Lack of Diversity of Late Night Television

Cecilia Burke, contributor

Chelsea Handler has been dubbed “The Queen of Late Night Television”, but she’s won the crown by default. There are six network late night programs and seven cable programs, totaling sixteen. Only one of these positions is held by a woman.

This means women control 1/17, or 5.89% of late night positions, but women constitute over 50% of the US population. This problem wasn’t helped when Letterman’s soon-to-be-open time slot was given to Stephen Colbert.

Despite these numbers it’s actually a great time to be a woman in comedic television programs overall, just look at the fantastic roles they’ve snagged. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the Vice President of the United States on the award winning show Veep. Amy Poehler plays a can-do feminist who is the most competent worker in the local Parks Department.

Both Dreyfus and Poehler have won numerous accolades for their roles. These actors have proven that women can lead successful comedic shows, just like many other women in the past and present (Tina Fey,Carol Burnett, Mindy Kaling). So why is there a barrier surrounding late night television that is only permeable to men? Why was it Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers that won the most recent vacant Network slots?

The first problem is that people are apparently waiting for the ‘right woman’. Joan Rivers really screwed it up the first time, so the next time a network tries out a woman on a Late Night show, it’s got to be great. Why in the world do we have to find the exact match of a woman to head a Late Night program, but almost any funny white male will do?

People expect a lot from a female host, things that they don’t expect of the other gender. She has to be in control, but not too bossy; beautiful, but also seen as a professional; funny, but also feminine. Networks and admittedly, the public, want a paradoxical female host when all that is expected of a male host is a couple good jokes, a tolerable interview style, and if he’s as cute as Jimmy Fallon then that’s just a bonus.

Second, people are claiming that there just aren’t any qualified women right now that would be interested in the job. It could be said there are no women who are exactly right for the job. Chelsea Handler is not a Network host, Ellen DeGeneres is too clean, you need a recognized face, and Tina Fey has too much to offer to comedy to be a Late Night TV host.

However, the fact that there are not women ready to take over for a big late night name is not just a fluke. It is not simply ‘bad timing’. Because there are so few women in Cable late night hosting positions as well, there aren’t any being groomed to take on bigger programs. Virtually all the less attention-grabbing spaces are filled by men, so how could there be women getting ready to take over such a large responsibility? When Chelsea Handler didn’t fit the post, the list of experienced female hosts who could take over a vacant Network television late night spot ended.

The problems are all laid bare, now they need to be fixed. It’s a bit soul crushing when people say this, but society seriously needs to lower its standards. All of the combatant characteristics that we want in women are rarely achieved, and thus if we keep them we will rarely have female Network hosts.

Finally, there needs to be some affirmative action-like-business right quick. Networks need to make conscious efforts to fix this problem. Network television may be dying and they might be increasingly insignificant, but the significance of a successful female late night host can’t be denied. If Network is already going down the tubes why don’t they do some good for women on the way down? #diversifylatenight