BET cancelled its groundbreaking late-night show The Rundown with Robin Thede after just one season–and it doesn’t make any sense at all.
The Rundown came out of the gate with everything working in its favor: The same production company behind Full Frontal with Sam Bee was working with Thede; Chris Rock was an executive producer; Thede herself was more than ready to host her own show having been the head writer for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The lane Thede carved out for herself was something so many people have been screaming for. In a lineup of predominately white men, Thede became the only black female late-night host when The Rundown premiered last October.
But Thede’s late-night presence wasn’t just a diversity box to check off–it was genuinely hilarious and sharply written. The Rundown debuted to–and maintained–strongly positive reviews and even has a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Thede’s critical success was due in no small part to her black-centric approach to political and cultural satire, which proved to be a welcome respite from other late-night shows that tend to overlook stories pertaining to the African-American community. The Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. even said as much on an episode of The Rundown‘s after-show podcast, The Randown, when he told Thede, “You get to make the jokes that I wish I could make.” What Wood Jr. was getting at is the fact that a show like The Daily Show has a broader (i.e.. more white) audience on Comedy Central. So even a black host like Trevor Noah can only dig so deep. It’s a theory bolstered by the cancellation of The Nightly Show, aka Comedy Central’s black version of The Daily Show, that was cancelled after just two seasons.
Despite filling a void for black people–and, most importantly, black women–BET pulled the plug on The Rundown, leaving the question of why?
In a statement, BET said, “At this time BET Networks has decided not to renew The Rundown with Robin Thede. We have so much love and respect for our unicorn and look forward to finding ways to continue in partnership with Robin.”
There was no mention of The Rundown underperforming or a significant dip in ratings. If either was indeed the case, one could make the argument for The Rundown only meriting one season. Sure, plenty of shows never see a second season. But knowing that The Rundown was really a first of its kind for BET as a late-night political show, a little leeway could’ve gone a long way in helping to find its footing. If anything, the fact that it was such a new direction for BET’s programming should’ve been all the more reason for the network to keep it around.
It seems as if The Rundown was a casualty of a recent changing of the guard at BET. Chairman and CEO Debra Lee, who greenlit Thede’s show, stepped down in May, paving the way for Scott M. Mills to oversee strategy and operations for BET as president. Reportedly, Mills’s vision is to increase the network’s scripted content and original movies. How there’s no room in that vision for a late-night political satire show driven by an underrepresented voice in the conversation is perplexing to say the least.
But no one can say Thede didn’t at least try to pipe up.
“I have a really high standard for what we’re doing,” Thede said in an interview with Fast Company last October. “So if that doesn’t find an audience, it won’t be for lack of quality, and it won’t be for lack of trying.”