The Titans of Late Night vs. Sexism vs. Math

Nope. Wrong.

Nope. Wrong.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and had the image of Melissa Hunter’s take on the Vanity Fair Titans of Late Night photo stuck in my head so I went into an IMDb/Wikipedia rabbit hole to figure out some rough statistics and made this because I am a very cool, chill person.

The problem I have with this is simple: the numbers are wrong. I do not have a problem with the fact that it is showing a disparity between the numbers of female to male writers[1], nor do I have a problem with the intent of the photo. The purpose of this photo is commendable and I thoroughly support it. But the math is bad.

First off, the fact that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’s numbers are from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is grating. Why in the world is a progressive individual such as Noah[2] being damned for something that hasn’t even happened yet? Yes, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart could have and likely should have a better vagina to wang ratio, but that’s not something that Noah should be at fault for. As Noah has not had any episodes yet, nor announced a writing staff at the time of the article, I could just as easily say that his writing staff is 100% male or 100% female[3]. So for the time being, we will just exclude the show.

Next up are shows like Real Time Bill Maher and Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver. While other shows may run nightly[4], these shows only run once a week. It’s the reason why, despite being on air for 13 seasons, Real Time Bill Maher has 363 episodes compared to Conan’s 5 season run with 782 episodes (this is only on TBS, excluding his other shows- too many variables[5]). Clearly they do not belong on the same level as the other late night brethren which have a team of writers cranking out episodes every night, week after week.

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Late Late Show with James Corden, Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore are all 1 season old, though admittedly they do not all run at the same schedule (Wilmore only runs Mon-Thurs, the others nightly). Late Show with Stephen Colbert shouldn’t even be included on this list since the show is only 3 weeks old, but I’ll include it anyways.

Then we have the big dogs- the shows that have been around for long enough and with enough regularity that they should really break up the sausage fest in the writing room. Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live! are both hosted by veterans of comedy and late night. They run nightly and have hundreds of episodes. Clearly they should not be on the same level as shows that have just begun[6] or shows that run nightly. In fact, it would appear that the best way to find these statistics is to apply a weighted score against number of episodes rather than just “every credited writer over time”[7]. So that’s what I did.

While I don’t have Melissa’s figures to go off of[8], I can get a pretty good idea based off what she claims her numbers are from and what good ol’ Wikipedia and regular IMDb tell me. This was the result:

Seasons:

Conan: 5

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: 0

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: 1

Jimmy Kimmel Live!: 13

Late Night with Seth Meyers: 2

Real Time Bill Maher: 13

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: 1

Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: 2

Late Late Show with James Corden: 1

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: 1
Episodes[9]:

Conan: 782

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: 0

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: 10

Jimmy Kimmel Live!: 2594[10]

Late Night with Seth Meyers: 260

Real Time Bill Maher: 363

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: 86

Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: 51

Late Late Show with James Corden: 78

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: 333

It is assumed that the formula used to calculate the percentages given was based on “over time” rather than “per episode”. This leads me to believe it looked like this:

Number of Female Writers[11]/Total Number of Writers

Which, as I’ve just proven, is incorrect. In actuality, it SHOULD be:

Number of Episodes Credited to Female Writers/Total Number of Episodes Credited to Writers

This will give us some very different numbers. First, I went through IMDb to look at how many female writers each show has on staff[12]:

Conan: 2

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: 0[13]

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: 1

Jimmy Kimmel Live!: 8

Late Night with Seth Meyers: 4

Real Time Bill Maher: 0[14]

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: 5

Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: 2

Late Late Show with James Corden: 16

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: 3

Doesn’t look that great, right? Now here are the number of credited episodes to female writers:

Conan: 66

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: 4

Jimmy Kimmel Live!: 1454

Late Night with Seth Meyers: 153

Real Time Bill Maher: 0

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: 249

Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: 62

Late Late Show with James Corden: 23

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: 357
And here are the total number of ALL credited episodes to ALL writers:

Conan: 2369

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: 140

Jimmy Kimmel Live!: 15190

Late Night with Seth Meyers: 1066

Real Time Bill Maher: 1824

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: 789

Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver: 331

Late Late Show with James Corden: 210

Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon: 2487

Leaving Melissa’s “stats” to actually look like this:

femwriters

Interesting, right? Here’s another stat:

noncaucasian

That’s the number of non-Caucasian hosts of late night television. Not a great number, really. Here’s another stat[15]:

women

That’s the number of women late night hosts.

But it isn’t so cut and dry, really. Late night is a precarious spot to have a show- you need to make sure that you appeal to a broad audience or the viewer will just change the channel to one of the other networks. That’s the world we live in. Additionally, the time slot of the show matters a lot; how many people are staying up until 1AM so they can specifically watch James Corden and how many are simply tuning in because they’re drunk and want to watch something while they nod off to sleep? I don’t have those demographics[16], but I imagine they are a fascinating glance into each show.

Plus, the job of a writer/host is hard work. I am by no means saying a woman can’t do it- she absolutely can- but a woman also has to face several barriers along the way that a man wouldn’t. There wouldn’t be any massive media promotion to show that “woman can be funny” or people making infographics based off of bullshit numbers to get people on her side without actually doing the math. But a woman entering into what has stereotypically been a man’s job means that the brave few who do overcome daily struggles with which perhaps some wouldn’t want to be bothered.

My point is this: we SHOULD live in a world where the fact that I did all this math isn’t necessary. There should be plenty of female writers and female hosts. There should also be more hosts of color and more movies starring people of ethnic backgrounds which aren’t “Wonderbread white”. The good news is that this is changing. The numbers I’ve just crunched show that. Additionally, Furious 7 starred a multiethnic cast of both men and women which had one white male hero[17]– and it was one of the most successful movies of ALL TIME[18]. So we should celebrate these victories and give them our support.

But most importantly- do the fucking math.


[1] To be sure- there is a surprising lack considering that women make up the majority of the world population (51% if I recall)

[2] Well, except for those tweets…

[3] Schrödinger’s Cable News Show

[4] Or semi-nightly; more on that later

[5] For me to give a shit about- I’m doing this for free

[6] Or haven’t even begun

[7] Wherein “time” is assumed to be “seasons” or “years”

[8] Nor am I willing to pay for an IMDb Pro account

[9] Numbers taken from Wikipedia and IMDb, include special episodes such as Christmas, Super Bowl, etc.

[10] Kimmel’s stats are all over the place- Season 5 has 88 credited episodes while Season 10 has 395. Then again, he got some serious flack over the years, so maybe that’s why

[11] I can’t tell you how she got this number- maybe she just assumed anyone with a feminine sounding name (sorry male Tracys)

[12] Which is (I assume) where Melissa got her figures

[13] Noah will now be excluded as he has not yet announced a writing staff and honestly should never have been included in the first place- that’s just sloppy math.

[14] Yes, that’s right- I couldn’t find any female writer credited to any episodes of Maher’s show from IMDb

[15] And the point I wish Melissa had made

[16] I’d sure like to!

[17] And they killed him off- no? Too soon? Ok…

[18] Global box office as of this post: $351,032,910 (via boxofficemojo.com)

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