I've been a regular listener to NPR since 2005. I learn a great deal from NPR. Then there are times when I wonder if they really get it. Something today struck me as ironic. Today's MORNING EDITION show did a feature on the surprising news that Comedy Central had cancelled THE NIGHTLY SHOW hosted by Larry Wilmore. I watched his show frequently. In fact, I think I watched THE NIGHTLY SHOW more often than I watched THE DAILY SHOW with Jon Stewart. I was thrilled to see a middle-aged black man (who grew up in South Central L.A. the same as I did) host a political comedy talk show in late night. Or host any kind of talk show in late night. Larry Wilmore had given us The Bernie Mac Show. That hit sitcom had been rejected by ABC, CBS and NBC. Fox picked it up. Wilmore's sitcom production won a prestigious Peabody Award. On Comedy Central, he didn't have an easy task in these days of "Black Lives Matter," "Oscars So White" and Donald Trump running for president. But Larry Wilmore did some good stuff and raised excellent points that needed to be raised.
The 5-part series went back to the early days of late night hosts such as Steve Allen and Jack Paar. It took us through the days of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. We heard from new guys such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. We heard about those who failed in late night shows -- Joan Rivers, Chevy Chase and Pat Sajak. In the entire week, we never heard a soundbite from or heard any portion focused on Arsenio Hall. Remember how big a hit Arsenio's late night show was? Julia Roberts' character referenced him in Pretty Woman. Bill Clinton made pop culture history playing the saxophone on Arsenio's show. Arsenio made the cover of TIME magazine. His was a racially groundbreaking late night TV talk show.
Today, the MORNING EDITION piece of Larry Wilmore began with the host saying that the field of late night talk show hosts was predominantly white male and would be even less diverse now that Larry Wilmore's show has been cancelled. The report is done by Eric Deggans. I was a fan of Deggans' newspaper column before NPR hired him. He is a black man. I wish he'd been a contributor three years ago on FRESH AIR's week-long salute to late night hosts. Eric would have gotten Arsenio mentioned.
Before their huge success on the TV series, EMPIRE, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson were in the 2005 movie, HUSTLE & FLOW. Howard got an Oscar nomination for playing a pimp in that movie. David Edelstein reviewed the movie on NPR's FRESH AIR. He raved about Howard's performance and said the "new" actor was "like a young Samuel L. Jackson." I looked at my radio and said, "What?!?!" Terrence Howard was very well known to black audiences by that time. In TV biopics, he'd played a member of the Jackson Five of pop music fame, boxer Muhammed Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King's fellow Civil Rights leader, Ralph Abernathy. He played one of the high school music students in MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS, the film that brought Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 1995.
But there were no black film critics/historians on NPR to say, "David Edelstein...let's talk." That's what I mean about our history being overlooked. Or misreported. My other example is Jeffrey Lyons on NBC giving credit for Dr. Martin Luther King's TONIGHT Show appearance and interview to Johnny Carson. This was during Lyon's obituary piece on the late Johnny Carson. Carson didn't book and interview Dr. King in 1968. That was the work of King's friend, Harry Belafonte. Belafonte substituted for Johnny Carson the whole week he was on vacation. Reporter Jeffrey Lyons was wrong -- on a network news program. Belafonte interviewed Dr. King that night on NBC.
I will miss Larry Wilmore so much on Comedy Central. The late night talk show color wall is a tough one to crack. And I have big love any minority who had the balls or brass ovaries to charge through it.
In the future, I hope NPR remembers that Larry Wilmore was there. Like Arsenio Hall was. Again, I loved THE NIGHTLY SHOW. Larry Wilmore, thanks for keepin' it 100, bruh.
NPR.org, click into Programs and find the MORNING EDITION for Tuesday of this week. Wilmore's last show airs this coming Thursday.
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