Larry Wilmore, named Friday as host of “The Minority Report,” the show that will fill the 11:30 p.m. slot on Comedy Central, thought the time had passed for him to receive his own late-night show.
“I wasn’t sure where I fit into the landscape,” Wilmore said in an interview. He had produced a pilot for a politically oriented satirical show for Showtime in 2012, and when that was not picked up, he took stock.
“I’ve been in the business for a while,” Wilmore said. “I really thought the window was closed.” He added, “And usually there’s a certain age you have to be.” That age is not 52, Wilmore’s age.
And yet, there Wilmore was, just days ago, sitting in Jon Stewart’s office, hearing Stewart – the man who had put Wilmore’s performing persona on the television map in the role of “senior black correspondent” on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” – describing his idea for a show to replace Stephen Colbert’s hit “The Colbert Report.”
The new show would be called “The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore” (the T no longer silent, as it is on Colbert’s show); it would consist of a collection of sharp young minority comics discussing topics in the news; and all it needed was Larry Wilmore as host.
“Are you in?” Stewart asked.
“My mouth hit the floor,” Wilmore said. “I was like, ‘Y-y-y- essss?’”
Fans and television-industry executives were less surprised by Stewart’s choice. Wilmore created “The Bernie Mac Show” and wrote for and produced “The Office.” The consensus was that Wilmore – bright, acerbic, soft-spoken but pointedly funny – was the perfect choice to be the frontman on a show that would inject a pungent minority point of view into the nightly stew of late-night comedy.
“The reaction has been great,” Wilmore said. “It seemed that when David Letterman announced he was retiring, everything started to move.”
A series of moves – with Colbert heading to CBS and Craig Ferguson announcing his stepping down at CBS – has upended the late-night landscape. Women and minority groups have suggested that the time has arrived for a black, Hispanic or female host, joining Arsenio Hall and Chelsea Handler.
“I just think Larry is so ready,” Stewart said. “I love the idea that he’s going to put together something that doesn’t work the well-worn path in late night.”
One big reason Stewart and Comedy Central executives leaned toward him was because of his experience in production as well as performing. Wilmore will be deeply involved in putting the show together.
“These productions need a person who has the chops to handle that end of it,” Stewart said.
Wilmore thought his next move might be trying to create a sitcom he would star in. But instead Wilmore had signed up to work full-time as the show runner on a new ABC sitcom called “Black-ish,” about a successful African-American dad worried about his kids losing touch with their culture.
“I love the idea of the show,” said Wilmore, who will be able to work on the series until October, when he begins preparing his late-night show. “I couldn’t believe it came from Disney, of all places.” (Walt Disney is the parent of ABC.)
Wilmore added, “But then I thought: I guess Mickey Mouse is black, when you think about it.”
Providing that sort of piquant commentary on racial topics has been Wilmore’s specialty on “The Daily Show,” though he said it has always been a touchstone of his comedy.
“The first show I worked on was ‘In Living Color.’ I think ‘The Daily Show’ was the culmination of having that point of view – being able to look at this third rail in our society.”
He joined “The Daily Show” in 2006 as Colbert was leaving it to start his own show. His first night, he was asked to provide a commentary on the use of the slur “macaca” by the incumbent Senate candidate George Allen of Virginia. It was the perfect faux pas for Wilmore to skewer.
“Because of our limited space, that sort of commentary became the narrow trench that Larry would occupy,” Stewart said. “But he’s got a lot more than that.”
Stewart was reviewing a batch of tapes sent in by comics seeking to be correspondents on “The Daily Show” when the new idea took shape.
“I was seeing a lot of really sharp, funny people,” Stewart said. “And then I was trying to figure out what would be a way to get a lot of these voices on the air.”
Specifically, minority voices. But “The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore” will not limit itself to minority issues, both Wilmore and Stewart said. They expected the format to evolve, with some sort of nightly panel commenting on a range of issues in the news.
“Now,” Wilmore said, “all I’ve got to do is make sure this show is good.”