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.