Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Why Didn't CBS Choose a Person Of Color or a Woman to Replace David Letterman?

Features
by Tanya Steele
April 11, 2014 12:41 PM
47 Comments
  • |
Colbert

America could elect a Black President. But, we can’t hire a major network Black or Female late night talk show host?

When David Letterman announced his retirement, emergency flares shot through my Facebook feed. Friends, including myself, tossed out names to replace the late night institution that is David Letterman. Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, to name two comedy stalwarts. Chris Rock had a talk show that ran on HBO for 5 seasons. Clearly, they are beyond qualified and a joy to watch.

When Arsenio Hall was King, he illuminated late night. He broke ground. Even the office of the presidency understood his power and reach. He was not only a talk show host, he had the ability to energize a voting base. This topic is comedy. I shouldn’t get too political here. But, Comedy, in America, has serious influence. The best comedy in America is political.

The best comedians are able to turn an eye to the culture, deconstruct it with a quick joke and make us laugh at ourselves. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, the Wayans ‘In Living Color’, could tickle a funny bone until you thought you would damn near die from laughter. After my mother went to sleep, my sisters and I would put a Richard Pryor concert on and laugh ourselves silly. There was a knowing. And, even though his humor was beyond our years, we recognized the characters he created. We recognized his turn of phrase, his posture, his view of the world. We were affirmed through that funny man. Richard, Eddie, Whoopi, could access a place in us that we didn’t see in the culture. They signaled a truth, an earnestness, a clarity that was piercing.

I cannot be selfish in this delight. These comedians built a cultural bridge. Few things in network television expresses a Blackness without apology. Humor does that. It can be bold, incisive and illuminating. It can tell the culture about itself and cause it to reflect on its ills in one minute or less. In this, the Obama era, perhaps America is still too afraid to reflect on itself in this way.

I haven’t tuned in to a late night program in a while. Every now and again, I will see what is happening on Letterman. But, I always feel like there is a running joke that I am not a part of. The “schtick”, the “quips”, late night culture does not invite me to the table. There are deeper issues in the culture that go unaddressed. I see late night as a missed opportunity. The thing that America sees before it goes back to sleep.

Recently, I watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ to see Sasheer Zamata. Every time she comes on the screen, I smile. Simply because I see myself in her. In her hair, in her style, in her wit. I understand that her visuals are a rarity for network television. I’m a fan. And, I support all that she does. (Lately, I’ve been paying specific attention to the ways in which Black women are invisible in the big shows: Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Sopranos. There’s an invisibility that I will address in another piece.) But, for now, Sasheer is the sum total for Black femaleness on late night.

We do get substitute Blackness. And, racist humor that is supposed to illuminate. I am learning that in order for Americans to be okay with race reflection, delivering “racist humor” is a safe way to go. Suey Park’s push back of Colbert was swatted away, again, by his brand of humor. I can be racist because it’s a joke. He’s a mirror, reflecting racism back to White folks. I get it. I do think it has been valuable for the culture. However, I got the joke the first two seasons. It has run its course, served its purpose. At least, to me. Apparently, not to other demographics. As stated earlier, I feel left out of the joke.  

Jimmy Fallon and his co-opting of Black culture appears to be winning the day. We have ‘The Roots’, “not your typical house band”. But, a house band, nonetheless. Black folks have always been very good at providing the “support” entertainment. And, although we learned from Questlove that they do have a voice beyond simply playing music (they provide commentary through their musical selections), they’re still the support.

“Slow Jamming” the news has always been a tad offensive to me. Jimmy Fallon reminds me of the White guys who like to parody Black culture. They find Black culture interesting. Fun. Curious. But, don’t use their platform to deconstruct how the larger culture shapes Black life in negative ways. And, before any one jumps to inform me about his “charity” work, his “good deeds”, I would say that these “skits” are also his charity work. He has stepped into the “Black void” that was left by Arsenio. He has rebranded it and is doing quite well for himself.

Two of the best characters America has created are the Black comedian and the Female comedian. They have moved the culture forward and brought us together without our noticing because we were too busy laughing at ourselves. I love comedy. I love comedians. And, I want to see a Black or Female comedian take the reigns from David Letterman. It is clear, the audience is ready for it. America elected a Black President for goodness sakes. Is it too much to have a funny Black man or a Woman enter our homes, every night, in 2015?

