NPR asks me: Where's the diversity in late-night TV?
I had an interesting conversation Thursday on the National Public Radio show, Tell Me More, where the host asked an interesting question following the debut Monday of Jimmy Fallon's new late-night series on NBC; Where are all the women and people of color hosting late-night TV talk shows?
Once, that was an easy question to answer. In the late '80s, Arsenio Hall's late-night show proved that an upstart host could draw a young crowd by featuring singers, rappers and actors who couldn't get booked on the more established talk shows -- many, because they were too "urban" or only popular with black audiences.
His success begat ill-fated shows featuring Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Keenen Ivory Wayans, VIBE magazine and Byron Allen -- mostly syndicated series that just couldn't stay on long enough to find their groove.
Hall featured hard-ankle funk and New Jack Swing bands such as Guy and Cameo, showcased Bobby Brown just as My Prerogative was turning him into a household name and gave MC Hammer a platform when his act was mostly gyrating to old Parliament-Funkadelic tunes with a new rhythm track.
But there was something new on TV that young kids like myself, fresh out of college, responded to. So, when Jay Leno took over the Tonight Show in 1993 and David Letterman moved to CBS, they both started booking acts like Mary J. Blige and Brown. And before long, that success was taken even further by Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson (who, at age 47, is young for old-skewing CBS).
Nowadays, the hosts of late-night TV look like the audiences the networks are chasing, especially regarding Kimmel, Fallon and late, late, late night host Carson Daly.
This also seems to be why funny women are kept in daytime talk -- the land of Whoopi, Joy Behar, Ellen DeGeneres and Bonnie Hunt -- where programmers assume women are watching (E!'s Chelsea Handler, at left, seems to be the biggest exception).
There was something a little odd about seeing Fallon step from behind a curtain Monday onto a set that looked a lot like the Tonight Show sets of Leno and Johnny Carson, backed by a band and cracking jokes about the day's news.
Nods to hip-hop and the Internet aside, late night TV doesn't seem to have come very far these days -- particularly when it comes to the diversity of hosts.
Check out my on-air conversation about all this here.*