Amy Poehler

Tina, Amy & Ellen Rule the Awards Shows … And White Boys Are Still Ruling Late Night

When will the networks get past their antiquated bromance with male comics and consider funny women for a change?

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When the Golden Globes air on Sunday, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will hold court as the ceremonies’ hosts—and arguably the entire awards season’s most anticipated masters of ceremonies. Since killing it at the gig last year, they’ve managed to make the second-rate event, known previously only for mixing TV and movie nominees and providing guests plenty of booze, into a must-watch.

And over at the Oscars, scheduled for March 2, yet another of our funniest ladies will preside: Ellen DeGeneres will hold down that glittery fort for the second time, having become a perennial favorite of all the academies. That means this award season’s two biggest events will be brought to you by the women who have become by far the most in-demand hosts of our time. Fey and Poehler signed on for two more years after last year’s hosting went so well. DeGeneres is known for being funny and personable and for striking a perfect tone even in the worst circumstances, having hosted the Emmys just after the September 11 attacks and again after Hurricane Katrina. Regis Philbin put it best when he said of Ellen’s 2007 Oscars, “The only complaint was there’s not enough Ellen.” It’s hard to think of many male hosts—or any other hosts, period—right now who’d earn such a compliment.

It’s great to see funny-lady power on such prominent display (and in formal wear, no less!). But coming as this awards season does at the same time as the celebrated hand-off of NBC’s Tonight Show (take two!) from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon’s old spot to Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers, it’s hard not to wonder: If women are so good at hosting awards shows—a notoriously difficult job—why do we still not have one behind the desk of a major late-night show? No matter how high-profile the Oscars or Golden Globes are, they happen only once a year—and clearly don’t come with the same historic prestige as wearing a suit and tie on TV after 11:30 p.m. does. Meyers is on the cover of Time magazine this week. That honor may not confer the same weight it used to, but it’s still something you’d frame for your office wall. It seems the ghost of Johnny Carson has limited this playing field even more than the other quite limited Hollywood playing fields: White men are the only ones seen as qualified, even though neither whiteness nor maleness appears to be an actual requirement for undertaking the position’s duties.

That’s not to say the guys currently on the job aren’t good. Fallon really has come into his own as a late-night host, no doubt. And Meyers, whom I crush on so much I once concocted a plan to marry him (we took the same train, it seemed reasonable), is perfectly fine as a candidate considered in a vacuum. He’s charming as heck, and maybe that’s all a late-night host needs to be.

But it’s hard to believe that the network wouldn’t make a significant, public push to at least appear to be considering a woman or a man of color for the job. Even early negotiations for these gigs usually go public, and believe me, any candidate could be public if the network wanted. The history of late-night is so shockingly white and male that it would actually be a significant gesture for NBC execs to glancingly consider an Amy Poehler or a Donald Glover (he’s multi-talented like Fallon, and funny!), call up Variety to leak the news, and then never follow through. Just because at least it would look like they considered women or men of color to be part of this discussion.

To be clear, I would prefer they actually consider such candidates, and maybe even prioritize diversity. Especially with so many candidates available who we must admit have made a bigger comedic splash than Meyers, no matter how twinkly his blue eyes are. Network late-night host jobs are among our most symbolic, like news anchors and Saturday Night Live cast members. In fact, we saw recently that the public outcry over the lack of black women in the SNL cast could force real change.

Perhaps it’s exactly because of their significance that late-night hosts have often been tapped to do primetime duty for awards shows. Fallon has hosted MTV awards programs and the 2010 Emmys; David Letterman notoriously bombed at the 1995 Oscars. (“Oprah … Uma.”) But somehow, even though the awards shows present many more challenges—broadcasting live, appealing to a mass audience, hitting the right tone between scathing and boring—we haven’t managed to bring any women who’ve succeeded in that realm to the bedtime hours.

Naturally, DeGeneres, Fey, and Poehler have all been mentioned as ideal Tonight Show hosts in the past, but that speculation has never yielded anything close to real results. Even if those particular women didn’t want the job, surely at least one of the other strong candidates might: Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes (yes, please), Kathy Griffin, and Whoopi Goldberg among others mentioned. Yet women who do seem to want regular hosting gigs, like DeGeneres and Goldberg, get stuck in daytime, where their edge is dulled, or on cable, where their impact is dulled.

It’s truly shocking that we’ve had exactly one female late-night host on a broadcast network—one in all of TV history. Back in 1986, Joan Rivers got her own show on the upstart Fox Network, a move that ruined her longtime friendship/mentorship with Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. The show only lasted a year before the network fired her (she objected to executives ousting her husband as her producer). The only other non-white man who’s hosted a late-night show on a major network was Arsenio Hall in the early ’90s. Cable has picked up the slack a bit, bringing us Handler, Griffin, George Lopez, and the prematurely cancelled W. Kamau Bell—all hosts that go beyond the Mad Men look of broadcast networks’ late nights. But surely the majors could get with the program already—if they can’t push boundaries in late night, when the kids are in bed and ratings pressure is lower, when can they?

Watch Fey and Poehler’s effortless dual monologue (duo-logue?) from last year to wish even harder that one of them could step up to the late-night plate. (How about that room-searing joke about director Kathryn Bigelow?: “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron”):

And if you catch Ellen in the afternoons, you know that DeGeneres is a pro at making fun TV. Her show, in fact, is a perfect hybrid of late-night (presumably because she comes from standup culture where so many late-night guys start) and traditional daytime talk, with more emphasis on monologues and gags than lifestyle tips. This recent bit with Martha Stewart, Julia Roberts, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus slayed me—and while it makes a strong case for Louis-Dreyfus as a late-night host (imagine!), it also comes directly from the whatever-happens-is-funny energy of DeGeneres’ show.

For now, it seems, we’ll have to settle for getting our funny-lady fix during the awards season, which at least adds to the real-but-limited fun of checking out the red-carpet fashion. You know Tina, Amy, and Ellen will all bring their own killer looks, and the jokes to go with them. So much better than those stuffy late-night suits and ties

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