Saturday, May 10, 2014

Comedy Central Hires Black Folks!

The news came out yesterday and I squealed with delight like Oprah seeing John Travolta make a special guest appearance of her old daytime talk show.  The news -- Larry Wilmore will replace Stephen Colbert as host of a new show when Colbert replaces the retiring David Letterman on CBS Late Night.  When The Colbert Report leaves, it will be replaced by the talented Larry Wilmore with The Minority Report.  Why that title?  Because....Larry Wilmore is...a black man!
I am SO happy about this.  I know that columnist Eric Deggans is too.  Go to my blog archive of articles posted last month and read my "Eric Deggans on NPR" piece.  He recently did a segment on the lack of racial and sexual diversity in the field of late night entertainment talk show hosts.  I urged folks to hear his short, sharp National Public Radio feature.  I added my notes as someone who's been attentive to and influenced by racial diversity on TV ever since I was a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles and attending a high school in Watts.

When I posted the Comedy Central news item from The Hollywood Reporter and New York's Daily News on Twitter and on Facebook, one of my Facebook buddies who's also a Wilmore fan wrote this about Comedy Central:

Him:  "They do know he's black, right?"

Me:    "I just called and told them.  I heard the phone drop."

The fact that a black person has booked a major national gig as host of a late night entertainment talk show can be a cultural shock -- especially to top executives at other networks.  Larry Wilmore is known to Comedy Central fans as the Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. 
And The Minority Report will have Larry anchoring a comedy news program.  Look at the real network evening news on ABC, NBC and CBS Monday through Friday.  How many black anchors do you see?  None!  The first and only one was the late Max Robinson on ABC in the 1970s and early 80s.  There are probably people working on the Good Morning America production team today who've never heard of the groundbreaking Max Robinson -- even though he, like Barbara Walters, made history anchoring ABC World News Tonight.
Wilmore was a great and necessary addition to The Daily Show.  Even though Stewart's program is undeniably liberal and often criticizes the GOP for seeming like a "Whites Only" club, Stewart's Emmy -winning writing team looked like a Mitt Romney family photo.  I'd seen more black people in an Ingmar Bergman movie.  Stewart lampooned his own show's need for a minority voice by adding Larry Wilmore.
Mr. Wilmore is also an Emmy-winning writer and producer.
He was a writer for Fox's weekly sketch comedy series, In Living Color.  This was the first and only show on national TV to present more than one black film critic seen regularly on national TV.  In Living Color gave us two black male movie critics in a segment called "Men on Film." was a comedy bit.  But name two black movie critics of either sex that you've ever seen on the Today Show, Good Morning America or the weekday and Sunday morning network news programs on CBS.  That's two more black people than I think ever went to work one morning and said "Hey, did you catch the Seinfeld finale last night?" back in 1998.

We love Larry Wilmore.  He was also an executive producer and writer for the Peabody Award winning sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show.

We need minority representation in the area of satirical news shows, shows that often cut to the real meat better than actual news shows do because the actual news programs are now too busy trying to entertainment us.  Read my previous post, "Mexican Culture and the News" to see what I mean.  That post is about Caucasian news people on Cinco de Mayo.

Wilmore's new gig is such a racial breakthrough that National Public Radio's weekday morning show, Fresh Air, will be forced to pay attention to it.  Again, if you read my "Eric Deggans on NPR" piece, I refer to my 2013 blog post in which I spanked that show -- a show I listen to regularly -- for excluding Arsenio Hall from its weeklong salute to late night talk show hosts.  Five shows, one hour each, with the host of the show and contributions from a TV historian.  Listeners were taken back to 1950s TV with Jerry Lester and Dagmar, through the Jack Paar and Johnny Carson nights of the 1960s and 70s and up to the Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers host gigs.  Pat Sajak and Chevy Chase got mentions for their short-lived shows.  No mention of Arsenio Hall whatsoever.  And Arsenio was on the brink of making his late night return.

Again...five shows, one hour each.  With segments from a TV historian who's a frequent Fresh Air contributor.  I listened to every single show.  No mention of Arsenio Hall.  Lord, help us.
Let's see if this week following Mother's Day is different.  Arsenio's history wasn't acknowledged on Fresh Air but perhaps Larry Wilmore's history-making appointment will get a mention.  Host Terry Gross should book him as a guest.

Congratulations, Mr. Wilmore!  I will most definitely be watching you on Comedy Central's The Minority Report.

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