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For many women in late-night television, this depiction of a male-dominated workplace rings true, with one glaring exception: The show Molly works for is hosted by, of all things, a woman. While there are now more women writing for late-night shows than ever before, female hosts, like female presidents, largely remain a figment of the Hollywood imagination. More encouraging are the gains made by female comedy writers. A decade ago, a tally of women writing for late-night shows read like binary code: zeros and ones across the board.
Progress has not been easy, according to women in late-night TV. For aspiring comedy writers, the process can be as brutally competitive as getting into the Ivy League — and just as reliant on powerful connections. Applicants submit packets — writing samples in the style and tone of a particular show.
While Peak TV has opened up more opportunities for women and people of color to host late-night shows, the crowded marketplace has also made it hard for newcomers to break through the noise. Late-night shows require time to find a voice — and, these days, an audience.
But like female directors who get sent to movie jail after a single flop, women in late night rarely get the chance to grow. When Rivers left for her own Fox talk show in — a move she said she made because her future at NBC was not secure — she was widely condemned as disloyal to Carson. Some affiliates refused to carry her show, and Rivers was fired after less than a year on the air at the fledgling network. We wanted to give people something fun and soothing to look forward to — a small treat.
The show was canceled last month by E! Ironically, days later Philipps spoke on the air about having an abortion when she was 15, and the segment went viral. Onge added. So women have to take their shows to smaller outlets with fewer resources and less luxury of time.
With YouTube phenomenon Lilly Singh set to make history on NBC — not only as the first woman with a daily show on broadcast television in more than 30 years, but also as a bisexual person of color — this may change. And it might just take us deciding women are as watchable as men and putting them behind a late-night desk. Follow me MeredithBlake. Meredith Blake is an entertainment reporter for the Los Angeles Times based out of New York City, where she primarily covers television. A native of Bethlehem, Pa.
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