To say that Larry Wilmore has a few challenges before him is quite the understatement. Not only is he filling the shoes of Stephen Colbert, he’s following the footsteps of Jon Stewart, when The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore airs weeknights at 11:30 pm ET/PT, right after The Daily Show.
Wilmore, 53, debuted Monday night on the MLK holiday, and he definitely got some good laughs, particularly with some solid scripted elements in the opener. (In his take on the Oscar omissions for the movie Selma and its star David Oyelowo, Wilmore cracked, “He’s a British brother…I don’t really care about them.”)
It was Stewart who suggested Wilmore for the job, replacing Colbert who moves on to host CBS’s Late Show this fall (David Letterman retires in May). Stewart certainly is familiar with Wilmore’s funny chops.
Wilmore served as “Senior Black Correspondent” on The Daily Show for eight years. He also created The Bernie Mac Show, has been a writer for In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Office, and most recently, helped launch the ABC sitcom Black-ish, serving as executive producer and showrunner.
Now Wilmore is focused solely on his new late-night baby: The Nightly Show is a hybrid wherein The Daily Show meets Politically Incorrect.
The mood he’s hoping to create will be “provocative” and “light,” featuring real debates instead of fake pundits.
“We will keep it 100 percent real,” Wilmore explains, adding that one of his signature segments will be “Keep It 100,” a lightning round of random questions for the panel.
The show, which was originally titled The Minority Report, was forced to change its name after FOX acquired the rights to a Minority Report TV series based on the Tom Cruise movie. But Wilmore thinks the new name suits the show just fine and is more generous in scope than the more limiting The Minority Report may have implied.
Of the format, Wilmore explains that the first half is scripted, where he weighs in and gives his take on events of the day or pop culture; the second half of the program is more of a panel discussion a la Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect round table, where the night’s guests deconstruct current events and hot topics.
“That will have a lot of surprising elements. It may be comic. It may be provocative. Who knows?” Wilmore told TV critics last week in Pasadena while promoting the show. What he does know is that he wants it “to be a show that sort of reflects a different part of our world than is represented on late night at the present time.”
The premiere night’s panel guests featured a diverse quartet, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, comic Bill Burr and model-actress Shenaz Treasury in a noisy, crowded segment that needs tweaking as the show finds its legs.
As for the team, The Nightly Show has three regular contributors on board – the aforementioned Shenaz Treasury, Ricky Velez and Mike Yard – as well as special guests each night, but don’t expect them to be the usual starry glamour shots.
“We’ll definitely have celebrities on,” Wilmore says, “but they won’t be on hocking books or movies or that sort of thing. We want to get people on who are interesting to us and who seem like they fit in this conversation for that particular day.”
“I’m more inquisitive. I want to find out what something is about. So our show is more in discovery of things,” Wilmore told reporters.