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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wilmore Be Better?


I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- when it comes to late-night TV shows, the first episode out of the box is usually very different from the way the show will look and sound a few months later. I hope that's true of "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore," which has the unenviable task of trying to fill the gigantic shoes of its time slot predecessor, "The Colbert Report."

Wilmore is clever and funny, but was noticeably nervous on his first show. As he settles in, he'll calm down and slow down so he's not running over his own punchlines. As a middle-aged black man, he has a view of the world that's different from all of the other late-night hosts, but if his entire act is going to be based on race, it's going to get old fast. That's one of the ways in which I expect the show to morph over the weeks to come, as there are so many other targets he can aim his cutting humor at. Still, it was amusing to see Wilmore going after Al Sharpton, and I'm looking forward to his take on the Bill Cosby rape story, which Wilmore says he'll focus on tonight.

One thing that should change soon is the not-so-round-table discussion that filled the middle of the show. It looked like every guest panel on every boring cable news show, albeit with more diversity. Four guests is way too many for a segment that doesn't even last ten minutes. Bill Maher's panel has only three people, but they get 30-40 minutes to hash things out. On Wilmore's show, the time constraint got in the way of anyone saying anything particularly funny or smart. I'd much rather have seen Wilmore talking one-on-one with guest Senator Cory Booker than having him compete for limited airtime with his co-panelists. 

Speaking of the other panelists, I don't know what to make of Shenaz Treasury, one of Wilmore's "contributors." She didn't add much last night and is obviously a television rookie who needs more direction. When introduced, she turned away from the cameras to wave at the audience, a move that must have frustrated the TV director, who couldn't get a head-on shot of her. If she's going to be a regular, someone needs to tell her to ignore the studio audience and play only to the host and the home audience.

I like the idea of the final segment, in which a viewer gets to ask Wilmore a question he hasn't seen until it's revealed on camera, and he has to come up with something witty. Of course, his producers are going to pick queries that they know Wilmore can knock out of the park, and that's okay -- as long as he does it each night.

This is all first-show nitpicking, granted, but with help from executive producers Jon Stewart and former "Daily Show" honcho Rory Albanese, I'm hopeful Wilmore and his "Nightly Show" crew will get better over time.