The world of late-night can be cut-throat. We all know about the Jay Leno-David Letterman feud over The Tonight Show, Bill Maher's objectively terrible opinions bouncing between ABC and HBO, the Craig Kilborn-Jon Stewart-Tom Snyder-Craig Ferguson game of musical chairs, and of course the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien feud over... The Tonight Show. Again.
But you might notice a similar trait in all those late-night hosts — they're all men. So last October, when E! debuted Busy Tonight, a talk show airing Sunday through Wednesdays starring Freaks and Geeks alum Busy Phillips, it was a sigh of relief. Finally, a late-night show hosted by a woman!
It... did not last long. Busy Tonight was just canceled a mere six months after its debut. What went wrong? And does this specific cancellation speak to something rotten in the core of late-night TV itself?
A talk show host is asked to do a lot of things.
via: Getty ImagesIt is such a strange gig! They have to interview celebrities, film sketches, write jokes and have a certain je ne sais quoi to keep viewers tuning in.
And it's impossible to be good at all of them.
via: Getty ImagesIt's hard to be good at even one of those things, let alone multiple. I always think about Britney Spears — you're telling me she's supposed to be a one-in-a-million beauty and a one-in-a-million vocal talent? That's why I was so forgiving when I saw her live and she missed 94 percent of the notes in "Toxic."
Every talk show host has their strength: Stephen Colbert is good at political commentary."Fake news!" That's a thing the current president of the United States says... even if he's referring to something that's actually true! Man, what a zinger! Got 'em again, Colby!
Conan O'Brien is good at sketches.Here we see Conan O'Brien sopping wet, probably to parody a movie that just came out that took place in the water. Maybe, um, Lady in the Water?
Jimmy Fallon is good at laughing during sketches.Oh come on now Jimmy Fallon, you're supposed to be a goddamn professional. Just... get it together already. When you laugh at your own little bits, you embarrass us all.
But Busy Phillips is good at actually hosting.A good host invites you into their home and makes you feel welcome. On every episode of Busy Tonight, Busy Phillips' casual and playful demeanor made us feel just that.
She's amazing at building a connection with her audience.See, it's this kind of tough-but-fair criticism that makes Busy Phillips connect on her show. She's willing to tell it like it is, even as she's figuring it out herself.
When you're watching Busy Tonight, it really does feel like you're hanging out with a friend.I’m not going to say I watched a lot of Busy Tonight, but every episode I have seen made it feel like Busy was right there with you. There was never much of a persona — she felt like she was just being herself.
Plus, her show was a lot of fun. Here's Busy making Natalie Morales' Twitter dream come true.Man, you ever just type up a Twitter tweet, shoot it out into the world, and never think of it again? I bet Natalie Morales did the same thing. But you know what? She caught the eye of a fairy godmother who happened to have her own E! show,
And here she is talking to Oprah.We all have those celebrities who we would lose our damn minds if we ever got to talk to them, and for Busy, it's Oprah. Seeing her talk to her idol and just straight fall apart was as relatable as it comes. It reminded me of the time I met the guy who played Hurley on Lost (Lost is my very favorite show!)
But on Sunday night, Busy let everyone know that E! was canceling the show.
Hey guys. Just wanted to let you know my show BusyTonight won't be continuing on the E network after May 16. I'm be… https://t.co/c1wm6FFPIZ— Busy Philipps (@Busy Philipps)1557119623.0
Now, Busy Tonight is pretty much a brand new show.It only just launched on October 28th, 2018. That's recent enough that I remember exactly what I was doing: calling in sick to work because I ate too much candy. (This had nothing to do with Halloween, I just process my feelings with unhealthy eating. My therapist and I are working on it.)
Six months is not a long time, especially in late-night TV terms.
via: Getty ImagesMost late night shows take forever to find their groove. Johnny Carson's Tonight Show didn't average more than 11 viewers during his first 65 years hosting the show. (Please don't check those numbers. Just trust me when I say it took him a minute to get popular.)
And honestly, if one of the late-night shows was going to be canceled, Busy Tonight would have probably been our last choice.Picture all the late night talk show hosts you can. Now imagine you hear that one of them will be canceled. Wouldn't you just think that, statistically, it would probably a show hosted by a white man with his hair parted on one side?
Of course, the first choice if we had to pick a talk show to get canceled? Last Night All Night with Carson Daly or whatever it's called.If you ever have to explain white privilege to a shitty uncle at Thanksgiving, just remind him that the charisma-less sack of potatoes that is Carson Daly has had his own late-night talk show for more than 17 years.
Not only is Busy great at the oddly specific job of hosting a late-night talk show...Again, think of how hard it is to make your in-laws feel welcome in your home. Now imagine doing that in front of thousands of strangers. And with actors.
... but she's also one of the only women in late-night.Again, think of all those late night hosts. How many of them are women? For one of their shows to be cancelled (especially this early in its run), it does feel a little like women are being singled out.
There's still Samantha Bee, of course.She also does the Stephen Colbert "the president said 'fake news' about a real thing" sort of comedy. But Full Frontal with Samantha Bee only airs once a week.
It is insane, then, that there are at least 30 episodes of late-night talk produced a week that now only one of them is hosted by a woman.That's obviously a VERY rough number of total talk show episodes being produced, but really, there's no way to count. Netflix has about 3500 shows debuting and getting canceled every week.
But in a macro sense, maybe it's time... for late-night to die?Hear me out — how much does late night TV matter today? When was the last time you were hanging out at the water cooler and your coworker scuttled up to you and was like, "Did you see what happened last night on James Corden?"
I mean, certainly, late-night shows made sense before the internet.We could chill out with our families in front of the TV each night because there were only, like, three things on. And the late-night shows would have on the biggest celebrities of the day, and some fun banter, and everyone would learn about the new movies they were excited for.
(Wait, how did people find out about movies before the internet? Was it talk shows? It might have been talk shows.)I just realized that no one woke up in the morning to see a trailer for Empire Strikes Back on IGN and they almost for sure didn't even have any Youtube video to break down said trailer's Easter eggs.
Ultimately, we built a rapport with Johnny Carson.He was our entertainer; our newsman; our buddy. We had a collective cultural rallying point in Johnny Carson — a single gatekeeper who decided what was important and what we were free to ignore (read: everything that wasn't being talked about on The Tonight Show).
But now, we have endless TV options.With Game of Thrones on HBO and Final Fantasy games coming out on the Nintendo Switch and that third season of Daredevil we always said we'd get to, our attention is being split in too many directions to ever let us rally around a singular figure like Johnny Carson.
But if we were going to grow attached to any late-night host in this era, it was going to be Busy Phillips.As much as we all love Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah and, ugh, even Jimmy Fallon, they all have fairly polished personas that don't ring true. They're very funny, but unlike Busy Phillips, they don't always feel like human beings while they're being funny. And that's what we're drawn to — real people being their authentic selves.
And for E! to yank it this quick?
This is BS. If you believe in a woman enough to give her a platform, you should believe in her long enough to grow… https://t.co/gD0R9AyxOe— Bianca (@Bianca)1557121872.0
Busy did mention looking for a new home for the show.
Busy Philipps: “I'm beyond proud of what we've built in such a short period of time and I'm hopeful we can find the… https://t.co/VEboRkO2iZ— The Hollywood Reporter (@The Hollywood Reporter)1557144590.0