David Letterman will be the longest-running host in late night when he retires in 2015, but one thing hasn’t changed at all from the time he started “The Late Show” in 1994: the all-male landscape of late-night television. And judging by the names floated as contenders for Letterman’s slot—Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, Neil Patrick Harris—that isn’t likely to change soon. As Alexandra Petri pointed out in The Washington Post last night, in the history of late-night broadcast television, there have been more hosts named Jimmy than women and people of color. (Cable also just lost its only late-night show hosted by a woman, as Chelsea Handler announced she’s ending her E! talk show.) Looking at the hilarious women across the rest of the TV dial—in sitcoms, Comedy Central shows, and Saturday Night Live—the idea that there are no women funny and likable enough to helm a TV show past 11:30 p.m. is increasingly absurd. There’s a deep bench to choose from, if CBS is willing to make the kind of risky move it did by hiring Letterman in the first place. Here are a few suggestions.
The “Parks and Recreation” actress is one of the best things on Twitter, where she hilariously recaps TV shows to her many followers (current count: 192,000). An experienced stand-up comic, Retta could inject the traditional late-night format—monologue, celebrity interviews, musical guests—with a new, charismatic spirit. Like Fallon, she’s a pop culture enthusiast. (Unlike Fallon, she’s also a trained opera singer.) And if she takes her ribald TV commentary to late night, the show might turn into a funnier, CBS-centric version of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live.”
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler
It’s hard to imagine CBS convincing either one of these SNL alums to abandon their budding comedy empires for the relentless grind of a nightly talk show. But what if they tag-teamed it? “The Late Show with Tina and Amy”: They could split the workload, take nights off, and welcome America into their irresistible friendship.
This former “Talk Soup” host has basically spent her career preparing for a late-night gig: honing her TV persona on CBS’s knockoff of “The View”; practicing her improv skills as host of “Who’s Line is It Anyway”; and showcasing her empathetic interviewing style on her podcast, “Guy on Girl.” She’s geeky, gorgeous, and smart, with enough gravitas to interview presidential candidates, not just slow-jam with them.
So the chance that CBS will hire a dry, deadpan lesbian best known for joking about cancer is pretty slim. But Notaro’s disarming bluntness and Andy Kaufman-esque absurdism, which have given her a cult following, leave it impossible to predict what she would do with an hour on broadcast television every night. A girl can dream.