Another White Male Takes Over Late Night
In a move that is nothing short of formulaic, Seth Meyers is the new face of NBC’s Late Night. Just like his Late Night predecessor, Jimmy Fallon, Meyers is best known for delivering satirical news reports for SNL’s Weekend Update. And just like Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and every other major network’s late night talk show host for the last 30+ years, he’s a middle-aged white guy.
With Fallon taking Jay Leno’s Tonight Show spot and Meyers stepping up to the Late Night plate, this shift (I’d hesitate to use the more significant word ‘change’) is an unsurprisingly disappointing move to the many people who know that plenty of funny, smart, and prime time-worthy individuals exist outside of the middle-aged white guy mold. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, many news outlets speculated about NBC’s opportunity to break from its boring tradition—suggesting qualified and deserving comedians like Amy Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, and Kenan Thompson. Any one of these names would have offered a fresh break from what CNN called the “white-guy-in-a-suit-sitting-behind-the-desk tradition” that has dominated for over 30 years.
But sadly, and without any offense to the admittedly funny Seth Meyers, NBC took the predictable route in hiring what’s basically a carbon copy of the status quo. Meanwhile, funny women remain banished to daytime talk shows and half-hour shows on less popular networks. As Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film said earlier to CNN, "Perception is reality. I think the perception is still that a network show is higher in status than a cable show, and that those higher status positions remain reserved for primarily white males." It’s a shame and a disappointment that NBC continues to perpetuate this twisted form of reality in which white guys are the only ones worthy of primetime fame.
The good news is, although white males may dominate the primetime talk show scene, there are other options for viewers who seek insightful comedy and wit from a more diverse set of personalities. Supplement talk shows with Veep, the HBO comedy starring the hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which makes a delightful mockery of the behind-the-scenes problems of political public relations. Chelsea Handler has had her own talk show on E! since 2007, and although it runs only 30 minutes, the nightly show regularly features diverse panels of smart comedians and Chelsea’s reliably funny dry humor. Watch Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project, and DVR Ellen, who has some of the funniest, most moving, and most important segments shown on TV.
It’s not hard to find proof that gut-busting comedy is not only a white man’s domain. If the late night talk shows of major television networks don’t reflect that, I know I’ll be looking elsewhere.