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Leno: No joke, late night needs diversity

Jay Leno said Wednesday that late night television is missing something: women and minority hosts.

The former "Tonight" host made the comment in response to a question on CNBC's "Squawk Box" about whether new CBS "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert's push to book business executives on the show could draw audiences.

"I applaud anybody that tries something different in late night TV. It's just another white guy at 11:30. That's not really groundbreaking. It would be interesting to get some minority opinions and some women in there, too," said Leno, who returns to television on Wednesday night with CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage."

Recent turnover in late night's marquee shows has produced little diversity in network television.

NBC replaced Leno with Jimmy Fallon when the host stepped down in 2014 after 22 years. Seth Meyers succeeded Fallon as host of the 12:30 a.m show "Late Night."

CBS put Colbert behind the desk at "Late Night" when David Letterman retired earlier this year. Also this year, it replaced Scottish "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson with English actor and comedian James Corden, both of whom are white.

ABC's late night offering is also hosted by a white male, Jimmy Kimmel.

The exception is Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," which hired South African comedian Trevor Noah to anchor the fake news program after longtime host Jon Stewart left this year. Comedy Central also installed African-American comedian Larry Wilmore in Colbert's 11:30 slot when "The Colbert Report" ended in 2014.

Representatives of NBC and CBS did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Despite drawing attention to the lack of diversity, Leno had kind words for his successor, saying Fallon is probably closer to legendary late night host Johnny Carson than any other television personality.

"He has the boyish thing and he's funny and he can play instruments and he does the musical parodies," Leno said, adding that such assets play well in the age of viral videos and social media.

Programming note: "Jay Leno's Garage" airs on CNBC at 10 p.m. ET, PT Wednesday.

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