I was bothered by today’s announcement that Stephen Colbert would replace David Letterman. I don’t have any issues with him personally. But I do have issues with being in a country of over 300 million people who are not all white, who don’t all live in – or near – Manhattan, who are not all college educated, and who are not all males. But you never would know that if you’re relied on the executives from NBC and CBS.
It’s a good feeling to know that the networks days are numbered, in my humble opinion, as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon begin to pick up subscribers and fewer and fewer people even have television or cable. Now NBC and CBS want to have late night shows filmed 10 blocks from each other in the center of Manhattan. Their attitude reminds me of the old Saul Steinberg poster where 9th and 10th Avenues are prominent and China, Russia, Nebraska and Japan are small places elsewhere that don’t mean much. I guess this suits one fine if you are a New Yorker, but it doesn’t seem to be the best guide when programming a show for 300 million people.
Who we see is important and what they say is important. What does it say that we have 5 white males in their 40s night after night? Is that the only point of view we have for the end of our day? Can you imagine if they gave the show to Dave Chappelle? The CBS executives can’t. When Chappelle passed on his Comedy Central offer – of 50 million dollars – he sat down with me many nights, and would talk of how he was in front of 10,000 people and knew how to make them laugh, but he resented the white executives in three pieces suits sitting in a room telling him what was funny.
There are so many other talented minority comedians and female comedians who could easily do this job with a new voice. Comedians like Chris Rock, Tiffany Haddish, Finesse Mitchell, Chris Spencer, Jaime Foxx, Sunda Croonquist, even Paul Rodriguez or Tony Rock, would bring a new view to the late night game and millions of people wouldn’t feel left out.
The most important thing for any host at late night is they be a stand-up comic, because stand-up comics really know what can get a laugh day in and day out. Johnny Carson was a stand-up who encouraged the form by booking numerous comics on his show – two of them became late show hosts. Stand-up comics are the “ground troops” of the art form. They have been in clubs or bars or halls and they have hundreds of nights behind them performing for a live audience. They know the audience and they know what they like. They have also learned the fine art of answering hecklers or being fast on their feet. There are over 100,000 performers in the actors union. The number of comics performing regularly at a high level numbers under 100.That’s why I call them doctors of the soul; we need doctors of the soul to put us to sleep with a smile on our face.
Colbert has a few years of sketch comedy in his background, but that’s a far stretch from the locales frequented by Leno and Letterman during their rise to stardom. Now, we have executives picking people like Colbert and Conan because of their pedigree on television, not because of their work in the trenches.