Stephen Colbert should do the right thing- step aside and give that coveted spot to a person of color or a woman. I remember when Colbert won the Emmy and his team took the stage. All White. SMH. Don’t be duped into believing that only a White man can handle the Worldwide Pants. When you pull the curtain back and see the Wizard, you know that anyone can be the Wizard. It’s simply a choice. Instead of parodying racism and sexism, in the culture, Colbert should give that coveted platform to someone who, by his or her very presence, will invite us to shift our mindset in ways that another White man never will.


Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

Features
  • |

More: TV Features

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

47 Comments

  • Matya | May 3, 2014 10:17 AMReply

    Because Stephen Colbert is the comedian of our
    era.

  • hypocrite much | May 2, 2014 1:40 PMReply

    So, have him step down in favor of person of color. Hypocrite much?

  • David | April 29, 2014 1:24 AMReply

    There are at least 10 better choices for a comedy host. But the Late Show isn't about comedy anymore, It's about Letterman's obsession with conveying the socialist agenda. Colbert was chosen by Letterman because he is a leftist political hack.

  • Listening | April 23, 2014 12:09 AMReply

    Ok here's a monumental suggestion, bombard the network to change their minds. If that doesn't work turn the channel or just go to bed once the new white guy gets brought in. Yeah they will get the hint and get this racist guy out.

  • chez lopez | April 18, 2014 11:39 AMReply

    I pray people from other countries don't read our comment sections. Full on display of ignorance and narrow minds. This piece is asking you to T-H-I-N-K about other possibilities. T-H-I-N-K. That is all. Give it a try. T-H-I-N-K. It could change your life.

  • Larisa | April 16, 2014 8:08 PMReply

    seriously? "they" are racist for hiring colbert to replace letterman? but its not racist to ask that he step down so that someone ELSE could be hired based on gender or skin color? It is amazing to me the extent of the racism in the black culture today and the sense of ENTITLEMENT that is so pervasive.

  • truthiness | May 2, 2014 1:39 PM

    Outstanding comment. You make way more sense than the bigot bitch that wrote this article.

  • Doug | April 16, 2014 5:00 PMReply

    This racist woman, Tanya Steele, had nothing better to turn in to the editor this week.

    Just fire her, she's useless.

  • Ojie | April 14, 2014 6:12 AMReply

    Really? Like Really? Hiring someone because he is black and not because he is good and has built up a long and track record?

  • melba | April 14, 2014 2:26 AMReply

    Oh WOW I can't believe the tone of this Tanya Steele piece: "Give a black person the job because I only like looking at black people on tv!" Unbelievable. You fellas over there at Shadow And Act should really start turning writers down if you ever want to make it to the next level. Seriously, people.

  • Miles Ellison | April 13, 2014 9:20 PMReply

    There is already one late night talk show with a black host that is barely being watched. Judging from what black people are actually watching on television, there isn't really any demand for a talk show deconstruction of how the larger culture effects black people in a negative way. There is actually an audience for the social deconstruction Colbert does. The difference is that he doesn't need ridiculous women whose claim to fame is sleeping with washed up pro basketball players and rappers and whose "talent" consists of getting pregnant, screaming at each other, and pulling off weaves.

  • cherokee_rose | April 13, 2014 8:53 PMReply

    Tanya, I read your pieces and I think to myself that you're largely just looking for a reason to complain. Would it have been nice for a POC or a women to get the job? Absolutely, but for you to suggest that Stephen step aside even though he's earned that job is ludicrous. I wonder, how is the view way up there on your soapbox? I blame myself for seeing your name and clicking on the article anyway. *sigh*

  • W | April 13, 2014 8:37 PMReply

    Let's say it altogether, nation: Stephen! Stephen! Stephen! Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!

  • sarah | April 13, 2014 3:46 PMReply

    I sincerely believe America is ready for a woman/black host, but the pragmatic truth is, no one had developed a show or a persona that was as consistently funny and popular as Stephen Colbert in the late night sphere. Colbert has been slugging it out on Comedy Central for years and building a huge fan base. The nearest late night competitors? Chelsea Handler just isn't as consistently good -- she's is personally very funny, but her show is mean-spirited and lacking in structure. And I'm not sure there's a comparable black performer with a current show. Arsenio's comeback has been lackluster; Key & Peele are amazing, but still new on the scene -- and that's sketch com. And while Chris Rock is America's reigning stand up genius, he hasn't proven himself as a host.
    So what you're left with is Stephen Colbert. No one can argue his credentials; all you can argue is his color and gender -- and until someone has a better candidate, who would attract and audience and satisfy the business end of things, that argument just isn't enough. It may be well intentioned, but it's also easily dismissed by the powers that be.

