No women ‘at this time’: Late-night di­ver­sity still lags

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Lynn El­ber

LOS AN­GE­LES — Last year, as a late-night TV shakeup ended with yet another cho­rus line of white male hosts, Joan Rivers de­cried the lack of women in any of the cov­eted jobs as “beyond frus­trat­ing.” Days after the death of the only woman to host a late-night net­work show, the sta­tus quo was reaf­firmed as CBS on Mon­day anointed Craig Fer­gu­son’s suc­ces­sor: James Cor­den, a popular Bri­tish per­former, but one largely un­known to Amer­i­can view­ers. Kathy Grif­fin, who lost a close friend and men­tor when Rivers died at 81, was dis­ap­pointed but un­sur­prised by the decision. She has good rea­son: nearly three decades after Rivers’ brief run with her talk show on Fox, the late-night net­work land­scape re­mains en­tirely male. “I was in­ter­ested in the Fer­gu­son spot long be­fore it was an­nounced be­cause I had a feel­ing things might shift,” said a can­did Grif­fin. “My joke phrase is, ‘I can start Mon­day.”’ The re­sponse of one ex­ec­u­tive to her query: “They’re not con­sid­er­ing fe­males at this time,” she re­counted. “You re­al­ize that’s il­le­gal to say in a business meet­ing?” was Grif­fin’s come­back. When she told another in­dus­try exec that the ab­sence of fe­male hosts was “em­bar­rass­ing” and that women who rep­re­sent half the pop­u­la­tion should hold half of such jobs, he had a ready an­swer: “Well, you have The Talk.” That show, of course, is in day­time and has four co-hosts, not one pow­er­ful fe­male co­me­dian own­ing the night­time stage. The ef­fect, even for a re­silient pro­fes­sional like Grif­fin, is dispir­it­ing. “I walk into the (meet­ing) room think­ing, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ I leave the room think­ing, ‘I never had a chance,”’ she said. While the rest of TV catches up to di­ver­sity, with fic­tional por­tray­als dar­ing to imag­ine women as U.S. pres­i­dents and mir­ror the re­al­ity of an African-Amer­i­can leader, net­works sim­ply are un­will­ing to roll the dice on ei­ther a fe­male or mi­nor­ity in the lofty po­si­tion of late-night host. Cable, mean­while, has inched for­ward with BET’s Mo’Nique and E!’s Chelsea Han­dler (both shows are now ended). Rivers’ brief ten­ure on the fledg­ling Fox net­work nearly 30 years ago re­mains a lonely em­blem. The net­work cited low view­er­ship for the can­cel­la­tion and she blamed a business clash, but what­ever hap­pened, it was one chance and out for her and the rest of her gen­der. Imag­ine if Co­nan O’Brien’s NBC ex­pe­ri­ence quashed the deal for white guys. To make it in the big leagues, a per­former needs the un­wa­ver­ing support of power bro­kers, in­clud­ing pro­duc­ers, agents and net­work ex­ec­u­tives, Grif­fin said, point­ing to Satur­day Night Live founder-guru Lorne Michaels’ groom­ing of Jimmy Fal­lon and Seth Mey­ers for NBC late-night jobs. One es­pe­cially dam­ag­ing in­dus­try ar­gu­ment, made pri­vately, is that women want to get their pre-bed­time mono­logue jokes from a man, while fe­male hosts such as Ellen De­Generes and Queen Lat­i­fah are wel­come in day­time. In fact, the au­di­ence for Han­dler’s Chelsey Lately was about 65 per cent fe­male, more than any other late-night show.

It’s the age of au­di­ences, not their gen­der, that should worry net­works. The cold re­al­ity is that younger view­ers are do­ing their view­ing else­where, in­clud­ing YouTube and edgier cable shows. The me­dian age of view­ers for the three 10:30 p.m. shows is just shy of 56 and steadily ris­ing. Maybe women can lend a hand. There are con­tenders for the work. Grif­fin, for one. She’s earned two Emmy Awards (for Bravo’s Kathy Grif­fin: My Life on the D-List) and this year joined the small band of fe­male win­ners of a Grammy Award for best com­edy al­bum ( Calm Down Gurrl). She’s an adroit co­me­dian and savvy enough to fit her edgy com­edy into a broad­cast mould. Other names are bandied about, such as Aisha Tyler, but to no avail. Grif­fin wor­ries that the ship has sailed for another gen­er­a­tion of women. Most late-night hosts are new and on the young side, such as 39-yearold Fal­lon. Based on the track records of Johnny Car­son, Jay Leno and David Let­ter­man, turnover is rare. In­deed, the math looks bleak when the 27 years since Rivers’ show ended are added to a cou­ple decades more. “We could be look­ing at 40 or 50 years un­til a woman is host­ing a net­work late-night talker,” Grif­fin said. “Here’s the deal: We’re (screwed).”

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