Late-Night Talk Shows Come Under Fire for Lack of Female Writers

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Photo: Courtesy of CBS (Letterman), NBC (Leno), ABC (Kimmel), Getty Images (remaining)

When Nell Scovell came out in Vanity Fair a few weeks back and talked about the "hostile work environment" that led her to quit her dream job (an article that, probably to Scovell's horror, was referenced in the court paperwork filed by Robert "Joe" Halderman's defense), a lot of the conversation revolved around her opening statement that "at this moment, there are more females serving on the United States Supreme Court than there are writing for Late Show with David Letterman, The Jay Leno Show, and the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien combined." That statement apparently resonated with Bill Carter of the New York Times, who today shines a spotlight on the age-old issue of the lack of female perspectives in the writing rooms of today's late-night landscape.

One of our chief complaints about Scovell's piece was that she neglected to mention that there actually are women, albeit only a handful, currently employed as writers for late-night TV. Carter sets this situation straight by noting that Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, Chelsea Handler, Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Kimmel all employ female writers on their staffs (in Jimmy Kimmel's case, though, he has also admitted that he's involved in a romantic relationship with her). He also notes that Kimmel, Leno, and yes, even Letterman, have women serving in executive producer roles on their shows.

However, when Carter speaks with Hallie Haglund, one of the writers on The Daily Show, an interesting point is raised. Haglund thinks that one of the chief issues as to why women don't find themselves with equal footing as men in the late night world is that "When you’re writing for late night, you’re writing through one person’s prism, and that person at the shows you’re looking at is always a dude." Excellent point, and also one that goes a long way toward understanding why half of Chelsea Handler's ten-person writing staff is made up of women whereas alpha-male guys like Letterman and Leno employ none. When it comes time for Dave and Jay to retire, hopefully the network supervisors will take a longer look at figuring out if maybe, just maybe, it isn't time to put a woman in charge of a network chatfest. Paging Ellen DeGeneres!

Among Late-Night Writers, Few Women in the Room [NYT]