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Interview: Head Writer Robin Thede on How ‘The Nightly Show w/Larry Wilmore’ Provides What Late Night TV is Missing

Interview: Head Writer Robin Thede on How 'The Nightly Show w/Larry Wilmore' Provides What Late Night TV is Missing

Announced this week, Comedy Central’s latest
offering to the late-night news landscape, “The Minority Report with Larry
Wilmore,” has been renamed “The Nightly Show with Larry
Wilmore,” a title the team hopes will lead to less legal trouble.
Hosted by Wilmore and featuring frequent guests and contributors, the show is
set to take a comedic look at news, current events and pop culture from unique
perspectives. 

We spoke with “Nightly Show” head writer
Robin Thede, an accomplished actress, sketch comedian and writer known for her
work on series like “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and “The Queen
Latifah Show,” as well as viral videos and awards shows. A month into the
new post, she told S&A about shaping the project and bringing something new
to late-night television.

JAI TIGGETT: We hear that the show is being conceived right now,
and a lot of the ideas are still being developed. Can you share what that
process is like?

ROBIN THEDE: Right now
we’re prepping and really figuring out the voice of the show. So we’ll try out a
number of segments, we’ll write stories as if we were shooting a show today,
and we’re just really honing the voice for Larry and also for our cast members.
We got more than 400 packets from writers, which is four times the average
amount a show like this gets. So there’s a lot of interest in the show in the
community; people really want to be a part of it and that’s exciting.

So the process right now is really building
the show from the ground up. For me it’s focusing on getting the right people
in here who can help us master that feel of a conversation and make the show
funny. Because first and foremost, it is a comedy show. I think a lot of people
are looking for it to save race relations. I don’t know if it’s going to do
that, but we’re definitely going to make you laugh and you’re definitely going
to have something else to say about it that you can share on your Facebook wall
the next day.

There’s a lot of talk about what’s missing in late-night television
– a lack of women, people of color, other groups and perspectives. Is this show
going to fill those gaps?

I hope so. Definitely, the word “underrepresented”
is thrown around at our offices a lot. I think the thing that was misleading
about the title “The Minority Report” is that people think it’s just
going to be about “black people this” and “white people that,”
and that really isn’t the aim of the show.

The show is, first and foremost, to have a
conversation. It will definitely be in the “Daily Show” style, but
the difference is that we get to have a panel discussion every night as well.
So comedians, pundits, cast members, and celebrities will take part in a roundtable
discussion with Larry about the topics that are going on. If we were to do a
show today, obviously Bill Cosby would be talked about.

Are there any other topics that you’ve been dying to discuss on late-night?

Who knows what’s going to be going on in
January when we premiere. But this past year has been ripe with things that we would
have loved to have covered –Ferguson, Donald Sterling, Paula Deen. And I think
that’s how the show can fill a gap, because the late-night landscape kind of
all looks the same.

And then our interactive component – our
social media and website and all the original content we’re doing online – is
going to help people share their opinions about what’s going on. We just want
to be able to start the conversation. We’re not going to tell you what I think,
but we’re going to give you a place to talk about it.

How open and candid do you expect the panel to be in these
discussions?

Very. It’s comedy first, but after that it’s
realness. We’re not having the same old pundits or comedians on the panel doing
recycled material. They’re going to come on the show and give real opinions whether
people like it or not, because we need it to feel like a real conversation is
happening. This show has to feel like you and your friends sitting around debating
whether or not Bill Cosby did something to these women. And people are going to
get heated and give their real, raw opinions on things.

What kinds of voices are you looking to bring to the show? You
mentioned that it won’t be the usual suspects in terms of guests or
contributors.

Definitely. So if we’re talking about a
Walmart workers’ strike, we’re not talking to the corporate people at Walmart.
We’re talking to the people on strike, we’re talking to the janitor that’s
cleaning the floors, and that goes back to the underrepresented voice. We are
not going to talk about Ferguson and only talk to the police chief. We’re going
to the people on the ground. It’s funny to me how many interviews I saw about
Ferguson that did not include Ferguson residents. So for any issue, we want to
cover the side that the 24-hour news cycle is not covering.

You mention the “Daily Show” style, and “The Nightly
Show” is also coming up in the shadow of Colbert. How much is it borrowing
from other shows, in terms of style and format?

The only thing we have in common with Colbert
is that we’ll also [air] after “The Daily Show.” Colbert was a
character, all tongue in cheek. This show strives to be authentic in a comedic
way. But it’s not satire. It’s a news parody
in that we’re mimicking that format, but at the same time that you’re laughing
you’re going to get a lot of truth on this show. So I think that’s what helps us
stand apart from others.

Now listen, Colbert is a genius and why would
anyone want to duplicate what he did? He did it. So we’ve got to make our mark
in a different way. And Jon Stewart is our executive producer, so he’s helping
us shape that as well to make it distinct.

You’ve been in front of the camera and behind. Down the line, do
you see yourself eventually stepping into the role of someone like Larry
Wilmore or Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart and being the face of a program like
this?

You’re gonna get me fired. I just got this job. [laughs] I would never put me and Larry Wilmore in the same sentence in a
conversation about talent. He’s a pro. But I’ll always perform in some
capacity, for sure. I’ve always been shooting things at the same time that I
was writing.

For now I’m focused on being the head writer
of this show. If something like that came along and it made sense down the
line, I would love to continue in that tradition because I’m now part of a
really incredible award-winning family at Comedy Central. But I think the only way you
can get to do those things is by doing what Larry has done, which is to create
quality television for many years, and just be good at what you do.

“The Nightly Show with Larry
Wilmore” premieres on MLK Day, January 19, 2015.

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