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.


Roger Owen Green said...

She IS funny. And picking his wife Julie Chen would be TOO weird for a THIRD show...

Todd Mason said...

And she fits in with another late-night tradition, one less commented-upon (and one which has been diluted in recent years to some extent by Kimmel and particularly Fallon and Meyers...and arguably was even moreso by Jon Stewart and Handler when they picked up their series)--a bias toward the tall. Even when there was a rare woman hosting such a series, such as Cynthia Garrett on LATER or Lauren Hutton on LAUREN HUTTON AND..., they tended to be tall...black folks (Garrett and Hall, and certainly Magic Johnson) likewise. Certainly Letterman, Ferguson, Kilborn, O'Brien and a number of others have been head-bumpers over the years...Tyler (who would be the second TALK SOUP vet to get a shot if she gets one, after Greg Kinnear...and Joel McHale, another tall host, of THE SOUP, has to be considered as a likely phone call or two).

However, Tyler is ridiculously overcomitted, as she tends to note. I'm sure she'd consider it if asked, but does she want to clear her calendar enough?

Brent McKee said...

Steve Allen was 6'2", but Carson was 5'9" and I don't know how tall Jack Paar was but I suspect he was also short. And let's not talk about Joan Rivers....please. Tyler is extraordinarily tall - seeing her on The Talk standing next to Sharon Osborn or Julie Chen (Let alone Sarah Gilbert) is a revelation.

Aisha's availability is a major issue but there are one or two interesting clues about ways that some of her time could be freed up. The Talk isn't a big problem. The show goes on hiatus in July or August and if she gets the Late Late Show job, she could be replaced when they come back in September. Marie Osmond maybe? Who's Line Is It Anyway? is another big commitment, but depending on which source you read, The CW hasn't renewed it yet. This is in spite of the show being one of the network's hits (well The CW's version of a hit anyway. And remember who has a 50% share of The CW? That would be the network that airs The Late Late Show. If Tyler is a serious contender for the host job, then clearing that part of her schedule wouldn't be a problem. How much time does doing the voice work for Archer take? That leaves her stand-up work, but Leno was able to make time to work on stage. I think it could be made to work.

Of course I'm not sure that'll be what happens. Mark Evanier has his money on Neil Patrick Harris, but even he likes Tyler as a second choice.

Todd Mason said...

I mostly meant in the post-Carson era. It isn't uniform, as I noted, but it was certainly notable...whereas in the Carson/Cavett era, if anything shorter men were likely to get the gigs.

Tyler's work goes beyond that, but I have to wonder if she wants the series. She very well might.