By Lynn Elber Associated Press
Tavis Smiley, who has brought rare diversity to late-night TV for a decade on PBS, will add another two years to his run.
The “Tavis Smiley” show has been renewed through 2015, PBS said Thursday.
“The highlight for me is surviving,” Smiley said, noting the growing competitiveness in the late-night talk show realm.
He said he’s unfazed by the coming shake-up that will see Jay Leno step down (again) as host of NBC’s “Tonight,” with the venerable show heading east as Jimmy Fallon takes over in February.
“For us, it’s the same old, same old — another white guy joins the line up,” Smiley said. “In some ways, it might benefit us because ‘Tonight’ is moving to New York. So that’s one less option that guests in LA have to be booked on.
“I love Jay, but I was teasing him the other day that we actually benefit by him going off the air,” Smiley said.
He’s not alone in breaking up the largely white men’s club in late night, with Arsenio Hall’s return this fall in syndication.
Hall already made a dent with his 1989-94 series, but Smiley’s 10-year-old program makes him the minority host with the most staying power.
Smiley is proud of the perspective he brings as an African-American. But it’s his mix of guests, which goes beyond ethnic diversity, that he believes have contributed to his longevity.
“What’s made our show work is that it’s hybrid: We’re both entertainment and information,” he said. His guests have ranged from celebrities including Tom Cruise and Mary J. Blige to Hillary Clinton and others in politics and public affairs.
And everyone gets their say on “Tavis Smiley,” he noted, including the musicians who typically play and leave on other shows.
He also welcomes veteran stars, who he considers “the best storytellers ever,” despite TV’s preference for younger performers and viewers.
Beth Hoppe, PBS’s chief programmer and general manager, called Smiley’s show an “important asset” for public TV. He also has produced “Tavis Smiley Reports” specials for PBS.
“Tavis and his colleagues produce shows that bring an intellectual richness to our audience with its mix of news and entertainment,” Hoppe said.
Wal-Mart, which has funded the show since its start, will continue to support it, PBS said.
Among those who top his wish list of guests are Barbra Streisand, whom he’s interviewed on radio but not TV; Diana Ross, and a certain media magnate.
“Trust me, I’ve got some things to ask Rupert Murdoch,” Smiley said, sounding delighted at the prospect.
He doesn’t shrink from controversy. Smiley has drawn the ire of conservatives and, because of his insistent criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies, that of some liberals and African-Americans.
Smiley, who is writing a book about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also is heard on public radio’s “The Tavis Smiley Show” and “Smiley &West,” the latter a forum for commentary he shares with scholar and activist Cornel West.