Thede, an African American woman, the show’s head writer for 159 episodes. He elevated the profiles of brash, intellectual stand-up comedians Mike Yard and Rory Albanese, introduced audiences to Ricky Velez, and gave ample screen time to a variety of women of color, notably Holly Walker, Franchesca Ramsey and Grace Parra.

All of these contributors helped Wilmore deeply mine uncomfortable topics that other late night talk show hosts would gingerly touch upon — if they did so at all — before moving on to easy comedy veins. It’s simple for comedians to feast upon the ever-increasing number of gaffes committed by Donald Trump; he’s an orange Julius Caesar who gives all comers ample opportunity to punch up.

It is much, much more difficult to utilize the late night comedy format to call attention to absurdist acts of institutional bigotry and discrimination, police brutality, voter disenfranchisement and a wide array of other civil rights issues concerning not only African Americans, but the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants and refugees.

Wilmore used “The Nightly Show” forum to taking longer looks at relevant social topics, such as “The Nightly Show” episodes focusing on black fatherhood, or the systematic barriers black women face in the arenas of dating, employment and education. He also followed the Black Lives Matter movement closely as it developed and expanded, doing so consistently and without apology. The show’s catchphrase, “Keeping it 100,” became its credo — and possibly its downfall.

“The Nightly Show”’s laser focus on these topics likely led to its inability to attract and maintain audience levels on par with “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” The typical viewer doesn’t enthusiastically gravitate toward discussions about racism, sexism and homophobia. Certainly most late-night watchers aren’t comfortable absorbing those topics right before nodding off, even when they’re treated with a lighter touch….

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2 Comments

Posted by on August 17, 2016 in Giant Negros, The Post-Racial Life

 

Tags: , , , , ,

2 responses to “Too Black. Wilmore’s Demise

  1. Steve

    August 17, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks!

    I believe The Nightly Show is “niche” programming, kinda like my t-shirts. They aren’t for everybody.

    Like

     
  2. harfobama

    August 18, 2016 at 3:18 PM

     

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