by G. Brown
Ever since “Oscarsowhite”, the entertainment industry seems to be trying to get it together in terms of equality in Hollywood. We’ve seen some progress like Black actors/actresses in starring roles for upcoming movies and TV shows like”Black Panther” movie and “Black Lightning”.
Though admittedly, the progress is slow. But no place has it been slower than on late night TV. Late night shows have been a part of the television landscape since the late 50’s and 60’s with the advent of shows like “Tonight! America After Dark”(1957) and “Tonight Starring Jack Paar”. The genre wasn’t popular at first, but after several tweaks and reiterations, by the early 60’s when Johnny Carson took over “The Tonight Show“, late comedy had found its magic formula.
From the 50’s until present day, late night talk shows have primarily been the domain of White male hosts. But there have been some Black men and women to try on the time slot with varying degrees of success. Here are are 6 Celeb Hosts who tried to Hang on Late Night TV.
#6 Whoopi Goldberg Long before she sat dished hot topics on “The View”, actress/comedian Whoopi Goldberg headlined her own talk show. Of course, Whoopi did it her way with no house band and no sidekick and only one guest per night which seemed less like late night and more like a news magazine format. “The Whoopie Goldberg Show” aired 200 episodes before pulling the plug one year after its debut.
#5 Magic Johnson Yep…that Magic Johnson! After the former NBA great retired his #32 LA Lakers jersey and before he became the business mogul that he is now, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was trying to decide what to do with life. In 1998, Johnson thought he found his niche and tried his hand at hosting a late night show on FOX. The show called “The Magic Hour” was everything but magical and only lasted two months. Johnson may have given up on late night hosting, but not TV. He went on to work as an NBA commentator for TNT and later switched over to ESPN as an analyst on NBA Countdown”. These days, the only time we see Johnson on TV is when he’s promoting subsidiaries of his nearly a billion dollar Magic Johnson Enterprises.
#4 Wanda Sykes The woman with the shortest shelf life for a late night talk show was another funny actress/comedian who dominated in roles on the big screen, but just couldn’t hang late night on the small screen. In 2009, the network that had hit late night gold with Arsenio Hall two decades earlier was hoping lighting would strike twice by bringing another Black comic to the line up. There was no lightning strike…not even a spark as the The Wanda Sykes show was canceled after just one season.
#3 Mo’Nique More recently, a comedian known for two things–her wit and her outspokenness had the character ingredients for a talk show host. “The Mo’Nique Show” premiered on BET in October 2009 and set a new record for the network as one of the highest rated launches. Mo’Nique was at the top of her Hollywood game having just won an Oscar for her riveting role in the movie “Precious” when the talk show was unexpectedly canned.
#2 W. Kamau Bell One of the smartest, perceptive comedians out there with an analytical eye on politics, but Bell found out just how tough it is to hang with the late night TV crowd. His FX show first aired in 2012 and was the perfect showcase for Bell’s observational humor. Everything about his show “Totally Biased with W, Kamau Bell” should have made it a success—including a producer (Chris Rock) who already hosted a hit late night show for five years. But late night TV is a fickled genre and just because you have the right jokes, the right voice, the right guests and the right look, doesn’t mean success. For Bell, it was time to call it a night on the late night gig a year later when “Totally Biased” aired its final episode.
#1 Arsenio Hall While some celebs struggled to make late night TV work, comedian Arsenio Hall just made into a party and became the undisputed mack daddy of late night for the in crowd. When FOX brought in Hall, he was just to guest host an already dead in the water “The Late Show”. But to everyone’s surprise, Hall was a hit. The “Late Show” was canceled to make way for “The Arsenio Hall” show which became a break-out hit. The coveted younger crowd that had been turned off to late night was now tuning in to Hall. If you ever pumped your fist in the air while chanting “roo roo roo” you can thank Arsenio who redefined pop culture with the move as a stamp of approval.