Well, that was fast. On Friday, Netflix quietly pulled the plug on The Break with Michelle Wolf, one of the only “late-night” shows on “television” hosted by a female comedian, just three months after it premiered.
The streaming service also ended the short-lived Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, but it was the news about Wolf’s show that came as a much bigger shock. That’s because, when The Break premiered in May, Wolf was riding higher than pretty much any other comedian in the country after her breakthrough performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. As recently as last week White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was still talking about how much her jokes stung.
At the time, the general consensus was that she was suddenly a hot commodity and Netflix was lucky to have her after she decided to leave first Late Night with Seth Meyers and then The Daily Show. Now, after just 10 episodes, Netflix has decided not to order any more.
“None of us can believe how classlessly Netflix has handled this,” a source connected to the show told The Daily Beast after the news broke, noting that the entire writing staff and even the showrunners found out they had been fired on Twitter.
The move comes just a couple of weeks after BET announced it was cancelling The Rundown with Robin Thede after its first season. That cuts the number of late-night-style shows hosted by women in half, with only TBS’ Samantha Bee and Hulu’s Sarah Silverman left standing.
The utter opacity of Netflix’s model makes it impossible to know how many people were watching The Break on a weekly basis, but the show’s cultural impact could be felt on a near-weekly basis. Wolf is an expert at outraging conservatives—perhaps something Netflix was less-than-thrilled about—from her “God bless abortions” segment over the 4th of July to her commercial parody that equated ICE to ISIS a couple of weeks later.
The later segment made heads explode on Fox News, including comedy aficionado Mike Huckabee, who declared, “You know, comedians are supposed to be funny, they’re supposed to make us laugh. I love satire, it’s one of my favorite forms of comedy, but her form of comedy is not satire, it’s angry, bitter hate.”
Actual TV critics begged to differ, including The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Feinberg, who tweeted on Friday, “Bad move here, Netflix. Michelle Wolf’s show was extremely promising. It wasn’t flawless, but its voice was growing and evolving and it made me laugh hard each episode. This hardly seems like enough time to give a show to find itself and find an audience.”
After the show’s premiere, Slate’s Willa Paskin heralded Wolf’s “willingness to be vicious.” That particular quality is what made Wolf’s correspondents’ dinner speech such a huge moment in the world of political comedy.
It was on display in the show’s premiere when she continued to hammer Sanders as having “the Mario Batali of personalities,” and in a more recent episode when she dared to go after Bill Clinton for the way he treated Monica Lewinsky. “People can debate what kind of apology Bill owes Monica, but one thing he owes her for sure: oral,” she joked. Both segments would have been impossible for a male host to pull off.
Wolf, whose HBO special Nice Lady was recently nominated for an Emmy Award, will almost certainly land on her feet somewhere. But the fact that Netflix didn’t give her more of a chance, especially given its massive content budget and general willingness to renew mediocre shows, is a shame.
With Netflix’s “late-night” experiment still in turmoil, the platform is now gearing up for the premiere in October of Patriot Act with yet another former Daily Show correspondent, Hasan Minhaj. He may not be a woman, but at least he’s not another white guy.