The fault for this is not just the corporate suits that run the networks. The fault is in a society that privileges the words and talents of white males and gives them universal breadth.
Vanity Fair is taking some social media heat for an article proclaiming that late night television is better than ever. While great programming does exist, it’s hard to celebrate the cover photo of the 10 mostly white men who make up the modern face of late night TV.
Where are the women? And where are the minorities? In past decades, only Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler have been tagged as female hosts, with only Handler achieving any real success.
Much of the criticism for the current state of affairs is aimed at the networks for not hiring females into established late night positions, most notably and recently for replacing The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart with another man. I think blaming the network alone is a lazy answer. Networks are focused largely on profits—if the network believed a female host could generate high ratings, she would have a job.
The problem centers on how the media and viewers themselves view women in these positions. I grew up in an era where my mother watched Dinah Shore’s talk show in the afternoon and both my parents watched Johnny Carson’s monologue before heading to bed. Female-hosted talk shows were only on during the daytime, with their target audience limited to stay-at-home mothers. Male-hosted late night talk shows were for all adults.
The divide continues even today. Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Oprah Winfrey, all recent successful daytime hosts appeal largely to a female audience. Their shows were and are marketed as feel-good experiences, without the edgy or wry observations that fills the late night shows. To understand the daytime glass cage, compare Rosie O’Donnell’s current work to her “Queen of Nice” persona on her television talk show. She was sanitized for a broader market.
Historically, female headed talk shows have been designed to fill a very specific niche: women who watch daytime TV. Shows like “The View” very iintentionally advertise themselves as being based on female perspectives. Late night male talk show hosts do not have to qualify themselves in that way. Jon Stewart’s monologues were never labeled as “white, rich, liberal male perspective.” His words were automatically given center stage, not marginalized like a female’s perspective often is.
The fault for this is not just the corporate suits that run the network. The fault is in a society that privileges the words and talents of white males and gives them universal breadth. Things will change when viewers stop tuning in to these male-hosted programs and stop accepting scraps of “female perspective” launched our way at 10 in the morning.
As long as a steady diet of white male late night talk show hosts is making the networks rich, we’re not going to get anything else.
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamamia, and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives in Chicago with her partner and son.
Photo credit: Vanity Fair