Despite insisting otherwise in his interview with The Daily Beast last month, Trevor Noah has essentially “replaced” Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show. Much of that flagship show’s branding and staff remained the same. The big changes were the name in the title and the man behind the desk.
But Larry Wilmore did not “replace” the singular voice that is Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report when he became the host of The Nightly Show last January in that same time slot. Instead, the former “Senior Black Correspondent” for The Daily Show launched what Comedy Central very much hoped would be another mainstay on its late-night schedule, something with the staying power of The Daily Show, which is now on its third host in 20 years.
But those hopes were swiftly dashed Monday when the network announced it was canceling The Nightly Show after little more than a season and a half. According to Comedy Central President Kent Alterman, Wilmore’s show “hadn’t resonated” with audiences. That might be accurate when factoring in increasingly irrelevant Nielsen ratings, but it will hardly ring true in the world of Black Twitter.
After a decade of cultural domination in the 11-to-midnight hour was bravely upended by installing two black hosts back-to-back, Comedy Central once again finds itself with a gaping hole in its schedule. So far, they have vowed allegiance to Trevor Noah, citing his strong streaming numbers on Hulu (we’ll see how those numbers fare when the service ends its free option this year). But with increased competition from a resurgent Colbert on CBS, a fired-up Samantha Bee on TBS and the essential viewing that is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, The Daily Show has struggled to break through the noise in the way it should be less than three months out from such an insane presidential election.
All of these factors raise the stakes for Comedy Central as the executives there consider how to move forward when it comes to 11:30 p.m. Starting next week, Chris Hardwick’s @midnight will awkwardly air a half-hour earlier than its title suggests and, as Alterman has indicated, that temporary change could well last through the election, which seems like it would be a majorly missed opportunity for the network. Before too long, however, they will want to install something there that can more reliably compete with Colbert, along with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel.
That doesn’t mean they should pick yet another late-night white guy. “We’re totally open to women and in whatever form of diversity would come, we’re open to it for sure,” Alterman told The Hollywood Reporter. But could that include the woman whom many fans wanted to replace Jon Stewart last year?
Comedy Central lost a major asset when Samantha Bee moved over to TBS, but there is another former Daily Show correspondent on the network’s payroll who could be an exceptional host, if she were up for it. Yes, Jessica Williams, who famously said she was “extremely under-qualified” to fill Stewart’s shoes, might just thrive in a show she could make all her own four nights a week.
After leaving The Daily Show back in June, Williams announced that she was developing a sitcom-style pilot in the vein of Broad City for Comedy Central. “Jessica is more interested in developing a half-hour weekly scripted show,” Alterman said when asked if she might be in the running for Wilmore’s time slot. “It’s not what she’s looking to do.” But he didn’t exactly rule it out.
Williams could conceivably do both projects or she might have to put the scripted show on hold to take on the nightly gig. But either way she would be an important voice in this capacity, the type of young, black female voice that isn’t heard from on mainstream television nearly enough.
Of course, if there was a platform for that type of voice on TV, it was on Wilmore’s Nightly Show. And if Comedy Central didn’t have faith in him, there’s no real reason to think they have faith in his cadre of contributors. But they would be foolish to let some of the show’s most impressive talent go, the way they said goodbye to Bee, Oliver, Colbert, and others. There is a ton of talent on that staff, including Mike Yard, Robin Thede, Jordan Carlos and others, but Grace Parra stands out as the type of performer who could carry her own show — her “Nightly, Nightly” segment is one of the show’s only truly successful recurring bits by someone other than Wilmore — and as a young Latina, she once again provides a perspective sorely missing from late-night.
One other Nightly Show contributor who hasn’t been given quite as much room to shine is Franchesca Ramsey, who just joined the show earlier this year, but has already proved herself to be a vital member of the team. Her #HashItOut segment, in which she deep-dives into various social media controversies, hasn’t exactly broken the internet, but it points to the type of viral success Comedy Central is clearly looking for.
In terms of current Daily Show correspondents who could make the leap to hosting, there are a number of strong options, including Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Minhaj, who would be especially powerful presences during a moon-shot Donald Trump presidency. But of the new crop of correspondents who came in under Trevor Noah, Desi Lydic has proven the most consistent and capable of the bunch, especially during her pointed fact-check segments after the debates and conventions.
Another woman who is part of the Comedy Central family, yet has never gotten the chance to become a star in front of the camera, is Inside Amy Schumer head writer Jessi Klein. The hilarious and insightful stand-up comedian and former SNL writer is responsible for such sketches as “Last Fuckable Day” starring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette and has a brilliant new memoir out called You’ll Grow Out of It that has been getting rave reviews. Here she in a rare on-screen appearance with Schumer.
And then there is Amy Schumer herself. When the network was looking to replace Stewart, they went to Schumer and offered her the job. “I was so honored to be asked and considered,” she told The Daily Beast last June. But, she added, “Picturing being in a building and knowing what I was going to do for five years—I love not knowing. And I’ve never done anything safe or to make money for that reason. So, you know, I said, ‘I can’t start now.’”
Since then, Schumer had a big box office success in Trainwreck and has more films coming down the pike with co-stars like Goldie Hawn and Jennifer Lawrence. But at the same time, her breakout show Inside Amy Schumer has seen a marked drop in both quality and cultural resonance. Instead of continuing with that type of ambitious sketch format, why not shake things up by going full late-night talk show host? If Comedy Central gave her the freedom to take time off and do things her way, who knows, perhaps she would be willing to change her mind. If nothing else, it would give her an even bigger platform to make political statements like this one.
Just as Wilmore didn’t “replace” Colbert, none of these women would “replace” the Nightly Show host. Amidst the chatter about who will get the newly vacant late-night chair is one idea that seems highly unlikely to take hold inside Comedy Central. Now that Wilmore is available, a surprisingly high number of Twitter users are suggesting he could replace Noah on The Daily Show.
That’s not going to happen. By booting Wilmore, Comedy Central has doubled down on Noah. But it’s interesting to imagine what would have happened if their roles had been switched from the start. The elder statesman Wilmore would have been given the confidence and gravitas he deserved in the first place and the much younger Noah would have been free to take bigger chances with his own show, without the pressure of living up to Stewart’s legacy.
Late-night television may have lost its only prominent African-American voice too soon, just a few months before our first African-American president is set to leave office. But with all signs pointing to President Hillary Clinton, now would be the perfect time to add another female host to the mix.