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Friday, November 6, 2009

Wanda Sykes Show and Lopez Tonight bring color to late night

Starting this weekend, uninhibited Hispanic stand-up comedian George Lopez and equally controversial African-American comedian Wanda Sykes make their late night debut challenging the status quo of what Jay Leno refers to as “the parade of nine white men.”

On Saturday, November 7, FOX will premiere The Wanda Sykes Show making Sykes the first black woman since Whoppi Goldberg to have a late night show on network television. Similarly, on Monday, Nov. 9, TBS will air Lopez Tonight that establishes Lopez as America’s first Hispanic late show host.

Late night talk has had its share of minority hosts. The Arsenio Hall Show, The Chris Rock Show, The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, The Magic Hour added color to the talk circuit on and off from the mid ‘90s until the untimely cancellation of Rock’s show in 2000. Recently BET put Blacks back on the late hour schedule with the launch of actress/comedian Mo’Nique’s late night show in early October.

The Sykes Show format resembles that of her former boss’  - HBO’s The Chris Rock Show a combination of skits, on-the-street segments and spirited panel discussions. Its no surprise Sykes chose this format - she won an Emmy award as a writer on the show. Always busy, audiences may best know her from show cancelled Fox series, Wanda at Large and sidekick roles as Barb and herself in The Old Adventures of Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm respectively.

Sykes is no stranger to controversy. She became both the first African-American woman and openly LGBT person to perform as entertainment at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner earlier this year. Her set garnered national attention when she responded to Rush Limbaugh’s comment of hopes the Obama administration fails, with “I hope his [Limbaugh] kidney’s fail.

Fox’s Saturday night slots have rarely had a stronghold in major late night programming. Their previous shows – the long running sketch comedy show, Mad TV and quirky TalkShow with Spike Feresten’s garnered consistently low ratings that resulted in their cancellation this year. Sykes Show replaces the 11pm to midnight time slot previously held by MadTV that unsuccessfully competed with NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Sykes popularity goes head to head with the recent upswing of SNL’s popularity, so the likelihood of Skyes’ show grabbing a significant hold on late night audiences will be a challenge.

George Lopez 3_Ph-Gavin Bond
Crediting late night maverick Arsenio Hall, George Lopez says wants to bring the party back to late night. According to TBS, Lopez Tonight is an informal, casual environment for guest to engage with the audience and experience. “It’s time to get back to the kind of show that is fun for everybody to watch,” says Lopez. “There are enough heavy things going on every day that you should be able to sit down late at night, have a drink, relax and enjoy a party on television.”

Lopez who is probably America’s leading Hispanic comedian is known for his every man style of humor. With three HBO comedy specials under his belt including his most recent Tall, Dark and Chicago, he made history creating and starring in the sitcom George Lopez that ran for six seasons on ABC.

Lopez was lucky enough to land a 4-night-a-week spot, giving him a stronger possibility to compete with the majors and minors of late night; but his biggest upcoming barrier may be his timeslot. Lopez is set to premier Nov. 9 on TBS at 11 p.m., a slot that vies with popular late night Comedy Central programs The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Report as well as the cult favorite The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.

All things considered, it’s impossible to applaud the network’s courage to air these new shows without examining how race could affect their success. The scrutiny against and lack of diversity for Sykes, Lopez, and also Mo’Nique are also possible obstructions that may prevent them from breaking big. Either way  - whether set up for failure or bound for glory, Sykes and Lopez will go down in television history and could possibly be the ratings booster their networks are hoping for to combat recent decline in ratings for late night viewing.

The Wanda Sykes Show. Premieres Sat., Nov. 7, 11pm – 12 Midnight (EST) on FOX.

Lopez Tonight. Premieres Mon., Nov. 9, 11pm – 12 Midnight (EST) on TBS

(Sykes photo courtesy of Fox Television, Lopez photo courtesy of Turner Broadcasting)

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