Emmys: Late Night Shows' New Issue Is "Trump Fatigue"
"I don't think there was any way to prepare for this," says Seth Meyers as hosts and writers struggle with the president's 24/7 news cycle.
"I never imagined it would be like this," laments Chris Licht, executive producer of CBS' The Late Show. "My training on CBS This Morning has helped, but I thought my days of urgently changing content were over."
He's hardly the only one having trouble keeping up with the headlines these days. The fact is, the producing and writing staffs at pretty much every late-night talk show haven't had a normal week since Trump took office in January. If the president has been a boon to late-night comedy — and clearly he has, particularly for Stephen Colbert and The Late Show, which, since the election, has overtaken Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show to become No. 1 in the time slot (though Fallon still owns the 18-to-49 demo) — Trump also has taken a wrecking ball to writers rooms, where late-night producers and correspondents have been pulling their hair out trying to stay on top of late-breaking political news.
"I don't think there was any way to prepare for this," says Seth Meyers of the accelerated news cycle. Indeed, the NBC Late Night host has been completely transparent about his staff's struggle to stay on top of current events; he literally shredded the script for the Feb. 16 show on the air after Trump's first news conference as the president blew up plans for a sketch about rowdy town halls. "If we had gone out and talked about town halls that day, it would have felt like a 1997 US Weekly in a dentist's office," explains Meyers. "It just would not have felt like today's news." That same news conference, incidentally — a 77-minute monologue packed with headlines — also threw Trevor Noah for a loop at Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Noah told his audience that he had a very nice show planned until "Hurricane Trump happened. Again."
And it's not just the weeknight programs that are suffering from Trump Fatigue Syndrome. An examination of the TSA got cut short on the May 21 episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight because of breaking news on the Trump-Russia scandal (or what host John Oliver refers to as "Stupid Watergate"), while more than a few segments of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee have ended up on the show's website instead of on the air after getting bumped because of fast-breaking Trump news. "This is our new reality," says Full Frontal writer and correspondent Ashley Nicole Black.
Alas, keeping up with the headlines is only part of that new reality. Staying out of them is another challenge (like when Jimmy Kimmel gave his tearful monologue about health care or when Colbert caused a stink when he called Trump "Putin's cock holster"). Drowning a show in too much Trump is yet another danger. "Trump is unavoidable," complains Rob Crabbe, executive producer of James Corden's Late Late Show. "In our monologue, we address the news cycle, so he'll always be a part of that. But we also have a host that has a lot of different muscles that need to get stretched."
Jo Miller, showrunner and executive producer of TBS' Full Frontal, agrees. "Most stories we want to cover have to do with Trump and his administration, so he has sort of become unavoidable," she says. "We can't ignore him, nor should we. But I do wish he weren't taking up all the air in the room."