Screenshot: Why it may not matter whether a woman ever hosts Late Night

Any TV junkie worth their remote has spent today eyeballing the updates on NBC's scheduling mishegoss. And oh, what a crowded ensemble of players and commentators among the late-night crowd -- Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, Carson Daly, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, David Letterman ... why, they've all been name-checked.

Notice anything missing? Like, say, a woman in the late-night mix?

The lack of women hosts in late-night TV is somewhat baffling if you take the perspective that a show might reflect its audience somehow. Here's a look at TV-watching demographics: Letterman's audience is almost 55% female, Leno's is approximately 53% and O'Brien's 50%; women have made huge inroads on morning talk shows and evening news casts; more women watch TV than men.

So why is the late-night landscape such a estrogen-free zone? Do we blame the writers' rooms? Writers' rooms are often talent incubators, and as of right now, there are no women working on Leno, Letterman or O'Brien. What's striking is that the newcomer shows are slightly less monogendered: There are three on the Jimmy Fallon staff, two women on "The Daily Show" writing staff, and one apiece on the Jimmy Kimmel show, the Colbert Report and Craig Ferguson's show.

Do we blame how late-night hosts are picked? They do ten to come from comedy backgrounds, and no less a TV talk-show veteran than Lizz Winstead has pointed out that the law of averages does not favor women here.

(But perhaps experience should count for something? In that case, let me humbly submit the name of an excellent, female talk-show host: Carrie Fisher. She's done talk shows! She has a sense of humor and a distinct point of view! She'd be awesome in late night.)

However, there's always the possibility this whole late-night kerfluffle is an odd relic of a dying age. Jimmy Fallon shrewdly noted that these scheduling hijinks don't really affect him because his younger-skewing audience views him via DVR and the Web. Odds are strong that he's pioneering a new model of late-night TV, one that's actually independent of late night.

I ran this theory past someone and they said, "Yeah, but watching something at 11:30 p.m. is a matter of ritual."

To that I can only say, Didn't we used to say that about watching soap operas too? And now there are but six left on the air -- five after As the World Turns leaves the air next Sepember. TV times change. And maybe, the next TV institution won't be as much of a boys' club as late night turned out to be.

by Lisa Schmeiser
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Uh...have you not heard of Chelsea Handler?

I am totally on your side -- but I worry you either go to bed early, or don't get the E! channel. Have a look sometime...11pm EST...and you might be amazed. Her show is called "Chelsea Lately". So yes, we have a very successful and funny female talk show host in late night television. E! may not be a major broadcast network, but she's helping make it VERY popular, and believe me there's LOTS of estrogen to go around.

Not only is Chelsea terrific, half her writing and producing staff is female, and she features other female comedians on nearly every show; Loni Love, for instance, is likely the next big breakout comedy star in this country, and I believe some thanks goes to this show.

Handler's comedy is ribald, acidic, reality-based (she and her roundtable of hip comics chew on tabloid trash, celebs, and those who worship them), and sizzles with irony. IMHO, she makes women look smart but still fully capable of carrying a hip audience (and selling product, which after all, is a requirement for a show to survive).

[Chelsea has also written several books that have made it to the NY Times' best seller list; her third book is due out this March.]


As for Carrie Fisher, god bless incredibly brilliant writer, and a great performer of her own comedy, but I think she has about as much chance keeping a late night audience awake as does Carson Daly (zzzzz). I'm a big fan of Carrie, and I think her humor is mostly based on Hollywood nostalgia, exposing her personal problems, and the ironies she encounters while striving to overcome them. However, talk show hosts must push product to survive; they need to be chameleons ready to help promote the silly agendae and monotonous plugs of their parade of guests. And anyway, Carrie's much better than a talk show host; I'm afraid the sheer ennui of such a toilsome job might drive her back into demon land.

She is hilarious!

She is hilarious!

I hadn't thought of Fisher!

She really amuses me...I didn't realize she had done talk shows. I suppose I am something of a fangirl, but I really love her and find her brilliantly funny. I think she probably could carry an audience given that opportunity. Her humor has an edge that I think would draw a more female audience.

That is something to ponder...

But Fallon brings up a good point, it has been an awfully long time since I have even watched <i>The Daily Show</i> in its actual time slot, and not just since moving to Korea. When we were in the States I normally recorded it. Perhaps the late night slot is losing its glamour.

Move over Chelsea Handler ... What about Wendy Williams?

I recently discovered her new syndicated talk show (also airing on BET late nights) and found it to be nothing short of ... well ... fun! Sure, it's trashy at times ... very celebrity-gossip-centric (Her show has its own "Hot Topics" segment, but instead of a panel of wanna-bes and/or has-beens, she is interacting with the studio audience) ... and some of her guests have made me cringe (the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Chris Brown ...). But it is, for the most part, upbeat and she really speaks her mind with no apologies (so far). It is so refreshing seeing her. I recommend checking her show out at least once.

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