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It’s Official: Broadcast Late Night Stays White and Male

3 minute read

I’m getting used to typing this news, but we have another new late-night host: British comedian and actor James Corden will take over the CBS Late Late Show from Craig Ferguson next year.

And I’m getting used to typing this news, but it also means that each of the major-network late-night shows will continue to be hosted by a white guy. (On Comedy Central, Larry Wilmore will take over Colbert’s slot next year; Chelsea Handler is going to launch a talk show on Netflix.)

I can see you making the Alicia Florrick blah-blah-blah hand gesture at me. I know! You’ve heard this before! And let me be clear: sheerly from personal bias, I do not oppose the prolific offering of jobs to white guys named James.

Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien–talented, funny guys all. Stephen Colbert is the greatest talent in late night since David Letterman, and I can’t wait to see what he does with Letterman’s job. As for Corden–I know him only from occasional British TV roles (including the very funny The Wrong Mans, which he also writes), and I’m not going to prejudge him. He may be great! I hope he’s great!

But it’s no slam against Corden to say that this gives the lie to some of the usual reasons networks give for not finding women or people of color to host late-night shows. First: that the highest-profile possibilities–Ellen DeGeneres, say, or Tina Fey–are otherwise engaged and probably uninterested. And second, lack of candidates: that there are simply far more obvious choices with relevant experience who are men.

Corden may be brilliant. But he’s not exactly obvious. Sure, showbiz being what it is, there aren’t as many women with the specific late-night grooming that men like Colbert or Fallon had. But if you hire Corden, you’re casting a fairly wide net.

Wide nets are good! O’Brien was more obscure than Corden when he took over Late Night–a writer, pfft! Ferguson was only somewhat better known. You can do very well by looking beyond the usual next-in-line candidates. We should encourage it.

But can you honestly argue that, if you’re opening your search to lesser-known (at least in America) comics from around the English-speaking world, none of them–not just in this decision, but over and over–is a woman or a person of color? Can you seriously claim that not only is there no non-white-guy equivalent of Stephen Colbert, there is no non-white-guy equivalent–not a one–of James Corden?

I hope Corden is a smashing success, because I am someone who likes to laugh. I’m just saying, and I don’t blame Corden for this, that the next time a network brings out the “no qualified candidates” argument, I’ll laugh even harder.

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