Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Late Night Turnover

craig-fergusonSo Craig Ferguson has announced that he’ll be leaving the Late Late Show in December of 2014. This the the fourth of the broadcast network late night talk shows to either replace their hosts or announce that their hosts will be leaving within a year. First Leno hands off The Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon, which necessitates Fallon handing off Late Night to Seth Meyers. Then you had David Letterman quitting The Late Show With David Letterman and being replaced with Stephen Colbert – the comedian, not the character he plays on The Colbert Report – and now Craig Ferguson is going away. Only Jimmy Kimmel remains from last year’s hosts.

Which brings us to the question of who will replace Ferguson? Of the three replacements – Fallon, Meyers and Colbert – only one was a sure thing before the replacement took place and that was Fallon. His deal to replace Leno was in place for quite some time. For the others, there was a lot of speculation about who would, or should get the job. In fact I was working on a piece for this long dormant blog of mine about who should replace Letterman when they announced Colbert. I can’t remember now who I was coming out in favour of, but it wasn’t Colbert.

At the same time that I was trying to figure out who should replace Letterman, some people were being quite vocal about putting someone “different” from the basic “Straight White Guy” in the host’s chair, and they seemed to pick on The Late Show as a place to start “the revolution.” To a degree they have a valid point. Of the late night talk show hosts out there, and this includes syndication and cable shows as well as the broadcast networks, the only ones who aren’t “Straight White Guys” are Chelsea Handler on E! Network’s Chelsea Lately, and Arsenio Hall on the syndicated Arsenio Hall Show. And Handler is leaving her show this Fall when her contract with E! comes to an end… which led to speculation that she was a candidate for the Late Show job and is a candidate for the Late Late Show position, rumours that have been denied by both CBS and Handler herself.

Current speculation – and I don’t know who is doing the speculating , I just got this stuff from Mark Evanier’s blog – is that John Oliver from The Daily Show or Neil Patrick Harris (formerly from How I Met Your Mother) are leading candidates. However Oliver (Straight White Guy) has a two year contract with HBO to do a late night talk show satirizing current events called Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which probably knocks him out of the running. Harris (Gay White Guy) has had experience both as a comedic actor and as an awards show host on numerous occasions so he’s a good candidate. However he and his family have recently moved to New York, and after many years of their being no late night talk shows in New York except Letterman, three of the five are now New York based. I think CBS would probably prefer to have at least one Los Angeles based host. So maybe the field is open to a different prospect.

Even though the people who wanted someone who was not a “Straight White Guy” for the Late Show had a point about the lack of diversity among late night talk show hosts, the Late Show was probably the wrong venue for that fight. The network’s big late night show is not a proper venue for someone coming new to the game of hosting a talk show. That’s one of the reasons why many people would not have been upset to see Ferguson take over for Letterman; it would have seemed like a natural progression (it wasn’t going to happen though because Craig had apparently made up his mind to leave well before Dave announced his departure). On the other hand the slot after the late night show is a logical place give potential new hosts a chance to show their stuff. Think of it as a farm team for the major leagues. Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson were all people who had track records in comedy, either as writers (O’Brien) or actors and/or stand-ups (Ferguson, Fallon and even Letterman) but no experience hosting talk shows before they got the show after The Show. Leno didn’t go that route, but he was the regular replacement host for Johnny Carson which was probably the next best thing. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Craig Kilborn, who hosted The Late Late Show for five years between Tom Snyder and Craig Ferguson, hated the experience and seems to have pretty much left the entertainment business. Conan’s time at The Tonight Show was a disaster, although that was probably because Leno didn’t want to go that time. But Letterman was a success, and so far Fallon seems to be succeeding, and I doubt that would have been the case had NBC announced that Seth Meyers was going directly from Saturday Night Live to The Tonight Show. So the opportunity exists for someone who is a “Not Straight White Guy” to get this job.

Do I have a candidate? Well as a matter of fact yes. I’m not sure that this person wants the job and I’m doubting that this person is on the top of anyone else’s list but my candidate is………

Aisha Tyler
I think that Tyler has great qualifications beyond being a Straight Black Woman. She’s well known as an actress (Ghost Whisperer, Friends), stand-up comedian, host (the current incarnation of Whose Line Is It Anyway on The CW), podcast host (the Girl on Guy podcast) and daytime talk show co-host (The Talk) on CBS. And Les Moonves knows her because one of the other co-hosts on The Talk is Moonves’s wife Julie Chen. As I’ve said, I doubt that she’ll get the job, but I think she’d be a great choice.