With Stephen Colbert tapped to succeed David Letterman in 2015, debates still circulate in the media that a female should have been picked as host of CBS’s “Late Show.” No matter your opinion, it’s more than a little blatant that network executives have turned the other cheek to the idea since the days when Joan Rivers seemed to set a curse in motion. Regardless, you might be surprised to know it isn’t a universal problem in overseas late-night talk shows. While men mostly dominate there, at least one example exists in South America that could be a template to grow on in the U.S.
Along with the above, the rare female hosts who’ve had late-night shows here need a new analysis to see what could work today and what may not.
Past: “The Late Show with Joan Rivers” -Fox Network
No matter what you think of Joan Rivers today, she broke barriers as the first female late-night talk show host up to that time. In 1986, though, people were long used to seeing Rivers guest-hosting “The Tonight Show” when Johnny Carson was away on vacation. Perhaps it was a fish out of water scenario that plagued her show as a one-season failure. It certainly wasn’t because people hadn’t been ready for a woman in late night. Had Rivers inherited “Tonight” as originally expected, she would have likely had a 20-year run.
With Carson still admired at the time, perhaps the press of her betrayal was fateful to her own show. It took over 20 years for any kind of female host to have a show again in the late-night slot. But it set up a path for the insult type of comedy Rivers was bringing to late-night TV during the 1980s.
“Chelsea Lately” -E!
You realize time flies when you see that Chelsea Handler’s late-night show on E! has been on for over seven years. And with its end this year, you can say she was a direct beneficiary of Joan Rivers 20 years earlier. That isn’t to say Handler isn’t much darker than even Rivers in many ways. “Chelsea Lately” could even go down as the most dryly cynical late-night show in history. Whether you think that’s the right direction for a female late-night host in the future is going to depend on your entertainment point of view.
While Chelsea Handler’s comedy may not be for every taste, she at least didn’t influence every female comedian who has potential to host a late-night show. With Tina Fey and Amy Poehler being from a considerably different and more perceptive talent pool, it’s not always about cynicism. That isn’t to say Handler didn’t influence one forgotten late night show from not too long ago.
You may have forgotten that Kathy Griffin had an official late-night show on Bravo for one season in 2012-13. Even though it aired at 10 p.m. (which is near morning for some nocturnal souls), it was wisely a once-a-week show to allow Griffin to showcase her saucy insult comedy. Yet, despite its short-lived run, it was really the perfect venue for Griffin’s riffs rather than placing her in an earlier time slot where there was a danger of kids tuning in. That was probably already happening in her annual New Year’s Eve appearances on CNN with Anderson Cooper.
Her brand of comedy may be going out with Chelsea Handler, even if that might be a good thing in cleaning house for something different. In that regard, a female comedian who can relate to the public on a Jimmy Fallon level would be just what the viewer ordered.
Overseas: “Luciana By Night” (Starring Luciana Gimenez)
If you’ve visited Brazil anytime in the last couple of years, you may have run across this late-night show there starring former Brazilian model Luciana Gimenez. While she received press for having a love child with Mick Jagger in the late 1990s, she became a superstar in her native Brazil and began this popular late-night talk show that’s still going now. American audiences might know her from some recent appearances on ABC’s “The View.”
Running on RedeTV! in Brazil, Gimenez is married to the President of the network, which might be considered favoritism. Nevertheless, audiences there love the show, and it sets a different idea for what a late-night talk show can be. Not that we’d expect America to copy Brazil’s state of culture. It still sets a pattern to study, even if America may not warm to a former model as host over a brainy comedienne.
The important thing is that the progression of a female host in late-night TV should be a natural process based on audience response. Once networks realize they need to test and give what audiences really want will they realize they aren’t really controlling the direction of where TV entertainment is going.