The presidency of Donald J. Trump and his penchant for using his personal Twitter account has led to a political climate where a 24-hour news cycle is often whittled down to a scant six hours or so. For most of the Emmy-nominated variety talk series that means having to be ready to write a new joke or rip up and rewrite an entire monologue at a moment’s notice. At CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that scenario has become so commonplace executive producer Chris Licht says the show has adjusted its process to it.
“About a year ago when we did the live shows… that was such a really good training exercise for the creative side of the show,” Licht says. “We actually have a term for it. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re in live-show mode.’ It’s happened so much that it has become part of just how we operate. It’s more exhilarating than frustrating.”
Exec producer Rob Crabbe and the “Late Late Show With James Corden” team have the added benefit of taping later at 5 p.m. PT, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the news has stopped cing out ooming Washington, D.C.
“We’ll want to be topical, certainly at the beginning of the monologue,” Crabbe says. “So we’ll have to write new jokes that we never get a chance to rehearse and James is doing it for the first time on air, because some news story broke that we want to be a part of. It happens now certainly way more frequently than it did prior to January of this year.”
Where the time difference helps the “Late Late Show” is when Corden wants to do something above and beyond the monologue. In January, when the administration attempted to put a Muslim travel ban into effect, Corden filmed a segment using his phone as a camera to show how easy it was for him to travel as an immigrant in America.
At the end of July, Corden performed an impromptu musical number to Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” redubbed “L-G-B-T” with new lyrics the same day Trump tweeted that transgender soldiers would be banned from military service. The number involved getting a set built, hiring a choreographer, securing dancers, wardrobe for all involved, polishing the lyrics and rehearsals all within a few hours.
“We were all very pleased with the way that that turned out and the fact that the song and the lyrics themselves, there was a real message to it,” Crabbe says. “It was just insanely fast turnaround, plus we did a show that night. So that was 2½ minutes at the beginning of an hourlong show that we still had to film.”
While nominees such as “The Late Show,” “The Late Late Show” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” have up to five days a week to cover the non-stop news, programs such as HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and “Real Time With Bill Maher,” as well as TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” are taping weekly shows and also rewriting down to the wire.
As “Full Frontal” executive producer Miles Kahn notes, that’s often difficult, especially for a half-hour show whose first act is more intricate than a traditional monologue. As with “The Late Late Show” team, Trump’s transgender tweet was just the latest example of another round of last-minute changes.
“We had to rewrite a lot of stuff really in the last couple hours of the day just to get in the whole business with the transgender military ban that Trump tweeted out, surprising everybody, including the Pentagon,” he says. “That seemed really important and something we wanted to talk about, and we had to process it really, really quickly.”
Unlike many of the other nominees, Bee’s TBS breakout features segments on notable stories that the production has worked weeks or even months investigating. One focus for “Full Frontal” has been the Trump administration’s judicial nominees who are very young, ideologically conservative and will likely be in their positions for some time. It’s a story that Kahn believes is getting lost in traditional news coverage.
“Everybody’s focused, chasing their tail on the Mooch and on health care. These are important things that are really crazy. The Boy Scouts speech is, too,” Kahn says. “But at the same time, we’re like, ‘Oh, guys, there’s something going on in the background. Nominating these judges. You guys should really engage.’”
For any of these programs no matter what the president is talking about, the show is still going to be about what best fits the host’s talents whether that’s Kimmel, Bee, Maher, Oliver, Corden or Colbert.
“There really isn’t a playbook anymore because the world has changed so you really have to go back to just what is the vehicle for this host,” Crabbe says. “I think [our] show has achieved that and as he evolves, the show will evolve.”