The last year has been one of the most challenging years ever for late night television. Still transitioning away from the David Letterman and Jay Leno era and evolving into the digital era where YouTube views count as much as ratings, late night hosts were also given a gift and a curse in the rise of Donald Trump. Trump transformed the late night landscape, elevating a struggling Stephen Colbert ahead of the once unstoppable Jimmy Fallon, whose celebrity games and lip-sync battles suddenly felt frivolous in this cultural climate. Likewise, James Corden — who had found viral fame with his “Carpool Karaoke” series — didn’t seem to be as relevant as before, either.
With Jon Stewart and the The Colbert Report gone, and The Daily Show struggling to connect with older audiences, late night was in sore need of a daily Jon Stewart substitute. It was Colbert’s decision to lean into politics that helped to elevate his show to number one and allow Colbert to reclaim his voice, but Seth Meyers had been there all along. Meyers had found the perfect late night formula for the #resistance era: a monologue that resembled “Weekend Update” (minus the false equivalencies) and “A Closer Look,” a perfect combination of Jon Stewart’s daily take on politics and John Oliver’s lengthier, more substantive issue pieces. All of which makes it that much more of a shame that Late Night With Seth Meyers didn’t receive a nomination in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category (even if the series did get a writing nomination).
Meyers also seemed to do the impossible for viewers feeling morose about Donald Trump’s election victory. He mixed enough comedy with politics to make following the news feel less heartbreaking. He gave us a reason to laugh on days when it didn’t feel like laughter was possible. No matter how bad the news got, we could still tune in to Late Night for a full briefing on the day in politics, a lot of humor, and a sense of comfort, all of it leavened by a disarming, boyish charm and an hilariously awful Trump impression.
For whatever reason, after watching Seth Meyers, it always felt like no matter how bad the news, it was going to be OK. In fact, his reaction to Trump’s election victory was one of his best moments of 2016, as he managed to tap into the heartbreak and somehow lift spirits spirits in an especially dark hour.
But maybe my favorite Late Night segment of 2016-2017 was “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell,” an amazing late night balancing act that allowed Meyers to raise issues about feminism, LGBTQ issues, and race without stepping outside of his lane by handing the punchlines over to a gay woman (Jenny Hagel) and a person of color (Amber Ruffin). It allowed Meyers, in a way, to have his cake and eat it, too. A show hosted by a straight white male could still address delicate issues without getting into hot water on Twitter the next morning. It’s a brilliant segment, and if there were an Emmy for it, Ruffin should win Best Supporting Actress on a Variety Television Show.
It’s for these reasons and more that is simply makes no sense that Seth Meyers would get snubbed by Emmy voters this year of all years. I’m not trying to take anything away from the other nominees (except Bill Maher, who gets rubber stamped on even his worst years), but Meyers has straight-up killed it this year, offering a nightly voice of sanity, comfort, and humor in a year in which those things have been hard to come by.