Anne T. Donahue: Busy Philipps Just Made the World of Late-Night TV Way More Accessible

Thanks to Busy Philipps, that sequin-clad, show business-party has never been more open to funny, complex, human women—maybe even me

You can host a late night talk show. And so can I.

I mean, it always was in the realm of possibility, but this week that realm expanded in a pretty radical way.

Until now, late night has been relatively rooted in tradition: you host a show, you announce your departure after several decades, and you pass the baton to the next (typically white) guy in line, someone who likely toiled away in late-late night, or on a specialty channel, until getting called up to the big leagues.  

Enter Busy Philipps. As I’m sure you all already know, Philipps is set to host her own late-night talk show for E! called Busy Tonight, which she will also co-executive produce. The series is set to begin production this summer, and should come as no surprise to anybody who has followed Philipps recently: on top of her work in movies like I Feel Pretty or series like Cougar Town, she’s used social media (particularly Instagram) as a means of taking us along on her professional and personal adventures. There, she is candid, she is warm, she is funny, she is herself. Which, while all wonderful traits (especially when in conjunction with one’s social media presence), rarely does a late night show host make.

After all, night hosts rarely earn their stripes through social media, and when they do post, we almost never get a glimpse of who they really are behind the desk. Jimmy Fallon, who sometimes features his family and personal life in his social media, doesn’t use Instagram to confess that he’s early for a meeting and needs to kill time in his car. James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke —a seemingly casual, candid experience—is a highly choreographed and pre-planned video event. Stephen Colbert didn’t land The Late Show because he took us along as he worked out at LEKfit. I wish he had. I like when people are authentic, when they’re transparent in ways that don’t feel calculated or purposely on-trend. When I interviewed Philipps for a short piece last year, we talked about her brand partnership with Pampers (because we had to) but quickly parlayed that conversation into her history of not fitting in; that after feeling perpetually like an outsider, her choice to embrace herself ended up spawning an ever-expanding community of like minds who valued frankness and a willingness to share, emote and erase the myth of perfection. Because Philipps’ posts aren’t bracketed by faux life lessons or glossed over with Photoshop. They are an authentic reflection of her: funny, complex, human. Which makes her the perfect candidate for a late-night talk show.

Of course, late night can feel like a weird thing to invest in if you’re a woman. (Or more specifically, if you were once a girl who watched late night growing up and assumed you’d never have a place in it because, well, why would you?) Aside from Sarah Silverman, Samantha Bee, Robin Thede, and Joan Rivers, women have rarely participated in the genre’s permanent narrative and have instead filled in as guest hosts or just as guests. Which sucked for me, because as a TV and comedy obsessed-kid, late night was magical. It was a world in which grown-ups dressed up and made jokes about the news and pop culture and appeared as themselves instead of TV characters. It was a chance to see a glimpse of a world populated by people who played characters I loved. It was like eavesdropping on your parents and their friends having dinner and counting down until you could be part of the conversation (or at least understand what their jokes meant). So you hoped that maybe if you grew up and did something cool, one of those famous men would invite you to talk with them on their show one day.

Because to host the show seemed impossible. Women hosts were for daytime talk—for TV you watched when you were home sick or during summer holidays or when you skipped school because whatever was happening on The View seemed more interesting than another class on integers. It was special and it was great, but it wasn’t late night—the land where only a sprinkling of famous, male hosts could exist.

But Philipps’s late-night appointment is proof that we can create more room in a male-dominated schedule. Also: that we don’t necessarily have to follow the decades-long tradition of replacing late-night hosts with their groomed predecessors—that we can create a landscape for all types of hosts and finally open up that sequin-clad, show business party to more and more people. We can also continue to find hosts through these new, “unorthodox” means and opt to listen to real people (and potential viewers) over the outdated notion of what late night “should” look like. Especially because, spoiler alert: late night gets to look like however we decide it does.

Plus, there’s a personal component too. That starry-eyed, big-dreaming part of me who now thinks, Hey, maybe hoping for a similar opportunity one day is a little less impossible than it was last week. And that should stars align after years and years and years of work, I might get to host my own fancy TV party.

More from Anne T. Donahue:
How to Embrace Your Ever-Shifting Self
Why Positivity Can Go Fuck Itself
How to Use Professional Jealousy to Get What You *Really* Want
Dressing for How You’re Feeling—Even If How You’re Feeling Is Shit
Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes