Producers Of Late-Night Shows Claim Writers' Rooms Aren't Diverse Because Of Lack Of Candidates

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November 13th 2018

Television viewers and Hollywood talent alike have long lamented how the late-night talk show landscape isn't as diverse as it should be. But during a Saturday panel at the Producers Guild of America's Produced By: New York conference, four executive producers gave another reason as to why their writers rooms aren't diverse: lack of candidates.

"It's always been important, but it's a lot easier now--it used to be a problem, and you had to get creative because you wouldn't have candidates," said Late Night with Seth Meyers' Mike Shoemaker according to Deadline.

"You'd go and see (women comedy) performers and convince them to be writers," he continued, saying that in 1995, four women from comedy troupes the Groundlings and Second City were scouted, including Sisters writer Paula Pell. "We said, 'Would you like to write?' and she said, 'No, I'm an actress.'" He said they had to "talk her into" what would become a long career with Saturday Night Live.

Late-night television is becoming more diverse in spurts and starts, with Jon Stewart's The Daily Show being led by Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show. Robin Thede also became the first Black woman to host a late-night talk show, The Rundown with Robin Thede, and Amber Ruffin was the first Black woman hired for broadcast television as a writer for a late-night show.

The dark cloud to the silver lining, however, is that BET unceremoniously canceled Thede's show in July. Comedy Central also canceled Wilmore's show in 2016. Looking back even further, BET canceled Don't Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes starring Holmes, a former CNN anchor and now a correspondent on Good Morning America, in 2013. And, even with Ruffin leading the way, diversifying the traditionally white late-night landscape is proving to be challenging.

Two of the EPs on the panel, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj's Prashanth Venkataramanujam and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah's Jen Flanz, said hiring diverse writers creates shows that better reflect society.

"There are blind spots that even us as brown men have from brown women and Black women," said Venkataramanujam. "We have these entrenched vantage points we need to compensate for."

"Ten years from now, it'll be even easier, but growing up, you were watching white guys on TV," said Flanz. "Now you can better identify with the [diversity in the] faces on TV and see it as an option."

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