A lot of people are calling yesterday’s announcement that Stephen Colbert will be taking over for David Letterman the final move in the changing guard of late night television. With Kimmel, Fallon, O’Brien, and now Colbert, it’s pretty clear that every TV network is acknowledging a new generation of viewers they must cater to. In fact, you could easily argue that there’s been as much change in “late night” over the past two years slot as there had previously been over the past 50. However, while it’s clear that the new lineup of late night hosts are clearly younger – I wonder if they really represent the new younger generation. I mean, do I need to point out the obvious thing they all have in common?
Hmmm…. I wonder what the similarity is??? Ok listen, I really don’t think anyone is acting purposefully racist or sexist. Fact of the matter is, in today’s media climate, where network audiences are declining year after year, they would let the Geico Gecco host a show if it would get ratings. Yet, somehow we still end up with all “clean cut white male” hosts. There are still no women, no gays and no people of color hosting any major late night program. Ok, Chelsea Handler is on E!, but that’s not really a major network AND she just announced she’s leaving at the end of the year. Arsenio is on WPIX, and while he may have been great in the 90’s – have you watched the reboot show? It’s honestly terrible, which is why it’s buried on the WPIX. What I’m looking for is a show of the quality of Fallon but featuring a host of any variety not “straight, white, clean-cut, male”; and this is coming from a straight white male.
To be honest, this isn’t even entirely about race or gender, it’s also just generally about point of view. Wouldn’t it be cool/interesting to have a host that was a bit edgier or maybe more country or maybe more urban? Think about how different the hosts of day time television are?
I want to acknowledge that finding this “different” host is not an easy task. In fact I don’t even think I have the right suggestion, and this is part of the problem. Hosting late night is not an easy job. Many a very talented comic and actor has failed, most notably comedy legend Chevy Chase (a straight white male) bombed as badly as any person ever. Finding the right combination of entertainer and interviewer is just not that easy. They are, at their core, two diametrically opposed skills. One is about owning the spotlight and the other is about shinning, not even really sharing, that light on another individual. Some very talented people could just never do this. Could you imagine Kevin Hart or Robin Williams interviewing someone else?? No. Why? Because those two people, while extremely talented, have to be the star in every moment. To host a show like late night, you have to be the star in one moment and then immediately make your guest the star in the next. Let’s not forget how uninteresting even some of the biggest celebrities can be. It’s not easy to get something out of them, and to do it EVERY single night takes a real talent. However, with all that being said I find it hard to believe that there are no women or people of color capable of it. If I had to really guess, the problem is a question of talent development, not talent in general. IF there is a racist or sexist problem, it’s occurring at the developmental level.
My point with this short post, however, is not to question the motives of the hiring powers at the studios, but to question the level of progress that they’ve actually made in breaking new ground and “young’n up” their hosts. The thing that makes our younger demographic so different from past generations is our acceptance of and desire for diversity. I don’t say that just in the literal sense either, but in the figurative as well. Young people want to be surrounded by people that are talented but also different and interesting. While I don’t think anyone could claim that Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert and O’Brien are the same – I don’t know that you’d consider them all that different either. I don’t know who the other potential choices would be to bring some disruption to the standard convention. Maybe there isn’t anyone out there right now who’s ready for that role. However, what we should be doing is looking for and pushing for that next wave of truly different hosts. Hollywood needs to be cultivating much more talent from all types of backgrounds. They need to do a better job of casting at the entry level so that there is even that the talent is developed enough for things like late night. To me, we aren’t really going to connect with a younger audience until the hosts of all our programs better represent what that younger demographic really looks like.