Finally Getting "Syked" about Diversity in Late Night TV
Late night network talk shows are about to get the correction of all correction. Fox booted Mad TV and has now signed the Saturday night 11:00 EST slot to The Wanda Sykes Show. Provocative, acerbic, and unabashedly liberal, Wanda promises a show that will focus on ripping up and riffing on the news and pop culture trends of the week with monologues, taped pieces and a panel discussion with guests. Finally, Saturday night may once again showcase television to talk about.
The test show offered an incredibly funny and a fast-paced hour. I wouldn't rush home from a party to catch it, but I'd pause watching a recorded show to catch it live, because I'm betting The Wanda Sykes show will prompt a Twitter #sykes tag that will be cool to play with. I certainly wouldn't have flipped the channel midway through for Saturday Night Live--the shows will overlap by a half-hour. A variety of set-ups keep it moving. The Wanda Sykes Show reminds me most of Bill Maher's construct, but decidedly more appealing and relaxed. The panel rolls like a late night conversation with different types of people in an airport bar or at a comedy club after the show is over--and in fact, Wanda graciously has a swank bar onstage in case her guests want a cocktail. Wanda nurses a vodka.
Fox's choice is an exciting break to the monotony of current late night talk shows where hosts represent wide range of white dudes: from greyish-white Bill Maher, to pinkish Conan, to ruddy Letterman, to white white Leno. Same white smarmy, smug humor, too. Wanda's notably the first chick late-night network host since Joan Rivers. NBC has inexplicably dominated Saturday night with Saturday Night Live which continually marginalizes female cast members. Wanda is also an out lesbian mama who talks openly about her wife and six-month-old twins. In most ways on television, Sykes stands alone.
Starr Rhett thinks The Wanda Show will score. She blogged at BET.com: "We definitely need more people like Wanda Sykes. She’s relatable to everyone despite her sexuality. I think her show will do well. I’m particularly feeling the round table format. Plus, I’m still holding on to hope that someone will fill the late night talk show void that Arsenio Hall left wide open. At least now I’m grown and won’t have to sneak to watch it."
Like the comic equivalent of a rock anthem for individuality, Wanda apologetically proclaimed "I'ma Be Me" in the title of her recent HBO comedy special. One of the most exciting things about watching her new show is that Wanda is at a fascinating time in her life and career. At 45, she's a role model for midlife women coming into their own, with her personal life and biggest career successes (including roles on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm) hitting a huge stride in the last few years. Television viewers are used to seeing her play "the friend," albeit the friend who will tell you the horrid truth while swearing and shaking her head. Her perspective is both daring and completely no-nonsense average, which creates a dynamic tension that many find engaging. Of course, it also makes her completely unbearable to others. But I'm not worried about those viewers, as they don't lack for other options.
Ma'at, who blogs at Confessions of a Young Black Woman, wants to hang at Wanda's table. "I'm watching her latest HBO special, and she's still funny as hell. I love the fact that she is shamelessly open about who she is. I love that she's not ashamed of her wife and kids. Plus, she looks DAMNED good."
Black Queer Radical blog highlighed Wanda's recent Jay Leno appearance where she talked about legalizing marijuana. Wanda's take:
That's nuts. I'm against it. You ever know a pot smoker that keeps a to-do list? You're not going to improve the economy or productivity. If Schwarzenegger wants to spark productivity and make some money, cocaine baby. You'll have people working 48 hour shifts. It will be good for the environment - people will be running to work.
Give her a few weeks to settle in to her new loft and the show will sail. SNL must be oblivious or not worried, though, as their choice of Taylor Swift as host against The Wanda Sykes premiere is absolutely puzzling. Maybe the writers and producers want to be free to catch Wanda's show too?
Contributing editor Deb Rox has her own bar at Deb on the Rocks. She also tweets about many things, including television (while trying to avoid spoilers for her West Coast friends, really, she tries).