See if you can figure out what these 10 performers have in common: Judd Apatow, Will Arnett, Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, Billy Gardell, Sean Hayes, Thomas Lennon, John Mayer, and Kunal Nayyar.
Well, for one thing, they were all recently announced as guest hosts on CBS' "The Late Late Show" for the three-month interval between the end of Craig Ferguson's tenure (on Dec. 19) and the beginning of James Corden's.
And, for another thing, they're all guys.
There have been a lot of complaints, especially in the last year, that late-night TV is a sausage fest, but it's become especially apparent once again in the last few days. Really, CBS couldn't find one funny woman to sit at the "Late Late Show" desk, even for just a week?
Well, okay, actually, they found five of them. That would be the panel from CBS daytime chat show "The Talk" -- Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Aisha Tyler, and Sheryl Underwood -- who will do a late-late-night version of their show during the week of January 12.
Still, it's not clear how their safe-for-lunchtime act will fare during the edgier wee hours when viewers expect wacky comic antics. Also, what message does it send that CBS thinks it takes five women to do the job of one man? The network couldn't have just hired one of them -- say, Underwood or "Talk Soup" veteran Tyler, both established comic performers -- instead of making them share the spotlight five ways?
As for the male guest hosts, most of them are experienced comic performers with connections to CBS or its sister cable channels. Apatow is better known as a writer/director than a performer, but given his tenure on "The Larry Sanders Show," I'll grant that he knows that late-night turf well. Billy Gardell -- well, not to take away from his gifts as a stand-up comic, but how could CBS consider him and not his even more famous and beloved "MIke & Molly" co-star, Melissa McCarthy?
John Mayer, however, is a wild card. He's a fine guitarist and has shown signs of a dry sense of humor, but he's not known for his skills as a comic or an emcee. It seems odd that CBS went that far down the list of eligible performers and yet still couldn't come up with any women.
It's not like women haven't proved themselves in this arena over and over throughout the past 30 years. The late Joan Rivers did the job, both as a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson and as the host of her own pioneering show on Fox. Since then, such funny women as Whoopi Goldberg, Wanda Sykes, Roseanne Barr, and Joy Behar have all taken a crack at late-night hosting. Mo'Nique, of course, did it for longer than most, and Chelsea Handler longer than anyone.
Now, of course, Handler is taking her act to Netflix; it's not clear, however, whether her show (which, presumably, you'll be able to stream at your leisure) will be considered late-night or will be evaluated on the same playing field as the Jimmys, Conan, Seth Meyers, and the rest. Meantime, there are no other slots opening up for long-term late-night hosting gigs. There were some not long ago, but they all went to men -- Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and James Corden. (Yes, CBS went to England and imported a guy, rather than hire an American woman.
Oh, there will be one new late-night host who's a woman -- well, sort of. News broke this week that Lauren Graham and Ellen DeGeneres are collaborating on "Kate on Later," a scripted primetime comedy about a woman late-night host; Graham will star and co-write, while DeGeneres will produce. (Okay, we know Graham isn't Lorelai Gilmore in real life, but wouldn't the wired, fast-talking, pop-culture-savvy "Gilmore Girls" heroine have made a fine late-night emcee?) So it looks like we'll get a fictional female late-night host long before we get a real one.
Why does late-night remain such a boys' club? Chris Rock hinted at the reason in the much-discussed essay he published in the Hollywood Reporter this week. The comedian didn't specifically address the dearth of women in late-night, but he noted that Hollywood is run by white guys who tend to hire and cast people who look like themselves -- not necessarily out of bigotry, but out of a lack of imagination. It's up to the handful of black people, women, and Latinos with power to mentor others like themselves, since no one else will, Rock suggested.
Why does it even matter that late-night become more inclusive? Because right now, the shows all share a certain sameness -- of perspective, of humor, even of guest-booking. At least when George Lopez and Arsenio Hall were hosting shows in recent years, the variety of guests appearing on late-night broadened, and so did the perspectives heard in late-night monologue jokes. Surely adding more women to the mix would expand the boundaries of what's possible in late-night as well.
There's an argument to be made, however self-serving, that audiences are simply more accustomed to male hosts in late-night and that men make more reassuring sandmen, gently ushering viewers into sleep. But then, night-owl TV watchers have been conditioned to find male hosts comfortable because they've seldom been presented with alternatives. How can TV executives be certain that viewers won't accept female late-night hosts if they never try any of them out?
It's not too late for CBS to make up for its current lapse. Maybe the "Late Late Show" slots are all filled, but there'll be a similar break between David Letterman's forthcoming retirement and Stephen Colbert's launch as "The Late Show" host. Here's a list of a few people the network might consider, in addition to the usual suspects: Amy Sedaris, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Mindy Kaling, Carrie Brownstein, Kate McKinnon, Natasha Leggero, Tig Notaro, Nicole Sullivan, Janeane Garofalo, Chelsea Peretti, Julie Klausner, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer...
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