In her upcoming movie, Emma Thompson plays ‘Katherine Newbury,’ a pioneer of the network television staple that has and continues to be dominated by men: the late night talk show. Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) wrote the screenplay for Late Night presumably to ask some questions about the state of the entertainment industry. One question I have is why someone like ‘Katherine Newbury’ is still just a fictional character.
Yes, a few women have hosted TV shows late at night. Samantha Bee is the best current example with Full Frontal on TBS. That’s a very funny show but it’s format is more along the lines of The Daily Show than The Tonight Show. Most of the other female-led talk shows, like Ellen and The Wendy Williams Show, air in daytime.
If you look back at the history of late night talk show hosts on the big broadcast networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX), you won’t find many women. Let’s start with the major names from The Tonight Show: Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon.
The pattern is the same for Late Night on NBC: David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers. Then there’s the Late Show on CBS: David Letterman, Stephen Colbert. And that’s followed by The Late, Late Show: Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn, Craig Ferguson, James Corden.
Over the decades, other late night TV talk show hosts have included Merv Griffin, Jimmy Kimmel, Arsenio Hall, Bob Costas, Greg Kinnear, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, Carson Daly, Alan Thicke, David Brenner, even Magic Johnson. All men. The one notable exception is Joan Rivers (above). In 1986, she became the first female host of a late night network television talk show. Unfortunately, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers lasted only one year on FOX.
The interesting thing in the movie Late Night is that, while the host is a woman, the writing staff is entirely male until Mindy Kaling’s character shows up to add some diversity. It seems that even ‘Katherine Newbury’ has something against women in comedy.
I don’t know about you, but I know some very funny women. I’m married to one and I work with another. Either one of them could host The Tonight Show. How long will it be before a member of America’s majority gender gets her own network show at 11:35 PM? Late Night opens in theaters June 7th.