Instep Today

Lilly Singh: From YouTube superwoman to NBC late night TV trailblazer

Instep Today
By Natalie Jarvey
Fri, 08, 19

An online star with 15 million subscribers dives into the white-hot centre (emphasis on white) of broadcast television with A Little Late as the first significant woman of colour to sit in a talk show host’s chair.

When Lilly Singh runs a pitch meeting, she comes bearing gifts. “Live your best life in the office — you don’t have to wear shoes!” she announces to the writers she’s assembled on this scorching August afternoon in a drab conference room off Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, where they’ll be discussing ideas for her new NBC late night show, A Little Late, which premieres Sept. 16. She proceeds to toss out pairs of fluffy white unicorn slippers.

Singh is not only one of the few females to brave broadcast TV’s late night airwaves since Joan Rivers famously flamed out on Fox more than 30 years ago, she’s also the first openly bisexual woman of color to sit in a host’s chair. Perhaps as significantly, she’s the first internet-bred star in broadcast late night, too.

While her name and face might not be familiar to the traditionally older demographic that tunes in to late night, Singh, 30, is hardly new to the post-broadcast generation of viewers who wouldn’t know a Jimmy from a Seth or a Stephen, let alone a Carson (of Last Call With Carson Daly, whose NBC time slot she’s taking over). For the past nine years, she’s been building her own uniquely personal, extraordinarily successful brand on YouTube, where nearly 15 million fans know her as Superwoman (the name of her channel) and consider her something between a star and a best friend.

Last summer, executives at NBC put out a call for talent, and John Irwin, who has been producing specials for NBC since working on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in the 1990s, suggested they take a look at Singh; he’d been impressed by her ability to switch between wacky sketches and serious interviews with the likes of Obama, Bill Gates and Charlize Theron. “That’s the hardest part of the job, being able to sit down with a guest and make it feel natural and comfortable,” said Irwin.

From NBC’s point of view, hiring someone with Singh’s digital savvy made sense; not only could she bring a much-needed dose of diversity to the heavily white, entirely male broadcast late night landscape, she also could potentially connect with young audiences that increasingly are abandoning broadcast for YouTube and Netflix. Besides, much of the battle over late night dominance has shifted from morning-after Nielsen ratings to share of the next day’s social media buzz. Who better to create sketches that go viral than a star who grew up on the internet?

In the end, her negotiations with NBC boiled down to her desire to give late night her all while also continuing to make videos for YouTube and pursue other off-network opportunities. NBC ultimately agreed to retain only talk-show exclusivity and to let her block-shoot the 96-episode first season during the fall, which would free her to focus on other projects the rest of the year. Singh’s personal YouTube presence, meanwhile, is seen by the network as a valuable marketing tool to help build an audience for A Little Late. “I didn’t want to sign up for it and then be like, ‘I can only make a little time for it,’ “ she said, adding, “I’m very much all or nothing.” So she went all in.

– Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter