AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Comedian Larry Wilmore hosts the final episode of "The Nightly Show" on Comedy Central tomorrow night. The show has been one of late night TV's boldest attempts to satirize race, politics and pop culture. Wilmore tells NPR TV critic Eric Deggans he's not sure why the program never caught on with viewers.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Ask Larry Wilmore how he's doing after news broke that Comedy Central had canceled his signature program, "The Nightly Show," and at first, he gives the answer you'd expect from a comedian.
LARRY WILMORE: Oh, man, this is an awesome week, Eric. Come on.
WILMORE: I just lost my TV show. Woo-hoo (ph).
DEGGANS: But Wilmore quickly gets serious about the end of his program, which provided incisive commentary on race alongside lots of comedy drawn from the day's news. Comedy Central president Kent Alterman cited low ratings and a lack of viral buzz for canceling "The Nightly Show." I asked - had the channel's audience ultimately rejected a black man talking boldly about race in late night television? - and Wilmore had a different reaction.
WILMORE: We have a lot of people that have responded to our show and really do like it a lot. But is it a mainstream show in the vein of Fallon or Kimmel? No, it's not. It's a niche show.
ROBIN THEDE: I would hope it wasn't the case that people didn't watch the show because of race.
DEGGANS: That's "Nightly Show" cast member and writer Robin Thede, who served for a time as the program's head writer. She says the show's diversity was meant as a message.
THEDE: He surrounded himself with a diverse cast, a diverse writing staff, diverse crew and made it a point to, you know, show the world that it could be done.
DEGGANS: Wilmore doesn't think race played a part in his cancellation, pointing to the Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Noah is a black South African who succeeded long-time star Jon Stewart last year in the 11 p.m. time slot just before Wilmore's show.
WILMORE: Trevor's doing very well. You know, he's a black host, and he's resonating with a lot of people, so I don't think the color has anything to do with it.
DEGGANS: Of course, no one now hosts Comedy Central's flagship late night show. If Wilmore has any criticism for Comedy Central, it's that his show felt overlooked and as under-promoted Noah ascended.
WILMORE: To me, I didn't feel like there was enough synergy between our two shows, where we could have been, you know, promoting each other the way John and Stephen did.
DEGGANS: In January 2015, Wilmore took over the 11:30 p.m. timeslot once held by Stephen Colbert, who had left to host CBS's "The Late Show." It often takes time for late night hosts to find their voice, but Wilmore says "The Nightly Show" clicked from its second episode, when he spoke out on sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE NIGHTLY SHOW WITH LARRY WILMORE")
WILMORE: Tonightly we're talking Cosby. We'll answer the question - did he do it? The answer will be yes.
DEGGANS: Wilmore isn't sure what he'll do next. He's still a consultant on a new HBO comedy, "Insecure," which he co-created with Star Issa Rae. And he hopes to find a way to keep commenting on the election, perhaps through Twitter or some other social media platform. And he insists he doesn't hate Comedy Central for its decision, paraphrasing a line from a classic mob movie.
WILMORE: It's like - you know, it's like "The Godfather." This is the business we chose.
WILMORE: Tell Michael it was nothing personal.
DEGGANS: Comparing his show's cancellation to getting whacked by the mafia - sounds like Wilmore still has a knack for making incisive comedy out of tough circumstances. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.