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The Nightly Show - Not "Just" The Sequel to The Daily

Bob Chipman | 2 Feb 2015 12:00
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A worthy successor to The Daily Show, The Nightly Show suffers from some growing pains but has the potential to become a successful series.

One can't envy Larry Wilmore the task that's before him as the host of The Nightly Show, stepping into the treasured post-Daily Show time slot occupied for nearly a decade by the iconic (and already dearly missed) Colbert Report. The comedian and writer has been a prominent and welcome presence on Daily for years, but he was hardly among the flashier choices floated by audiences, critics and fans to fill the departing Stephen Colbert's spot - a spot not just associated with a show and its host but with a litany of characters, recurring bits and indeed an entire strata of Millennial popular culture devoted to it.

So it's a relief to be able to report that Nightly and its host have both landed firmly on the side of success in their first week(s) of existence. It's a good show, and Wilmore is a fine host making good on his promise (once it was determined that he would not be doing a "character" like Colbert was) to be more than John Stewart's cleanup act. The question will be whether a show and a host both (thus far) seemingly committed to a genial, conversational tone that diverges so sharply from Daily's famously acidic snarking-to-keep-from-crying muckraking takedowns of politicians and the media can find a fanbase (and a voice) of its own in a political-comedy landscape that's running away from geniality as fast as it can.

Thus far, the setup (which should be familiar to fans of Bill Maher and John Oliver's respective HBO series) works like this: Wilmore opens with a scripted monologue laying out his take on the major news items of the day, eventually segueing to a topic of particular prominence that he expands upon in greater detail. Once the host has said his piece, Nightly shift's to its main showpiece; a panel discussion of the day's main news item(s) among a set of guests with Wilmore acting as moderator. For a wrap-up, guests are asked to give a brief, unvarnished take on the matter in answer to a question posed to them by Wilmore himself, and are awarded prizes (a "Keep It 100" sticker or a bag of "Weak Tea") depending on how sincere they appear to be.

Of the package, it's the "Keep It 100" bit that feels the shakiest early on. The panel format as a whole calls to mind Real Time's celebrity vs. pundit shouting match showcases, but Wilmore isn't 1/10th the agitator that Maher is. However funny, he wants to have an honest discussion and (thus far) has appeared hesitant to let his guests near each other's jugulars - in a discussion about the anti-vaccination movement, you could feel the host (and, likely, the producers) expending psychic energy trying to will the panel not to "gang up" on the lone "anti-vaxxer" voice among them. That kind of attitude just isn't really conducive to holding people's feet to the fire at the end.

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