Late-Night TV Highlights in 2017: Trump, Russia, Weinstein and More

Posted December 27, 2017 6:23 p.m. EST

In the first year of President Donald Trump’s administration, the role of late-night TV comedians has changed dramatically — perhaps permanently. It’s almost impossible to watch even five minutes of a show nowadays without some mention of politics.

Since February, I’ve written “Best of Late Night,” a daily column highlighting standout moments from the weeknight talk shows. In a year defined by Trump’s unorthodox presidency, each host has seemed to build a personal approach to handling him.

On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert, no stranger to political satire, has tended to focus on the Russia scandal, even taping a week of shows in Russia last summer. Jimmy Kimmel, once a rather apolitical figure, cloaked himself in activist garb, pushing for — and against — legislation in a way that forebears like Johnny Carson and Jay Leno wouldn’t have imagined. Even Jimmy Fallon, whose stage persona remains sunny and easygoing, often takes on politics, mostly by emphasizing the silliness — not the severity — of what unfolds in Washington.

“Ivanka Trump met with Republican senators today to talk about paid family leave. The senators were like: ‘We’ll totally pay for your family to leave! How much you want? We’re in.'” — Fallon

The hosts didn’t abandon broader cultural concerns, either, confronting topics like the airline industry and the #metoo movement. Here’s your year-end “Best of Late Night,” with some of the funniest quips and most memorable moments.

Colbert and Russia

Colbert has tracked the Russia investigation more assiduously than any other host. When the fired FBI director James Comey testified before Congress in June, Colbert gleefully pointed out that Comey had taken close notes on his conversations with Trump, for fear that the president might mischaracterize what had been said.

“He thought Trump might lie? That’s that razor-sharp FBI instinct in action right there. ‘Look, fellas, I don’t want to get out over my skis here, but I think this dead body might not be alive!'” — Colbert

“Comey wrote everything down, and all his memos are going to be collected in a new children’s book, ‘James and the Guilty Orange.'” — Colbert

Trump’s Attacks on the Media

Trump stayed rather quiet on the topic of late-night shows, even as he became their idée fixe. But he couldn’t help attacking Colbert in May. Colbert, whose ratings ticked up when he started consistently taking on Trump about a year ago, welcomed the feud.

“Mr. Trump, there’s a lot you don’t understand, but I never thought one of those things would be show business. Don’t you know I’ve been trying for a year to get you to say my name? ‘Oh, please, don’t make me trend on Twitter again! Don’t throw me in that #briarpatch!'” — Colbert

Trump has been less restrained about criticizing journalists, and late-night hosts often used their soapbox to push back against his jabs at the news media’s credibility.

“Sen. John McCain criticized President Trump’s attack on the media yesterday and said that stifling the press is how dictators get started. Said Trump: ‘Cool, and then what do they do next?’ (holds up imaginary notepad).” — Seth Meyers

“Trump said it’s disgusting that the press is allowed to write whatever it wants to write. When asked about the First Amendment, he said, ‘Is that the one that says not to talk about ‘Fight Club’?” — Fallon

“During Trump’s rant about the media, he said, ‘What could be more fake than CBS and NBC and ABC and CNN?’ I mean, yeah, what could be more fake? I mean, just off the top of my head, Donald Trump’s approval rating, his inauguration size, his concern for Puerto Rico, his concern for immigrants, his concern for hurricane victims, his golf handicap, his high IQ, his tan, his hair, his saying that no one respects women more than him, and Fox News.” — James Corden

On “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah expressed dismay that Trump’s incendiary words still prove influential.

“There’s a large part of the population — you may know them as Republicans — who believe that Donald Trump is far more credible than most news outlets. So if Trump says millions of illegals voted in the election, they believe it. If Trump says Obama wiretapped him, they believe that, too. If Trump says ‘covfefe,’ look, they don’t know what it means, but (expletive), they believe it.” — Noah

Samantha Bee on Pruitt, Weinstein and More

Bee’s “Full Frontal” airs once a week, on Wednesdays, giving her time to prepare more in-depth pieces. In October, she presented an examination of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator and a longtime foe of environmental regulation.

“Putting Pruitt in charge of the EPA was like putting the fox in the henhouse. I’m sorry — for future viewers, foxes and hens were two animals that lived on earth before climate change rendered them extinct.” — Bee

Bee also kept up a line of attack against accused sexual harassers and abusers. Many male late-night hosts seemed a bit flat-footed as the #metoo movement gathered steam, but Bee took on Harvey Weinstein ferociously, and never let up.

“When the scandal broke, Weinstein made an apologylike statement in The New York Post, saying, ‘I have got to change, I’ve got to grow.’ ‘I know a lot of people would like me to go into a facility.’ Oh my God, I’m so behind in the slang. Is a facility what people call hell?” — Bee

By late November, when Charlie Rose was fired by CBS, Bee’s counterparts were reacting more swiftly.

“What is it with the robes? First Cosby, then Weinstein, now Charlie Rose. Who’s next, Yoda? ‘Hmm, tense you seem. Shoulders I will rub. Reported to HR I am.'” — Colbert

Kimmel’s Activism

No host is more emblematic of late-night TV’s evolution over the past year than Kimmel. A former host of “The Man Show” and an exponent of tawdry humor, he once seemed unlikely to become a liberal darling. But since May — when he revealed that his newborn son suffered from a heart condition and urged Congress to protect the health care law — his diatribes on topics from health care bills to gun control have provided some of late night’s most-discussed moments.

A ‘United’ Opposition to the Airline Industry

There have been plenty of nonpolitical heels for hosts to snipe at this year, too. The airline industry came in for a drubbing, especially after passengers were involuntarily removed from United and Delta flights in the spring.

“A restaurant opened in London today specializing in airline-style food. And if you like your steak a little bloody, order it ‘United.'” — Meyers

“There are some new airport security measures starting this week, and airlines can conduct short interviews with passengers. Most airlines will ask the purpose of your trip, while Spirit Airlines will ask if you know how to land a plane.” — Fallon