Late-night TV hosts lack diversity

CBS missed an opportunity to change the playing field of late-night television.

Luis Ruuska

When CBS announced that comedian Stephen Colbert would inherit the “Late Show” from David Letterman less than a week after Letterman announced his retirement, public reaction was mixed but mostly positive.

Many thought CBS might replace Letterman with a woman like Tina Fey or a person of color like Arsenio Hall, who has a track record as a successful late-night talk show host.

After all, late-night television has always been an all-white boys club, and Colbert’s appointment does nothing to change this regardless of his talent level, which is high but not necessarily unique.

Additionally, late-night talk show hosts are often generational, with their stints spanning over several decades.

Letterman and former rival Jay Leno have been in the late-night TV industry for more than two decades. When Letterman retires in 2015, he will have spent a record 31 years as a late-night host.

Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are all between the ages of 39 and 49, so if history repeats itself, we can expect all of them to stay in the late-night scene for a couple of decades.

But does this mean the next opportunity for Americans to see a woman or a person of color at the helm of a late-night talk show will be around 2035, or even later? Maybe not.

Although Craig Ferguson’s “Late Late Show” on CBS was once relatively successful, his ratings have been stale lately, and his contract expires in 2015. It’s likely that CBS will replace him with a new host.

Hopefully, CBS will take this opportunity to introduce diversity into late-night TV, because diversity in entertainment isn’t just about what’s fair; it’s about making entertainment better.

When Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres began their daytime talk shows, many expressed doubts because of their race and sexual orientation, respectively. Today they are successful daytime talk show mainstays.

So why should the case for a late-night talk show host be any different? Diversity pays off, and late-night television is in need of it now — not in two decades.