For a half hour every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Chelsea Handler will take over Netflix for her new talk show. The still-untitled project (Handler's soliciting fans on Twitter for ideas), which premieres May 11, will be commercial-free and streaming in 190 countries. In a handwritten letter to herself on social media, Handler gave few details about the format of show — but she did write, "You'll be traveling around the world and learning new things, all courtesy of NETFLIX." She also shared that her dream guest list, ranked in importance starting with the least: Michelle Obama, The Pope, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's maid. Handler is probably kidding with that list, but, even if she isn't, she's clearly planning on a talk show that will be unlike anything we've seen. This seems to be a commonality between her and fellow female late night host, Samantha Bee, who just premiered her series on TBS Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. With their new shows, they're not trying to break into the boy's club, they're trying to dismantle it.
Before Full Frontal With Samantha Bee premiered in February, Bee told Variety she was "quite puzzled" by the lack of women in late night and that her show would include segments that cover women’s issues, but it wouldn't be the only thing she covered. While Bee entering the world of late night was considered a breath of fresh air, being a woman in late night was also described as being an "uphill battle," according to Verge. As in, Bee being a woman would be a good thing for shaking up late night, but could also be a bad thing for those who were quite happy with the current state of things. More bluntly, Amy Schumer said women had been left out of late night simply because "people hate women." "I'm not saying men hate women," Schumer told The Hollywood Reporter. "People — there's such an aggression toward women."
But that aggression Schumer talked about seemed to work in Bee's favor. She's used her own to take on on topics that her male counterparts may have felt wouldn't work for them. In Bee's first episode, which proved Full Frontal wasn't just good for a woman, it was damn good. Bee took on a Kansas State Senator who had recently tried to enact a dress code that only applied to women, she mocked Marco Rubio's comments about women, and later showed a Werner Herzog-like short film about Jeb Bush's attempt to rally the troops in New Hampshire.
The reason her show stood out wasn't because she was a female, it was that she was trying to do something different. There was no opening monologue. There was no seated chat segments. In fact, there was no sitting — it was just her running through the news, delivering jokes with a fervor that made it clear her style was to go for the jugular. This is something one can rarely say about late night hosts.
That is, unless you forgot about Handler's first foray into late night, her E! talk show Chelsea Lately. As host of that show, which lasted seven years, Handler was never one to deny herself a raunchy joke or ask an inappropriate question to one of her guests. Or, in the case of Justin Bieber, tell him he smells like Doritos or how many lesbians look like him. She was never included in the late night conversation, and maybe that's because her show was a foulmouthed, hot mess of comedy. She didn't stick to the rules of late night (those round table discussions, all that swearing), and, even the traditions she did stick with, she flipped on their head. Her Ed McMahon-like sidekick was Chuy Bravo, a Mexican-American actor named Jesus Malgoza who is 4 feet, 3 inches tall. She didn't care about being a certain kind of host, she was just interested in putting on a good show.
It's why Handler's deal with Netflix is so exciting; it ultimately gives her free reign to do and say what she likes. Throwing out a few Ff-bombs without needing to be bleeped? You bet! Drinking vodka on air? Why not? The streaming network is clearly along for the ride or they wouldn't have offered her a deal two years ago, in which they claimed she would "revolutionize the talk show." And, let's be honest, the world of late night could certainly use a shake up.
Since Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien, James Corden, Seth Meyers, and the Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel, the most earth-shattering development came when last year when Meyers starting doing his stand-up opening monologue sitting down. That was considered sacrilegious since it had been the way it was since the dawn of late night. And, while I'm not saying all the hosts are exactly the same, they are all sticking to a very familiar structure that has been in place since Johnny Carson, who started doing his shows in the '60s. It's Handler and Bee though who are setting a new bar for what late night can be.
Handler and Netflix have yet to announce what time her show will actually be available on the streaming network when it premieres. (She will be doing a Twitter Q&A, which should clear up some unanswered logistics), so, as of right now, it's unclear whether Handler's show is technically a late night one. If anything, though, that seems to support the idea that women are looking to re-evaluate what late night is and take it into a new age. Late night is no longer appointment viewing; you can DVR it or stream it the next day or whatever day you please.
Handler and Bee understand that, and treat their shows, which undoubtedly will be very different, like they are something new and exciting, balking at traditional formats for a style that's more improvised. It's women who are seizing the moment and creating shows that don't fit the late night mold, but break it instead. Hopefully, the networks will keep that in mind when it comes time to hire any new hosts.