This brings up a few big questions: Were there no qualified/funny women or people of color? Why did the network pick an obscure Brit to take over such a prestigious show? And who the heck is James Corden anyway?
I can’t answer these questions — though here’s a good primer — but the interesting part is that network television doesn’t even seem to think that we need answers. But we do. Why exactly did Ferguson’s replacement need to be another white man?
Note: This article is in no way meant to malign Corden, who is, I am assured, a very funny man. It’s also not meant to malign Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon or Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers or any other man who happens to be a king of late-night television. It’s meant to point out a serious problem with the white-washed nature of our TV commentators at night.
Before anyone brings it up, I should probably point out that it’s not 100 percent white men on late-night television. Larry Wilmore, after all, is picking up Colbert’s old spot on Comedy Central. And there are quite possibly many women or people of color taking up quiet spaces deep in the dark recesses of basic and premium cable.
Still, these people are barely a blip on the late-night radar.
What’s the opposite of progress?
No matter how much networks love to talk about diversity — and they do — the fact remains that Hollywood, like so much of society, is ridiculously dominated by white men. A recent study out of the University of Southern California indicates that minorities make up just over a quarter of movie characters, with women of color making up much less than half of those that do appear. And that’s the characters that people made up, not actual people hired by an executive.
It’s no surprise then that white men would dominate late-night television. The problem is, it’s gotten worse this year. The three prominent shows not hosted by the dominant demographic were canceled in 2014: The syndicated “Arsenio Hall Show,” “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” on FXX and “Chelsea Lately” on E!
While Chelsea Handler has a deal to develop a new show with Netflix, old-fashioned TV has pretty much been emptied of its diversity.
What makes the old-boy domination of the nighttime talks shows so thoroughly nuts these days is that more jobs than ever opened up in 2014. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson and Stephen Colbert all vacated or are planning to vacate their hosting gigs within the year. While Fallon and Colbert got those spots vacated by Leno and Letterman, that still leaves three openings for the existing network late-night shows.
Who comes in to fill them? Seth Meyers, James Corden and Larry Wilmore. Two of your standard white guys, with just a bit of color over on Comedy Central. As for women, forget about it. Women, apparently, can’t handle the late-night game.
Here’s the thing: Network television is not the only entity bearing the blame for the lack of diversity on late-night TV. That’s just the place where change could actively happen. But the networks are not going to change if viewing audiences refuse to get behind anything new in the wee hours of the night. The canceled programming mentioned above, for example, fell prey to dismal ratings more than anything.
Audiences don’t seem to want anything other than white men on these shows. Whether that’s because of familiarity or habits or plain old racism and sexism, I don’t know. Historically, however, late-night shows that don’t fit the standard tend to struggle.
It’s just a pity that, after 2014, viewers won’t even have the chance to try something new. White men are the only game in late night now. And it truly is time for a change.