Larry Wilmore on How He Landed The Nightly Show and What He Learned From Jon Stewart

Plus, the last-minute name change

When CBS tapped Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as its Late Show host, many people assumed Larry Wilmore—The Daily Show's "senior black correspondent" since 2006—would be a natural fit to take over Colbert's 11:30 p.m. Comedy Central slot. But not Wilmore himself.

"I didn't think about it at all. I was working on the Black-ish pilot at the time, so my mind was trying to get that going," said Wilmore, who had signed on as showrunner for the ABC comedy (he previously created The PJs and The Bernie Mac Show). But his Daily Show boss, Jon Stewart, set his sights on Wilmore, and last May, Comedy Central announced that he would indeed step in for Colbert to host The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore.

The title ended up being short-lived. Fox began developing a series based on the 2002 Tom Cruise sci-fi film Minority Report, which would have forced Wilmore to use his show's full name on all platforms. So in November, the program was retitled The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

What hasn't changed is the show's concept: a mix of Wilmore's unique comic voice and a panel discussion about the day's pertinent issues. "No one has taken the point of view of the underdog, which is my view of the world," he said. "And Jon's idea was to populate it with people who don't always get a shot in that landscape. So it's a combination of those two things."

Before The Nightly Show's well-received debut Monday, Wilmore sat down to discuss his new show, its last-minute name change and how mastering social media can be even more daunting than replacing Colbert.

Adweek: I understand why you had to lose The Minority Report, but how tough was it to make that title change so late in the game?

Larry Wilmore: Well, we made the call on the field, so to speak, before it really got too late. Part of our constructing the show was understanding how the audience sees content these days. They see it through social platforms—Twitter, Facebook—so your show has to live in those environments. And it was becoming very difficult to operate in those environments and having to use The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore as a complete tag all the time. We were being confined legally by doing that in all forms of everything, and it was becoming a nightmare. And I thought, "Guys, I don't want it to be March and we have to change our name, after we've already been on." I said, "Let's just do it now, before it really came to a head." It was in late October or early November, so there was still enough time. But the show didn't change, only the name did.

And the name change probably helped in the long term, because you've said your show won't just be about a minority view.

Right. The show gets to define itself, instead of someone having preconceived notions and either being disappointed or let down. With The Nightly Show, just like with The Daily Show, the show says what it is.

Who came up with the panel discussion format?

That was Jon's idea.

So is it going to be similar to Bill Maher's old Politically Incorrect? 

I would say, look at it as if The Daily Show and Politically Incorrect had a baby. It will be a combination of both those things.

When you heard that Colbert was replacing Letterman, did you really think about going after his old job?

I thought my window had closed. I had done a Showtime special [2012's Race, Religion and Sex] that was this type of thing, where I had a panel discussion and it was comic pieces, and I loved it. It didn't go to series, but I thought, hey, I had fun and I gave it my best shot. Some things go, some things don't. So I was very happy to be doing Black-ish and trying to make that work.

But a viral campaign started on Facebook and Twitter: "Oh, Wilmore needs to replace Colbert!" And it started from there. Then Jon came up with this idea and pitched it to me, and I was like, "Sure. I can't say no to that! I've wanted to do that forever!"

You had to step down as showrunner of Black-ish to do this. Are you still involved there in any capacity?