Women are still shut out of late night

NBC has unofficially announced the new Late Night host to succeed Conan O’Brien in 2009, and (surprise) it’s not a woman. Jimmy Fallon has signed on to be O’Brien’s replacement, while Conan will move up to 11:35 p.m. to replace Jay Leno, whose contract is expiring. Looks like this means NBC will be continuing the grand tradition of male hosts in their late-night lineup. Now if you would all grab your calculators, let’s see what this brings our tally of females currently in late-night TV to: One.

That honor goes to Chelsea Handler, who has a 30-minute talk show on E!.

Handler is the only woman in television to host a night-time talk show at this time. A rare honor, Handler joins a very short list alongside Joan Rivers as being the only female comics to host a late-night show. If we take out our trusty calculators again and add these figures together, that brings our grand total to two female late-night talk show hosts. Ever. In the history of television. Two.

For whatever reason, networks seem to think that women are more funny to more people when the sun is out. Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres have both won multiple Emmy awards for their daytime talk shows and have an enormous audience base stretching across all demographics, yet their shows never air before dinner time.

Both Rosie’s 1998–2001 talk show and Ellen’s current talk show follow the same standard late-night format (opening monologues, live audiences, chatty band leaders, couches, celebrities, music) but neither woman would likely be considered for anything other than daytime.

O’Donnell and DeGeneres’ shows didn’t achieve success just because they are likable women in morning television. Other women have tried the same formula and failed (RIP: The Megan Mullally Show, The Bonnie Hunt Show and The Roseanne Show). Rosie and Ellen have had successful shows because millions of people find them funny — proving once again (sigh) that women can be as hilarious as men.

So what is it about the female formula that has yet to transcend to late-night time slots? The only reason I can think of is that Rosie and Ellen came across as too safe (back when her talk show was on the air) or too sweet, respectively (See: "Queen of Nice" and Iggygate). Perhaps they were/are not biting enough with their comedic commentary on politics and people in the public eye.

Granted, once Rosie took the helm at The View she was anything but safe. Viewers (and I was definitely one of them) tuned in each day to find out what she would say next. But prior to that, The Rosie O’Donnell Show didn’t take on political humor or mock celebrities in the news. Based on both her shows, I can only imagine that if Rosie was a late-night host (love her or loathe her) the ratings she would bring in would be huge, and isn’t that what TV is all about?

If both Rosie and Ellen are out of the picture, who else would deliver what the networks are looking for in a late-night host? Here are a few suggestions:

Kathy Griffin

Sure, she’s on the D-list now, but Kathy has proven herself through her gig as a red-carpet commentator, in her candid stand-up routines and in her own reality show. She clearly has a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to celebrities. Get this woman her own talk show!

Sarah Silverman

Not only would I like to see Silverman as a late-night host because she is hilarious, but also because I think it would be so awesome to see her beat her boyfriend (Jimmy Kimmel) in the ratings.

Amy Sedaris

A favorite guest of David Letterman, Sedaris has enough talk show experience to finally sit behind the desk. She could also do segments on how to throw amazing parties.

Wanda Sykes

If you haven’t already, watch her on Curb Your Enthusiasm and then you’ll know why she would be perfect.

So what do you think? Who would you like to see host a late night talk show?

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