Late-Night TV Gets A Double Shot Of Diversity Say hello to the two newest faces in late-night television: Wanda Sykes and George Lopez. Their new post-prime time programs represent a broadening of the mostly pale-male presence on late-night TV — and may signify a recognition of the increasing multiculturalism of "the American mainstream."
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Late-Night TV Gets A Double Shot Of Diversity

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Late-Night TV Gets A Double Shot Of Diversity

Late-Night TV Gets A Double Shot Of Diversity

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Late-night is looking and sounding a little different these days.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Wanda Sykes Show")

Ms. WANDA SYKES (Host, "Wanda Sykes Show"): The Obamas, they're way too classy to get all up in people's faces.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SYKES: So you know what, I hereby appoint myself the president's Tell People Where to Go and What to Kiss Czar

(Soundbite of cheering)

BLOCK: This past weekend, comedian Wanda Sykes debuted her new Saturday night talk show on Fox. Tonight, comedian George Lopez starts four nights a week on TBS. Sykes and Lopez are entering territory dominated by familiar white men -Leno, Letterman, Conan. Add on Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson, and you have six white guys in suit jackets interviewing celebrities after the kids go to bed.

Here's NPR's Felix Contreras on why late night is double diversifying.

FELIX CONTRERAS: When George Lopez and Wanda Sykes do their HBO stand-up specials, they're talking directly to people who speak the same language.

(Soundbite of television show)

Mr. GEORGE LOPEZ (Comedian): (Spanish spoken)

Ms. SYKES: White people are looking at you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOPEZ: If immigrations law pass, they say that 1.2 million Mexicans would have to go back to Mexico, 1.2, that's seven Quinceaneras.

Ms. SYKES: My wife is French, you know, she's French. I like to say she's French because it sounds nicer than white.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOPEZ: Governor Schwarzenegger is for English only. Okay, that's good. But you know, the problem there is, (beep) you don't speak English.

CONTRERAS: They can also be more family friendly. For five years on ABC, George Lopez was a Latino version of every sitcom dad.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The George Lopez Show")

Mr. LOPEZ: (As George Lopez) You know you're not supposed to touch my guitar. This is a vintage Les Paul.

Ms. CONSTANCE MARIE (Actress): (As Angie Lopez) It's a Los Paolo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARIE: (As Angie Lopez) We got it at the swap meet.

Mr. LOPEZ: (As George Lopez) Yeah, well, it's still a collector's item. Only 100 were made before they raided the factory and freed the children.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONTRERAS: But can the edgier side of Lopez and Sykes make a mark on the homogenous world of late-night TV?

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (Television Writer, St. Petersburg Times): They'll have to push some boundaries.

CONTRERAS: Eric Deggans is a television writer for the St. Petersburg Times. He says Lopez has been creating a more inclusive perception of mainstream on his sitcom and his stand-up work.

Mr. DEGGANS: He's able to reflect the mainstream through the eyes of a Mexican-American in a way that, you know, other Hispanics enjoy, but also somebody like me, who's African-American, can see it and sort of say, wow, you know, I understand why that's funny.

CONTRERAS: George Lopez says he gets it.

Mr. LOPEZ: You know, the mainstream America does not look like what people consider to be the mainstream. We live in a different America. And this show is for the new America.

CONTRERAS: Lopez peppered his sitcom with Spanish assuming all of his audience would get it, and it wasn't always polite.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The George Lopez Show")

Mr. LOPEZ: (As George Lopez) The point is, we need a Lopez, so any Lopez will do. Hell, we had a Rodriguez, but he could pass for Italian.

Mr. JAMES LESURE (Actor): (As Ben Adams) You, look at you. You are a dark brown Mexican hermano.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOPEZ: Oh, yeah? Well, you can watch these dark brown Mexican nangas(ph) walking away from you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish), you know, or that stuff, (Speaking Spanish) even. You know, huevos and all that stuff that we use that people, they just understand.

Mr. MICHAEL WRIGHT (Programming Chief, TBS): George is calling it like it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONTRERAS: Michael Wright is in charge of TBS' first run at late-night TV, "Lopez Tonight."

Mr. WRIGHT: Sometimes, that might lead him to a place that's pretty provocative. And my feeling about that is relevant, terrific comedy often has to sort of, you know, surprise you a little bit that way.

CONTRERAS: The last time late-night TV shows offered that kind of edginess was 1994 when another African-American comedian ended his late-night TV run.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Arsenio Hall Show")

Unidentified Man: It's the "Arsenio Hall Show" starring Arsenio Hall.

CONTRERAS: For five years, Arsenio Hall worked a demographic that was younger, more black and interested in more than white male hosts. But TV writer Deggans says a lot has changed since Hall's show went off the air: hip-hop has become mainstream, blacks and Latinos are more visible in Hollywood, and Deggans isn't sure Lopez and Sykes have their fingers on the pulse of what's young and hip.

Mr. DEGGANS: George is 48, Wanda's 45. Can these guys be the voice of a new generation in the way that Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock and Arsenio were in their day? You know, we'll see.

CONTRERAS: George Lopez's first week of guests will be a mix of black, Latino and white Hollywood, reflecting his goal of getting a broad audience for both inclusiveness and ratings.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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