This cancellation of The Nightly Show is more of a commentary about television than it is about Larry Wilmore. It says a lot about the demographics of who is still watching television in 2016.
As the Times points out, Noah’s audience hovers around 1.3 million. (Stewart’s last year at The Daily Show desk brought in an average of 2.1 million viewers a night.) Wilmore “has lost more than half the audience that he inherited” from Colbert. Colbert’s last year at The Colbert Report raked in an average of 1.7 million viewers a night; in Wilmore’s first year, The Nightly Show audience was, on average, only 922,000 viewers strong. (This year’s average: 776,000 viewers per night.)
Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore are relatively progressive voices. One might even say extremely progressive, in the context of television. But television is a staid medium, appealing to an older audience. What the internet did to print journalism over the past 20 years, it is doing to television now.
Those numbers are rotten compared to the views the top channels on YouTube get. This is doubly the case when you consider that YouTube’s audience skews young, and younger, more progressive people (the youth is always more progressive than older age groups) are more likely to watch someone like Larry Wilmore.
Wilmore’s message is aimed at people who are open to messages about race, who are comfortable having a black man talk to them about the news. An average 40-year-old is less likely to be open to black voices than an average 20-year-old, simply because that 40-year-old was conditioned his or her whole life to see predominately white faces talking about racism and delivering the news. 20-year-olds grew up with YouTubers from different backgrounds, speaking many languages, talking about issues from wildly different perspectives. They’re used to a diversity of voices speaking about the issues of the day. They are not given a scant few channels from which to select a person to identify with; they decide who they identify with and go find that person online, because that person is out there.
Basically, Larry Wilmore should just start a YouTube channel and crush it delivering the news from his own perspective, unhindered by any network executives and their say-so. He’s already a known name. He already knows how to produce content. People will be tuning into stream it on their TV in no time.