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The show began with a cold open in which Colbert was shown making the Emmy statuettes when he was interrupted by Anthony Anderson and Allison Janney. Anderson said he was glad that Colbert was selected as the “white guy they have hosting this year’s Emmys,” while Janney bemoaned the state of the world, but Colbert insisted that TV has never been better, launching into a song about how “everything is better on TV.”
In his musical number, Colbert proclaimed, “Troubles aren’t so troubling when you see them in HD. The world’s a little better on TV,” as he danced through the sets of Archer, This Is Us (dispensing Kleenex), Stranger Things (“much less strange than our reality”), Veep (“imagine if your president was not beloved by Nazis”) and The Americans, with Colbert singing about how the FX show’s stars were “hotter” Russian spies.
“Even treason’s better on TV,” Colbert, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys sang.
The bit also featured Colbert sharing his HBO Go password (“Sexbot123“) and ended with him being joined by dancing handmaids, at least two of whom were men, with the host singing about how at least the Hulu show’s characters’ healthcare is free. The stuffed-with-references musical number and monologue also featured cameo appearances from Chance the Rapper, Billy Eichner, Seth Meyers and Sean Spicer. (Just because Spicer showed up didn’t mean he avoided Colbert’s mockery. Later, after returning from a commercial break, Colbert joked that the Emmy-nominated Bernie Madoff TV movie Wizard of Lies was “the Sean Spicer story.”)
Colbert then launched into a monologue in which he poked fun at the nominated shows, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, the recent HBO hack (“too soon?”), Ted Cruz, Millie Bobby Brown, Bill Maher (“I assume he’s black since he’s so comfortable using the n-word”), Joe Arpaio (“host of next year’s Latin Grammys”) and, of course, Trump, whom Colbert said seems to have a lot of time for TV. He thanked the president for watching and said he was looking forward to the tweets.
Roughly 30 minutes later, Colbert delivered another memorable moment when he revealed the nudity-filled pretaped bit he had hinted at in TV appearances leading up to Sunday’s show. As Colbert was introducing a pair of award presenters he began malfunctioning. With that he was dragged offstage and taken to a Westworld diagnostics facility, in which Colbert was suddenly naked, except for his bowtie, and seated in front of Jeffrey Wright’s character, Bernard Lowe, from the HBO show.
Bernard took the robot version of Colbert through a few awards-show standards, including a generic acceptance speech, gracious loser face and afterparty mood before engaging “tuxedo protocol,” after which Colbert was allowed to leave. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Tituss Burgess also appeared in the sketch, claiming he too was a robot.
The host teased on CBS’ The Talk on Friday that he had an opening musical number planned and some surprise guests. On both The Talk and CBS This Morning, Colbert hinted that he’d also pretaped a bit in which he was naked and was still trying to figure out how much of his body CBS would allow to be displayed on primetime TV. According to what aired, Colbert could show his whole rear end as long as he didn’t show the crack.
Colbert later aired a pretaped interview with the Emmy statuette, represented by RuPaul.
Colbert was nominated for two Emmys being handed out Sunday night but lost both of them to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. After Oliver won best variety talk series, Colbert and fellow 5-shows-a-week late-night host Jimmy Kimmel returned drinking “dry, British” cocktails they said were called, “Last Week Tonight.” “Apparently they’re so high quality they can only make one a week,” Colbert said.
Colbert had indicated in pre-Emmys interviews that Trump would be a major focus of his remarks as Emmys host, calling the president the biggest TV star of the 2016-17 season.
This is the first major awards show that Colbert has hosted, but he’s won multiple Emmys in the past and delivered memorable awards show moments at numerous ceremonies over the years, often appearing with friend and frequent collaborator Jon Stewart.
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