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Colbert: Late-night TV is still a boys’ club

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From movie specials to black-and-white reruns, late-night TV has long been keeping Americans from the recommended eight hours of sleep. In 1948 America was introduced to Ed Sullivan, and in 1963 Sullivan introduced America to the Beatles, proving early on the potent cultural influence of late night television. Variety shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” were a precursor to the talk show format we see today.
Johnny Carson, the most significant host of NBC’s “Tonight Show” to date, popularized talk shows as a staple of late-night programming. He opened the door to careers for several comedians including David Letterman and his successor Jay Leno.
Letterman went on to host “Late Show” on CBS, and in 2013 he beat Carson’s record as the longest serving late-night talk show host in TV history.
After more than 30 years at the job, Letterman is set to retire in 2015. Recently, CBS announced that the torch will be passed to satirist Stephen Colbert. Starting his career as a sketch comedian, Colbert made a name for himself playing a conservative political commentator on his Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report”. He already has a cult fan base, so this new job was met with plenty of support. However, there has been plenty of backlash and discussion about the sociological, political and cultural implications of Colbert taking on this position.
In the post-Letterman reign, “Late Show” will be competing with the bells and whistles of Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” whose audience has grown to beat out Letterman’s twofold, and the viral pranks abound on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”.
After the announcement of Letterman’s plan to retire, the Internet exploded with speculation of who might inherit the spot. According to blogs, contenders (besides Colbert) for the post-Lettermen reign included not only Louis C.K, Neil Patrick Harris and John Oliver, but also Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Aisha Tyler, Rebel Wilson, Chelsea Handler and Mindy Kaling.
Hiring a woman would have been a first in late-night for the three major networks but alas, late-night remains a boys’ club. Even though the popularity of late-night talk shows has greatly diminished since the days of Ed Sullivan, or even the beginning of Letterman’s career, these hosts remain the face of mainstream comedy. Critical thinking already hardly exists in American mainstream culture, and when all conversation about what is funny and who is important is driven by a one-sided gender narrative, it’s hardly possible.
Surely, “Late Show” ratings will rise as Colbert puts his own spin on the long-running program, but chances are things won’t change that much. Can it really be considered a new spin when the face of the network – of all the networks – continues to come from the same gender? At this rate, and considering the decades-long terms on late-night hosts, we may have a woman president before late-night has another chance to expand the narrative.

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