  • mark V (or 5) | April 13, 2014 8:44 PM

    Sarah, your argument is logical and reasonable. Unfortunately, you are wasting good brain cells: Ms. Steele understands neither logic nor reason.

  • Mark | April 12, 2014 9:55 PMReply

    The very people that stomp the ground demanding that the world and all media be color-blind (which I wish would happen but is not reasonable to expect, sadly) are upset because the choice was not a black person. The author of this article goes on to say she only watches SNL to see a specific cast member, who of course is black. Isn't it racist enough that BET exists? If you want everyone to be color blind, then why not try it yourself first.

  • True | April 13, 2014 11:47 AM

    @Mark BET is owned by White people.

  • saadiyah | April 13, 2014 11:32 AM

    The reason why BET (as well as TV One, Centric, Essence, Ebony, JET, etc) exists is because the majority of media pretends that only White people are worthy of being shown on television and magazines. Do you remember a time many decades ago, where Blacks weren't allowed BY LAW or welcomed (for places without a formal law) in PHYSICAL spaces where Whites were allowed? Those same racists mentalities existed in media. Black people developed their own media channels where they could BE, i.e. exist and be represented. Many of the non-Black networks and magazines NOW still mainly showcase Whites as if POC don't exist!

    Yes yall think that Whites are the most beautiful, most talented, most valuable, most worthy of being seen. Fortunately many POC don't believe that. We want to see ourselves. That's why BET, etc. were created. You still have hundreds of media outlets where you don't have to look at Black people. WTF are you complaining about? As usual you people want 100% of EVERYTHING.

  • Miles Ellison | April 12, 2014 8:28 PMReply

    Do you really want to die on this hill?

  • Junebug | April 12, 2014 6:15 PMReply

    Black People Complaining About Shit article #849596030 on Shadow and Act.

  • Joe Gelli | April 12, 2014 4:06 PMReply

    You've got Oprah. Shut up Tanya. At least we can all agree cable sucks, but how about being thankful for what we've got and not focusing on things that aren't perfect. If you're so in love with black women, how about you look in a mirror.

  • alp | April 13, 2014 5:24 AM

    Bleh, I wouldn't palm oprah's "network" off on anybody. It's all tyler perry and tired Tired TIRED reality tv.

  • milaxx | April 12, 2014 1:08 PMReply

    I like Colbert and think he is the perfect choice to replace Letterman. However, I wish instead of telling us why Colbert is not the right choice, she gave us names of those she think would be the right choice.

  • QB | April 12, 2014 9:27 AMReply

    Please fire Tanya Steele. Seriously... whine, whine, complain, complain is the only message of her "pieces". She mentions "when Arsenio was king".. hello, he still HAS A SHOW. Which you don't watch, but want to complain about Colbert getting the TS gig. How about supporting the Black host (whose struggling in the ratings) instead of bitching and moaning about supposed racism.. again. SMH.

  • ADE | April 12, 2014 4:56 AMReply

    Great article, Tanya Steele. Obviously, your talents are wasted here.

  • Constance | April 12, 2014 4:00 AMReply

    I am a White woman. I do not understand the comments on this article. Mrs. Steele is saying that CBS missed an opportunity to change the DNA of late night television. To me she is saying if Stephen Colbert is invested in exposing racism and privilege here is a chance. Maybe he or Jon Stewart will do a skit about just another White guy on late night. They know it. Who wants to see another White man on late night? I could use a change. A woman would be nice. No, Colbert will not give up this job. It would be exciting if he did! That is a minor point Mrs. Steele is making. That is the foundation for an argument that expands beyond that. The comments in this section do not address what Mrs. Steele wrote. I hope she finds other venues for her writing. She needs to reach a broader audience.

  • Mark V (or 5) | April 11, 2014 9:38 PMReply

    There's no way we're going to excel as a people when we have the Tanya Steele's of the black community writing uninformed, nationalistic idiocy like this. Somebody please tell me this piece was "just a joke" and I will apologize.

  • No | April 11, 2014 8:28 PMReply

    Well, it seem seems that white conservatives and black film critics have something in common: whining and victimization.

  • Walter Harris Gavin | April 11, 2014 8:04 PMReply

    Rather than lamenting the fact that someone "black" or female didn't get the slot on CBS, late night, maybe the bigger issue is why there aren't more "black" voices in the media-sphere, period?

