How Trump Shook Up the Emmys Late-Night Competition
Jimmy Fallon is out, Samantha Bee is in, and ‘Saturday Night Live’ is poised to win big.
The 2017 Emmy Award nominations were announced Thursday morning and there was one name conspicuously missing from the list of nominees in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category: Jimmy Fallon.
It’s an award that Fallon has never won, but had at least been nominated for the past six years in a row: first for Late Night from 2011-2013 and then for The Tonight Show the last three years.
Now, as the number of late-night talk shows on the air continues to expand, he failed to make the cut in favor of more overtly political shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and his biggest ratings rival The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, both of which scored their first nominations this year after being snubbed for their inaugural seasons last year. Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, James Corden and Bill Maher — who was apparently not hurt by his “n-word” controversy — rounded out the category.
And if there is one person both Bee and Colbert can thank for their inclusion (and Fallon can thank for his exclusion), it is none other than President Donald Trump. Not only has Trump helped shows like Full Frontal and The Late Show rise to the forefront of the cultural conversation, but he also dealt Fallon his biggest setback ever when he appeared on The Tonight Show last September.
Fallon received near-instant backlash when he got the opportunity to host then-candidate Trump on his show just two months before the election and failed on every measure to hold him accountable — as symbolized by the playful hair tousle seen around the world. Ever since, he has struggled to figure out how to effectively respond to the Trump presidency, from flaccid parodies of his speeches to the slightly edgier material he tried to bust out just a couple of months ago.
But none of those jokes can compete with the type of truly biting commentary Samantha Bee is delivering week after week and Stephen Colbert is putting out night after night. Through her still-too-rare female-fronted show, Bee has managed to give voice to the #resistance in a way no other host could. And Colbert has emerged from the #FireColbert uproar stronger than ever, finally finding his new voice in opposition to Trump.
Not only did those hosts’ shows make the main event, but they also received love for their respective specials that capitalized on America’s current political obsessions. Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will compete with Colbert’s Live Election Night Democracy's Series Finale: Who's Going To Clean Up This Sh*t? in the Variety Special category against stand-up specials from Louis C.K. and Sarah Silverman, along with Corden’s Carpool Karaoke primetime event.
The anti-Trump fever was not enough to get either The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah or Late Night’s Seth Meyers into the running for this year’s awards — though Meyers’ writing staff did get a nod in a separate category. It may, however, give Saturday Night Live its first major Emmy win in more than two decades.
Thanks to Trump — and, perhaps more importantly, Alec Baldwin — SNL enjoyed its highest ratings this season since 1993. That also happens to be the last year the show won in what was once called the Outstanding Variety Series category at the Emmys. Three years ago, the Television Academy split that category into two, separating “Variety Talk” shows from “Variety Sketch” shows.
That move should have helped SNL, which spent much of the past 20 years losing to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. But instead, SNL continued to lose in the sketch category to newer upstarts like Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele. This year, those shows are off the table, leaving SNL in a great position to prevail over sketch shows like Drunk History, Portlandia and Documentary Now!
In fact, SNL is coming into this year’s awards so hot that it is tied for the most nominations at 22 with HBO’s Westworld. Joining last year’s winner Kate McKinnon in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category are castmates Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer, who left the show this spring after seven seasons. Though he’s not an actual member of the cast, Baldwin nonetheless scored a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
On top of that, a whopping five SNL hosts were nominated in the Guest Actor and Actress categories: Tom Hanks, Dave Chappelle, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kristen Wiig and the season’s biggest standout, Melissa McCarthy, who is practically guaranteed a win for her portrayal of Sean Spicer.
As for who will take home the Variety Talk Series trophy, it could go a number of different ways. Perhaps John Oliver will win his second consecutive award for Last Week Tonight’s “Stupid Watergate” coverage. Maybe the Television Academy will reward its 2017 host Stephen Colbert for finally overtaking Fallon in the ratings race. Or they could think way outside the box and decide to give the award to Samantha Bee, who would be the first female victor since Tracey Ullman won 20 years ago.
But don’t count out Jimmy Kimmel either. His ABC show has been nominated every year for the past six and has never won. And unlike the most outwardly Trump-bashing hosts in this category, Kimmel may end up having the biggest political impact of all with his emotional, personal plea to keep the Affordable Care Act intact following his infant son’s near-death experience.
If the Television Academy wants to reward the host who actually changed the most minds this past year, they need to look no further than Jimmy Kimmel.