Where is the Late Night Diversity?

Caroline Cafasso

David Letterman, comedian and host of of the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS,  announced on April 3 that he will be retiring in 2015 after leading the show for over 10 years. This comes as yet another change in the late night television line up in recent months. Jimmy Fallon replaced Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show in February, with Seth Meyers taking over Fallon’s slot in Late Night.

This situation differed from the current Letterman circumstances. Leno struggled with his program’s ratings as the young audience geared more toward men like Fallon, making Fallon destined to succeed Leno. The news of Letterman’s imminent depature seemed to present an opportunity to add more diversity to the late night television line up, a scene that has been dominated by white men for nearly its entire existence. However, it looks as if we will have to keep on waiting.

Stephen Colbert will be the new host of the Late Show once Letterman retires. Colbert hosts the widely popular, political satire The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, making his future move to this kind of program rather surprising and nerve racking to his devoted fans. What’s more surprising, though, – and more important to discuss – is the fact that a seemingly unbreakable restriction has solidifed itself for nighttime variety shows.

Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, Carson Daly, David Letterman, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Jack Paar, Russell Brand, Jon Stewart – these are just some of the current, former, and future faces of American late night television. Despite the different styles, humor, and success, there is one common thread: all of these hosts are male and white.

While this typecast does not downplay these men’s talent and merit, there are equally deserving comedians and personalities who could have taken Letterman’s coveted slot and added some much needed range through race and gender.

Strongly rumored to leave her talk show Chelsea Lately when her contract expires this coming fall, Chelsea Handler has proven herself to be on par with the men of late night. Her program is widely successful, both in viewers and on the Internet. This, combined with Handler’s probable departure from Lately, would have made her a more than suitable candidate for Letterman’s seat.

Arsenio Hall has successfully revived his 1990’s popularity as The Arsenio Hall Show has made its way onto the air again following a nearly 10 year absence. As an African American, his huge fanbase was groundbreaking among the sea of white men in late night. Regardless of his race, Hall could have also taken over the Late Show given that he still remains an influential comedian who can stand the test of time.

Other missed opportunities include Andy Cohen, the first openly gay man to host a late night talk show, and even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have proven their hosting chops by owning the Golden Globes stage as co-hosts. What is most striking is that CBS did recognize the potential in offering the vacant spot to a female or person of color, for it would not only offer accurate representation to our heterogenous nation, but would also boost ratings.

In the year 2014, it is about time that more diversity be added to the many late night talk shows on television. Out of the variety of candidates, Stephen Colbert’s arrival proves disappointing, uninspired and repetitive. He already sees great success on his own Comedy Central show, making him take away a much needed chance for someone fresh. With a talented set of options, CBS has no excuse for not offering the hosting role to a women, person of color, or even both.