  • Monique a Williams | April 11, 2014 7:08 PMReply

    Everything isn't about Massa spittin on us po' Black folk. Colbert is talented. This is a step up for him. Why wouldn't he want to take that gig?
    Monique hosted a really awful late night show. It wasn't on CBS, but it shouldn't have even aired. Should we have been thrilled just because she's a WOC and ignore the absolute shrillness and coonery of her show simply because of her status as a WOC? I can't co-sign this myopia.

  • blackFILMgriot | April 11, 2014 5:42 PMReply

    Tanya Steele;
    Are You SERIOUSLY asking this hard-working comic, artist, writer, satirist, to give up a dream job for Political Correctness? This would be like you giving up your opportunity here on this website for someone who is maybe I don't know Latino, Middle-Eastern, disabled, gay, blind, deaf etc. - because they feel less represented than you as an African American Woman. This is just Nutty. These decisions are made because of money and protocol not something as arbitrary as "we need more Black people on TV."

    First off PLEASE Research the facts and connect the dots as to why this happened! When NBC moved Fallon Up to the Tonight show it was all done in House: Tonight Show+ Fallon + Late Night +Seth Meyer+ SNL+ All Produced by Broadway Media (Lorne Micheals) Now because of this In-House Move Lorne Micheals' company Produces All 3 programs and they moved the tonight show to NYC so he cold have all three shows on the same lot. This is a Business Move.

    The same way CBS' Parent company Viacom owns MTV Networks which owns (Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, MTV2, MTV3, Nick Jr. etc) As well as CBS Distribution the syndication arm that is responsible for THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW!!! So If I'm CBS (like NBC) I'm going to bring someone into the vacated Late Show Position that I already have under contract and I'm not going to bother or compete with existing brands that are doing well and serving their purpose... Colbert's number's are good and I can move him up maintaining the majority of the same audience Letterman attracts without disrupting Arsenio's audience and hopefully steal market share from Fallon and Kimmel at the same time. What you're suggesting is simply ridiculous- As far as CBS is concerned they have Arsenio in that slot.

    On another note was it not Martin Luther King who stated that he had "a Dream that our children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character"- Like it or not this white man (Colbert) has a right to succeed and excel in his industry just as much as any black comic- doesn't mean it's easier, but he has that right. And At the end of the day it is SHOW-BUSINESS! This is by far one of the most asinine topics for argument I've ever read on this site.

  • 9jah | April 11, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    This article has me one foot out of Shadow and Act. Most here have the interest of black/minority folks on screen at heart but it appears find it uniformly ridiculous.

    Can just anybody write for S&A?

  • Jill Tracey | April 11, 2014 4:10 PMReply

    Surely you are kidding. Oh wait. April fool's day has passed. You should have posted this then it would be foolish for Colbert to give this spot to ANYONE. Somebody thinks he earned it and will be good at it. Now if you said there SHOULD be a place for a black woman to hold down a late night show, then we can talk. But give up a job he never even dared to dream he'd get for what? some tit for tat.... Girl Bye. *Drops the mic and leaves the room.*

  • zakkmu | April 11, 2014 4:07 PMReply

    Let us count the way. We have Aspire, Own, BET, Centric & TV One. The real question should be. Why we don't have another "Late Nught Show" on any of the above networks? Oh I get it. What you're really saying is. If "CBS" choose a POC or a woman of color. Then it's authentic and black folks will stay up and support it. But if its on any of the above mention black networks. It isn't authentic enough for black folks to support it. Hmmm??? Interesting???

  • Micah | April 11, 2014 3:21 PMReply

    Stephen has no moral or ethical obligation to step aside. If he gets the spot I'm sure it will be hilarious but I will miss the Colbert Report (Which I think is a more important cultural show.) The only ones with the moral or ethical obligation are the network/studio heads that should seriously open to not just casting a white male. While I think Stephen Colbert has every right and qualification to pursue the late night spot, if you are going to consider a women or person of color Aisha Tyler is the way to go. She's hosted the The Soup, The Talk, has an improv background and a stand-up comedian background. You would be hard pressed to find a candidate that fits your requirements and has the experience like her.

  • Micah | April 11, 2014 3:33 PM

    In fact this would have been a more effective article if it had just discussed women and P.O.C. who would be amazing for the job instead of suggesting Colbert is in the wrong for pursing the role or saying we are owed this spot. Everyone of any race and gender who is talented and qualified is owed the chance. I'll all for listing why it would great to have the change or discussing a whole host of talented women and people of color who could fill the spot. However the approach you took is off putting. I hope you do another article and talk about the candidates that are a good choice but don't fit the norm.

