When David Letterman retires next year after 22 years on the air, one of the legacies he’ll leave behind is his contribution to the maintenance of late-night TV as one of the last bastions of white males. With Chelsea Handler off the air and Larry Wilmore’s Minority Report not set to debut until January 2015, there are currently no women or minorities headlining a talk show after 10 PM.
As the above picture of Late Night writers illustrates (all white, one female), Letterman hasn’t made gender or racial diversity a priority. Late Night head writer Matt Roberts paid lip service to diversity (“It’s a serious issue… We’ve paid a lot of attention to this”- cough, cough) They read submissions from the public but really focused on the fact that agents didn’t submit enough material from women. He said: “Please encourage your women writers to submit to our show.” He added, “We get about 25 submissions from men for every one submission we get from a woman.”
To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of inequality is for good men to do nothing. And aside from a few phone calls, Letterman’s team has seemingly done nothing — judging from their own descriptions of their diversity efforts. Compare that to the gender-blind hiring process and heavy recruitment process John Oliver undertook with Nell Scovell to search far and wide for female dark-horse candidates. Their efforts resulted in a 25% female writers’ room — the highest in late-night.
Diversity can be achieved — but it often takes top-down effort that most of late-night TV is still unwilling to take up.