Inside the end of FXX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell

Somewhere between “Prominent Black Lady News” and an interview with Dr. Yaba Blay about her book, “One Drop,” W. Kamau Bell paused to tell the audience at Wednesday night’s taping of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, “It’s just all sad news today.”

Bell was still joking about his monologue, of course. Although he just as well could have been talking about himself and his well-received if poorly viewed late-night series, which FX Networks had cancelled just hours earlier.

Wednesday’s taping went on as planned — in a field piece, writer/comedian Guy Branum patrolled the streets of Little Italy during the Feast of San Gannaro to ask if there could be an official festival food for Gay Pride events; later, in the studio, stand-up comedian Myq Kaplan (who also was the audience warm-up guy) performed a routine about the convergence of Jewish, Christian and secular holidays.

Bell told The Comic’s Comic after Wednesday’s taping that he’d have more to say officially today — overnight, he wrote to his Twitter followers @wkamaubell: “Truly overwhelmed by the love I’m getting on Twitter. @Totallybiased is done 2moro but I’m not done by a longshot,” with video attached from Bob Marley singing “Three Little Birds.” You know the lyric, sing along: “Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

Writers and staff already had planned for a two-month hiatus after tonight’s final “original” show.

Now they’re wondering whether to pull out all the stops or merely just the best highlights from nights past tonight before saying goodbye to whomever is still watching.

And yet.

No one watched Totally Biased these past two months because hardly anyone subscribed to the channel on which it aired.

FX Networks had promoted Bell’s series — which it claimed in press releases as recently as last week was “critically acclaimed” — from one night a week to five; but did so in concert with a decision to move it to a brand-new rebranded channel FXX, which wasn’t on most basic cable packages at the launch on Sept. 2 and continues to remain lodged down the dial among other premium niche sports channels (where it had been FOX Soccer).

FXX had been launched to target young adults. But ratings reports from October revealed that Totally Biased ranked a distant 12th among late-night shows last month among men 18-34. With an average of 20,000 young men watching in October, Totally Biased trailed even E!’s Chelsea Lately (29,000) and Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live (28,000) for that demographic audience. Comparable numbers from the other late-night comedy/talk competition at 11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific? Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (339,000) and Conan (134,000) on TBS.

Coincidentally, Bravo announced yesterday it had renewed Watch What Happens Live for two more years.

Meanwhile, the comedians who wrote for Bell and often received plum showcase spots to perform stand-up, commentary and correspondent pieces already are figuring out whether to stay in New York City, move to Los Angeles for pilot season, or go elsewhere.

“Our midseason party has now become a wrap party,” writer/comedian Louis Katz told The Comic’s Comic.

For tonight’s show that wraps that up, Katz said “the writers’ plan is anything that gets us on air enough time to get paid more money, that is the plan we are pushing.”

“TV shows don’t last forever,” Branum told The Comic’s Comic. “It’s just sad to be losing, to know that I’m not coming back to work with these people at a show like this. Because it was a beautiful opportunity. And it was wonderful fun while it lasted.”

Branum added: “Kamau was always super generous about wanting other comics on the show. Wanting us to get on the show. Also getting a diversity of other voices on the show. And we all really appreciated that. It was great. It was a different kind of TV show. And I will miss us.”

Too soon to talk about a move to MSNBC where their progressive newsy format seems like a perfect fit, CNN where the trades already have reported that Jeff Zucker wants to install his own version of The Daily Show, or even another new cable channel such as Pivot? Perhaps.

“I think there’s a place for Kamau at a lot of different networks and this show, I think there’s a place for this talented staff on many different venues,” Katz said. “Whether the show moves, or just Kamau moves, or just people move on their own, you’re going to see more from everybody on this show. I think this show could move to other places. We’ll see what happens.”


Previously: My interview with Bell and his original writing staff before Totally Biased’s launch in the summer of 2012.

Above, top: Photo by Louis Katz from a pre-taping meeting Wednesday of the writers of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, shortly after they’d learned FX Networks had cancelled their show.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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