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.
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