Comedy Central let best successors to Stewart, Colbert walk

2016 will be known as a very good year for almost any outlet covering this patently-insane presidential election.

Ratings are up across the board over 2012, mostly thanks to the love and hate watching as each pertains to one Donald J. Trump. But one outlet, once more influential than with millennials than any other, is struggling so mightily it had to fire one of its primetime hosts.

CNN? Fox News? MSNBC?

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Nope. It's Comedy Central, where quality comedy appears to be at a premium if ratings this year are any indication. The network even went so far to terminate Larry Wilmore last week, the race-obsessed, unfunny, awkward-to-watch successor of Stephen Colbert in inheriting his time slot.  

Given the numbers, which saw Wilmore's "Nightly Show" down more than 55 percent from Colbert despite it being a target-rich election year featuring Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE, the move would normally be less-than-shocking. But when considering the election is less than 80 days away, one would think Comedy Central would have just ridden out Wilmore until November 8th and pivoted from there.

But Wilmore was just that bad in his attempts to turn what should have been a comedy show into a nightly lecture on race and politics instead. And in predictable form, played the race card one final time in addressing his audience on the air on the cancellation.

"Our show going off the air has to only mean one thing," Wilmore said. "Racism is solved."

So how did the powers that be decide on Wilmore as Colbert's replacement and Trevor Noah, who has also struggled on the ratings front, as Jon Stewart's?

Apparently not very carefully...

And the shame of it is, Comedy Central once had the perfect two candidates in house that it easily could have signed for a fair price. Know this: Not only would these folks have matched Colbert and Stewart, they very well could have surpassed them on the ratings front.

Which two?

Samantha Bee and John Oliver, respectively.

Bee is now with TBS and is the viral queen of late night with her hit weekly program Full Frontal.

From a ratings perspective, Bee's show is on par with The Daily Show despite just launching earlier this year and having a not-so-great timeslot of 10:30 pm ET on Monday nights. For the second quarter, The Daily Show averaged 1.3 million viewers to 1.2 million for Full Frontal.

But here's the more amazing part of this story: According to an interview her husband, Jason Jones, Bee wasn't even considered to take over for Stewart.

"The fact that she wasn't even approached was a little shocking to say the least," Jones told The New York Times. "But I think she is much happier where she ended up."

To be hopelessly cheesy and cliche, Bee's commentary stings and is usually rewarded on social media. Her June commentary on the Orlando shootings, for example, has been viewed on YouTube nearly 2.6 million times via the show's official count.

Comedian Louis C.K. said named Bee is the late-night talent he’s most excited to watch.

She’s the next thing," he told Vulture magazine. "We’re all talking about the same s***, but there’s always somebody out there that’s hitting a chord like nobody else, and that person is her."

Result of this kind of popularity and praise: TBS renewed Bee for the 2016 season and upped her episode total from 13 to 39.

As for Oliver, he's killing it on HBO with Last Week Tonight. His delivery is impeccable, the passion and authenticity on every carefully-selected topic and segment.

Example: Oliver’s “Donald Drumpf” segment from February decimated viewership records not only for Last Week Tonight but HBO as a whole with more than 28 million YouTube views and more than 75 million Facebook views. An HBO rep says it’s “a record for any piece of HBO content.” And in terms of audience, Oliver averages 4.6 million viewers per week, which is more than Bill Maher's Real Time.

Comedy Central had two very big decisions to make when deciding who to pass the Stewart and Colbert torches to. Both men hadn't departed suddenly and provided ample time for the right choice to be made.

First the network allowed John Oliver to leave. Then it didn't even bother to interview Sam Bee for the Daily Show hosting spot, going with an untested unknown instead.

Maybe it works out for Noah. Perhaps he'll come into his own.

But the TV business can be fickle. Training wheels don't stay on for very long. Just ask Larry Wilmore...

It didn't need to come to a matter of coming into one's own.

Comedy Central had its two next big stars already in the building.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
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