  • Not to be a grammar nazi but... | April 11, 2014 2:44 PMReply

    "Friends, including myself, tossed out..."

    What?

    Friends... including yourself? Your friends include you? You are one of your friends?

    I suppose one does have to befriend oneself.

    On the topic: it bores me. I don't believe in patronizing. We have a black president because people voted for him. If people actually want a nonwhite, nonman late night host then they'll vote with their attention and views.

    "Forcing" a nonwhite, nonman late night host will only result in failure, ratings disaster and ultimate cancellation.

  • Mark V (or 5) | April 11, 2014 9:40 PM

    You are rational and informed, a capacity Ms. Steele has not the capacity to comprehend.

  • Comedy Bob | April 11, 2014 2:36 PMReply

    They gave it to Ellen first and she turned it down. Stephen Colbert was the second choice to a woman. Argument = void.

  • Rajiv Pandit | April 11, 2014 2:01 PMReply

    How can you diss Arsenio Hall by not even mentioning he's currently on the air with his own (off network) show but bring him up citing his glory days with his own (off network) show? You undermine your own argument as well by ignoring Arsenio. Are you Brian Williams in disguise;)?

  • Leigh | April 11, 2014 1:40 PMReply

    Wow... Amazing how defensive people get when you point out a systemic bias. Colbert *should* give that job to a woman and/or a person of colour. Not saying he could. The powers that be likely would put another rich white dude in that spot. But hey, what a message he would be sending. And you never know, maybe they'd be embarrassed into doing something good for the world.

  • Vesper | April 11, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    Seriously, in the 21st Century, where Oprah OWNs her own network, and Arsenio is back on late night TV, to posture this whole "give that spot to a person of color or a woman" is not the right fight. As Dave Chappelle used to say "pick ya' spots". We cannot expect people to do things for us when WE DON'T OWN THEIR MEANS OF PRODUCTION. David Letterman OWNS Worldwide Pants. That's HIS BUSINESS. I'll be happy to support more Arsenios should they step up and appear. But I don't care to tell a man how to run his business when I don't own one myself.

  • Ash | April 11, 2014 1:30 PMReply

    This is a little ridiculous don't you think? Yes, instiutionalized racism and bias exists, but Colbert didn't create it and isn't responsible for who the network selected to replace Letterman. I think this might be a bit of a click bait post, but in the event that you believe that Colbert should actually relinquish his job, which is considered a promotion, and give it to either a woman or POC, just know that the chances of that are 0% and very few will take that suggestion as being in line with reality.

  • ThisIsGettingOld | April 11, 2014 1:29 PMReply

    You're fighting a non-ignorant man over ignorance.

    I'd love to see Craig Robinson host the Late Show. Or Tina Fey. Hell, throw Delroy Lando in there, I'll watch.

    But saying Colbert should give up his spot PURELY because he's NOT a woman or person of color is pretty ignorant in it itself. Colbert is a genuine, hard-working comedy vet, why should he feel obligated to walk away?

    Of course, this is just a piece written up solely for reactions from people like me to bring up the number of page views you get, not "journalism". Your ignorance just astounds me.

  • Pipe Dream Patrol | April 11, 2014 1:21 PMReply

    Stephen should do the right thing and give you the middle finger and say "Hey lady, get your own damn job. I'll give up my $$$ when you give up yours."

  • Dani | April 11, 2014 1:11 PMReply

    I would love for a woman or a POC to take his slot, but why do you think Colbert can choose his replacement? This piece suggests you don't understand the TV business.

  • Carl | April 11, 2014 1:05 PMReply

    Jesus Christ your begging and "You owe us so give us your check" BS is getting old.

Follow Shadow and Act

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Caribbean Film VOD Platform STUDIO ANANSI ...
  • Muted, Black & White First Trailer for ...
  • Exclusive - Watch 1st Trailer for Nefertite ...
  • Review: Amma Asante's Brave 'Belle' ...
  • Omar Sy Takes a Dramatic-Romantic Turn ...
  • Is a Pulse-Pounding, International Espionage ...
  • 'Life After Death' (Conflicting Portrait ...
  • The 1st Movie That Made You Laugh? Steve ...
  • Boris Lojkine’s Critically-Acclaimed ...
  • 'Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black ...