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Dominated By 1 Point Of View, Late-Night TV Needs New Voices

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: Oh, tomorrow night Stephen Colbert will stop by the "Late Show" on CBS. Maybe he will make time to measure the curtains in the dressing room as he greets the man he will replace next year, David Letterman. The appearance by Colbert will highlight a striking reality in late-night television - almost every host is a white man. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans has some suggestions on how to change that.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: TV's roster of late-night talk show hosts is whiter than a bobsledding team from Scandinavia.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And now, here's your host Jimmy Fallon.

DEGGANS: Yep, that's a white guy.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From 30 Rock in New York it's "Late Night with Seth Meyers."

DEGGANS: Uh, he's a white guy too.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From Hollywood, it's "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

DEGGANS: You got it, yet another white guy. This is a problem. It's comedy led by a narrow cultural point of view which tells everyone the way white males see the world is what matters most. But the second bananas of late night just might have a solution. Craig Ferguson, host of CBS's "Late Late Show," could take off when his contract ends this year.

That would leave two big TV jobs open - Ferguson's old program and Stephen Colbert's time slot at Comedy Central. And there's no one better for the CBS job than African-American comic and actress Aisha Tyler.


AISHA TYLER: I am - I'm married. I married a white guy.

DEGGANS: Tyler's fearless when she skewers everyone's race and gender hang-ups.


TYLER: See, all the white people clap and the black people are, like, do we clap about that now? Ha.


TYLER: I missed all the meetings, man. How do we feel about that right now?

DEGGANS: And she's also well prepared. She kept Sharon Osborne in check on CBS's daytime show "The Talk," played the one non-white friend on "Friends" and even guest-hosted on the "Late Late Show" a few years ago.


TYLER: Now, what you may not know about me is that I perfected the black girl role and I've actually gone on quite a few shows. You may not know that, but I was also the black girl on "McHale's Navy." There I am.


TYLER: Look at all these white men. I am surrounded by white men. Please don't touch my butt.

DEGGANS: Imagine her takes on race and gender splashed all over late night in the age of Trayvon Martin and Hillary Clinton. Comedy Central also has an ace in-house candidate for its 11:30 opening - "Daily Show" correspondent Samantha Bee.


SAMANTHA BEE: Occupy Wall Street was divided by class.


BEE: On the one side, the elite. On the other, the downwardly mobile.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is the ghetto.

BEE: So let me get this straight. You've been here for eight weeks and you already have a ghetto.

DEGGANS: Bee's secret weapon is her skill at getting subjects to reveal themselves in interviews. That just happens to be an important part of the late-night host job too. Here, she sympathizes with a conservative radio host over his words on gay marriage.


BEE: So you can't even go on the radio anymore and condemn a whole subset of people to hell without getting some blowback.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, when you put it that way it does sound rather arrogant and myopic, narrow0minded and bigoted.


BEE: Good. Then I've done my job.

DEGGANS: Sounds like a certain trench coat-wearing reporter who became a fake conservative commentator before heading to CBS, don't you think?

Chelsea Handler is out of the running but there's other great candidates. Comedy Central's Amy Schumer could bring her blend of sex appeal and sly commentary on gender.

Or Key and Peele might offer a show filled with telling sketches on race and society. These suggestions aren't just about finding a token or checking a box, it's about bringing new creative voices to a late-night scene dominated for too long by one point of view.

HOST: Eric Deggans. Give Eric Deggans his own late night show. Until that happens, he is NPR's TV critic.


HOST: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.