Earlier this month, NPR host Terry Gross congratulated Larry Wilmore on finding his voice as host of “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.” But Comedy Central executives may have to consider doing something to the show’s vocal cords. “Nightly”’s ratings have been trending downward since it bowed in January, and over the past couple weeks, they have gone from bad to worse. According to Nielsen, Wilmore’s ratings are down 40 percent since Jon Stewart signed off as the host of Wilmore's lead-in program, “The Daily Show.”
The late-night institution that led in to “The Nightly Show” played a vital role in delivering an audience for Wilmore. And while ratings tell just a small part of the story, particularly for a show that hits the air after most adults have gone to bed, “Nightly” is not picking up the slack online. For the month of August, full episodes of the show have averaged about 40,000 views each, about ten percent of what a “Daily Show” full episode got during that time.
A Familiarity Gap
The good news for Comedy Central executives is that Wilmore does not appear to be the problem. According to N-Score, Nielsen's tool for evaluating the favorability and endorsement potential of entertainment personalities, 60 percent of Americans who are aware of Wilmore find him likable. That's higher than the average likeability score for a talk show host -- 54 percent -- but it doesn’t solve the larger problem Wilmore’s show faces: Very few people seem to be aware of it.
Separate research conducted by Q Scores found that, among Americans over the age of 18, “The Nightly Show”’s familiarity score, which speaks to whether respondents are aware of something, is 18, far behind the average variety show score of 30. With a score that low, “The Nightly Show” needs institutional support that it is not currently getting, and won’t get for another month; Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s digitally savvy successor, settles in to “The Daily Show” anchor’s chair September 28.
“They're not doing him justice if they're not putting stuff in Stewart's time slot that's compatible with who his show appeals to,” Q Scores founder Henry Shafer told International Business Times. “I guess they're just trying to fill the gap.”
How the show gets through these growing pains will boil down to support from Comedy Central. “It boils down to how much CC believes in him and the show,” Shafer said.
For now, that support is unchanged. A Comedy Central spokesman told CNN that it “fully supports” its late night slate. It also, in the estimation, of some industry observers, has been too early to give Wilmore the hook. “There’s no way they’re going to boot him,” said Bill Gorman, the co-founder of TV By the Numbers. “I’d be stunned if they moved so quickly.
He added, “They’ve got to be patient.”
“The emotional connection in late night with those types of shows is so dependent on the host's personality, because they're all not very different,” Shafer said. “It takes a while. I don't think the few months he's been on the air is indicative of his long-term success.”