Colbert takes over for Letterman; white males still dominate

Late-night television continues to lack inclusion of women, minorities

On April 15, 2014

Stephen Colbert will take over for David Letterman next year when Letterman retires from 21 years as the host of "The Late Show." An appropriate decision, though it blatantly reasserts the nearly all-white and all-male command over late-night television.

Following Letterman's announcement that he would be retiring, speculation and suggestions flew on who would replace the iconic television host. The announcement that Colbert would fill the role delighted many, though the retiring of his likeably naïve, eternally perplexed faux-conservative character Stephen Colbert will surely leave a void. Ire has continued to erupt, however, as the decision maintained the status quo currently dominating late-night TV - shows hosted by white males.

The controversy is not unwarranted. The homogeneity so pervasive across late talk shows is troubling in 2014.

The issue is less with Colbert himself than the larger precedent that marches unchallenged. Despite that #cancelcolbert debacle last month, the political and social satirist has enjoyed surging popularity over the years. Left-wing, relatively radical and pithy to a fault, Colbert will bring a fresh air to the show.

CBS is likely most attracted by the coveted younger demographic Colbert will bring along with him.

Beyond just speculation that a woman or minority might take the helm of Letterman's show - Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Al Madrigal were considered around blogs as potentials picks - the announcement came on the heels of Chelsea Handler's decision to retire from her show following the expiration of her contract in nine months. Handler's show, "Chelsea Lately," was among the only late-night shows not hosted by a white male, along with Arsenio Hall's program on the CW Network.

The glaring discrepancy across the dial come 11 p.m. is striking in an age in which diversity is proclaimed to be more highly valued. The issue goes beyond just the Colbert replacement.

A series of lineup changes have occurred over the past year with Jimmy Fallon replacing Jay Leno and Seth Meyers replacing Fallon. With Colbert just a step from completely safe, given his more vocal political stances than Letterman, bemoaning this as just another move from a time slot dominated by old white men to one dominated by slightly less old white men hardly seems outrageous.

CBS certainly missed an opportunity to fill an entertainment and cultural void, but so too have other networks. Lamenting the decision is less a negative comment on Colbert's ability or the appropriateness of the change as it is an attempt to point to an evident deficiency in a small yet significant arena.

Diversity and inclusion are about more than just having a singular minority or female host on a late-night show. It is about a shift in the script, a change in the norm, a move to a state in which such striking lack of multiplicity is not readily apparent or assumed.

Surely it is only a matter of time until the current begins to shift, though it is deplorable it has taken this long.

Choosing a host who is a woman or of any ethnic or racial minority would have been a historic move on CBS' part, breaking long-standing gender and racial norms. That honor, however, will likely have to go to another forward-thinking station.



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