This morning TBS canceled the late-night Pete Holmes Show, a half-hour sketch/standup/talk show hybrid which had followed Conan since October but never made quite the ratings impact to justify its existence, according to the network. While Holmes was still a little rough around the edges and figuring out its identity, it was also one of the most interesting efforts at re-defining late night on TV, and it'll be sorely missed (it will air new episodes through June 18th).
"We recognize Pete as one of the most relevant comedians working today," said TBS in a statement. "We loved the show and gave it two chances, we just couldn't draw the audience needed to justify a third round. We hope we'll get to work with him again."
Holmes had made a few great appearances on Conan's show and done some web segments behind the scenes when he got tapped to follow O'Brien at midnight. His goofy, inquisitive brand of humor felt a natural fit for Conan, and Holmes' strong presence online (his YouTube and CollegeHumor clips have earned millions of views) certainly can't have hurt. Not only that, but Holmes had proved himself a capable and probing (if ever-friendly) interviewer on his cult podcast You Made It Weird, where he probed topics both deep and deeply silly for upwards of three hours with other comedians.
According to the limited ratings data that trickled out, The Pete Holmes Show was consistently beaten in the 12:00 hour by shows like @midnight on Comedy Central. TBS's decision probably makes financial sense, but it's a still a big bummer. Holmes could not escape his demographic similarity to most late night hosts (he was not helped by having his show debut alongside a couple other new series fronted by young white guys), but he did everything else to make The Pete Holmes Show original.
Rather than come out with a set-up, joke monologue in the style of his lead-in, Holmes figured you had already seen enough of that for the night and instead did his own personal standup, which crackled with a lot more energy. If Holmes' standup didn't work for you, it was a problem out of the gate, but he's always been a pretty winning comedian. Then, he'd usually mix up some clip segments or recurring on-set bits before going to an interview. His clips would come in groups, like the "Ex-Men" bits where Holmes, as a foul-mouthed Professor Xavier, would castigate members of the team for their lame, specific powers. A confrontation with Magneto (played by Rob Huebel) just dropped today, sadly punctuating the loss of the show.
His on-set bits largely worked, too, like "New Material Seinfeld," which saw Holmes bantering with a puppet impersonation of Jerry Seinfeld working out crappy new material. To me, the best part of this (and so much of Holmes' standup, which has been collected on two excellent albums so far) is how much Holmes is delighted by what's going on. He's one of those comics whose enthusiasm is so infectious, it can help along sometimes-rocky material.
But my favorite thing about The Pete Holmes Show was the interviews. Rather than hand-hold his guests through some forced story or banter to set up a clip, he'd select guests he was actually interested in or had a prior relationship with, and have a real conversation with them. Sometimes he'd toss some deep philosophical concept their way with no real warning; other times he'd gleefully cackle while a comic like Anthony Jeselnik roasted him to pieces (saying "you're dressed like you're the CEO of a pumpkin patch").
I show my bias, but perhaps my favorite interview segment Holmes ever did was with his close friend and brilliant standup John Mulaney, talking about nicknames for his dog, psychedelic mushrooms and how Holmes spoiled the surprise of Mulaney proposing to his girlfriend. It's everything you want a talk show interview to be, and it's a brilliant glimpse into Holmes' natural chemistry with guests, especially when they're his good friends. Maybe The Pete Holmes Show was too insider-y to ever catch with a wider audience, but it deserved to.
So it's farewell for now. Holmes' great podcast is still coming out every week on the Nerdist network, and there's some gem episodes in its archives, including his epic interview with Mulaney. I have no doubt that Holmes will pop back up on our screens soon enough, but for now, we should be happy he got the time that he did on TBS.