“The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” finally booked a guest too big for its desk. On Monday, Larry Wilmore ditched the group conversation format meant to be the hallmark of his new Comedy Central program and instead centered the entire episode around an interview with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, marking the first time "The Colbert Report" successor has changed its format.
The two men discussed a number of issues that have dominated New York City headlines: income inequality, an issue de Blasio rode to New York’s most decisive electoral victory in 50 years; affordable housing, the centerpiece of de Blasio’s first term; his strained relationship with a segment of the city’s police force, which famously turned its back on the mayor at the funeral service for a police officer who was murdered in cold blood in January; and marijuana possession, for which the mayor recently changed the city's enforcement policy.
Wilmore also put a number of questions to the mayor gathered both from social media and from the streets of the city, including a homeless person asking de Blasio about the city's cost of living.
Missing from this, however, was the plurality of voices that has set apart “The Nightly Show” from competitors and served as a core piece of its branding strategy. Before its debut in late January, executive producer Rory Albanese said “The Nightly Show” producers would experiment with the look and feel of its segments in an effort to find the right niche for a show that is expected to last a long time as the successor to the wildly successful "The Colbert Report."
“Shows like this, they evolve while they’re on the air,” Albanese told International Business Times in January.
Yet, last night's episode marked the first time "The Nightly Show" has deviated from its plan to let topics drive the night's guest list rather than the other way around. “We’re not looking to book the show and build it,” Albanese added. “We’re looking to build the show then book it.”
So far, ratings have been solid. Just under a million people tuned in to the first episode in January, and through Mar. 1, "The Nightly Show" has averaged 1.2 million viewers per night according to Nielsen, mostly holding onto the sizable audience waiting for it at the end of “The Daily Show,” which will undergo a drastic change of its own when longtime host Jon Stewart departs later this year. Final ratings for Monday’s broadcast were unavailable at press time, and Comedy Central did not respond to requests for comment about ratings.
Media pundits say Wilmore’s choice to experiment with new formats so early in his run reveals the kind of boldness necessary to compete in a TV landscape that changes at an ever-increasing pace.
“Once upon a time, taking a wait-and-see attitude was the brave and unusual thing to do,” Bob Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said. “Today, it's positive orthodoxy. Wilmore is definitely going to be one of those shows he tinkers with for a long time.”
The full episode can be found below; clips will be added later on Tuesday afternoon.