×

Emmys 2018: Late Night and Sketch Series Offer More Variety (Column)

With more news to cover than ever, TV’s late-night talk and variety shows have had their work cut out for them. Luckily — if a bit overwhelming — for us, there are also more talk and variety shows on the air than ever to help us parse through it all. In fact, some of the year’s most poignant news coverage came from usually comedic shows, from Jimmy Kimmel’s earnest Obamacare monologues to John Oliver’s deep dives into decidedly unsexy topics including crisis pregnancy centers and Joe Arpaio’s horrific human-rights record.

Even when not making direct eye contact with the camera to plead some joke-free case, however, late-night hosts have found their own way of dealing with the onslaught of news. On CBS, “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” runs on a steady diet of fuming incredulity, while “The Late Late Show With James Corden” opts for explosions of giddy pageantry. “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” hasn’t managed to sidestep politics nearly as much as its host likes to, but frankly, mixing up its usual parlor-game parade with more than a passing acknowledgement of the headlines hasn’t hurt its quality — even if the shift does, admittedly, coincide with its falling ratings.

Meanwhile, Trevor Noah has comfortably settled into his spot behind “The Daily Show” desk, churning out segments that, if not always breathtaking, are reliably solid. “The Chris Gethard Show” (TruTV), “Desus and Mero” (Viceland), and “The Rundown With Robin Thede” (BET) are trying to do something, anything different with the late-night format, to wonderfully bizarre effect.

One of the biggest Emmy question marks at this point likely belongs to “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” which stumbled into controversy right before voting opened up when Bee called Ivanka Trump a name that set off an uproar. But Bee has otherwise been doing exactly the incisive job that got her show a nomination last year, and it would be a shame if this uncharacteristic lack of foresight knocked “Full Frontal” out of contention completely. (It would also be a little eyebrow-raising, given that HBO’s perennial lock “Real Time With Bill Maher” got a nomination shortly after its host dropped another unprintable word.)

When all’s said and done, though, the one late-night show that feels primed for a first nomination in this category is “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” which has had a stellar year fueled by meticulous news coverage and a generous, inclusive spirit. Meyers’ signature Closer Look segments have found their groove, and the singular Jokes Seth Can’t Tell bit — starring “Late Night” writers Jenny Hagel and Amber Ruffin — show the host’s willingness to hand over the mic to let someone who might be more in on the joke to better land a punchline.

“Late-night hosts have found their own way of dealing with the onslaught of news.”

If the talk category feels pretty locked in, the variety categories have a little more room for, truly no pun intended, variation. Sure, “Saturday Night Live” is a shoo-in for sketch despite having a relatively lackluster year (Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump impression feels as if it’s about ready to check into intensive care), and “Portlandia” will likely get a final nom before it’s over for good.

Drunk History” is in solid shape, especially with this season’s premiere turn from star Tiffany Haddish. And to bring things full circle, Comedy Central’s been pushing its Trump-skewering “President Show” hard enough that Anthony Atamanuik’s uncanny impression might have wormed its way into people’s hearts before Trump fatigue set in.

But hopefully there will be room for something like “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” TruTV’s new sketch show that lets Sedaris act as the hostess of her own demented DIY show. The show’s rotating cast of characters — including Nick Kroll, Cole Escola, Michael Shannon, and even her longtime collaborator Colbert — keeps it fresh, but it’s Sedaris who gets to show off what has made her one of comedy’s sharpest and weirdest acts. “At Home” lets her be exactly as specific and bizarre as she wants to be, and if that’s not what peak TV is good for, what is?

More TV

  • Who Died in 'Grey's Anatomy' Season

    How 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Station 19' Approached Its Crossover Death Count

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the “Station 19″/”Grey’s Anatomy” crossover that aired Jan. 23. “Station 19” and “Grey’s Anatomy” kicked off the start of their official combined universe with a two-hour block that began with the third season premiere of the former Shondaland series. In the episode entitled “I [...]

  • An IPad is used instead of

    Following Outrage, Discovery Networks Backs Down on Composer Ultimatum

    Discovery Networks, which last month unveiled a new business model that would have all but assured series composers a drastic income drop, has scuttled that plan in response to outrage expressed by the media music community. This means that the shows on Discovery, Animal Planet, HGTV, Food Network and other Discovery-owned platforms, will continue to [...]

  • THE GOOD PLACE -- "Patty" Episode

    'The Good Place' Boss on Reaching the Titular Location, Finding It's a 'Bummer'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Patty,” the penultimate episode of “The Good Place.” The titular good place on Mike Schur’s philosophical comedy “The Good Place” isn’t a literal place at all but instead a state of mind. Sure, after four seasons (50 episodes) the characters on the show did [...]

  • obi wan ewan mcgregor

    Obi-Wan Kenobi Series at Disney Plus Loses Writer, Seeks to Overhaul Scripts

    Pre-production on the Obi-Wan Kenobi-focused TV series in the works at Disney Plus has been put on hold as the streamer and Lucasfilm look to overhaul early scripts and find new writers, sources tell Variety. Hossein Amini had been attached to write. The news follows recent talk that the entire series was being scrapped altogether. [...]

  • Zion Williamson

    Zion Williamson's Pelicans Debut Is a Ratings Slam Dunk

    With ratings in a slump so far this season, the NBA has needed someone to come off the bench and ball out. Cue the New Orleans Pelicans debut of Zion Williamson. The much-heralded number 1 pick from the 2019 draft had sat out the first 44 games of the Pelicans’ season with a knee injury, [...]

  • RuPauls Drag Race

    TV News Roundup: VH1 Announces 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Season 12 Contestants

    In today’s TV news roundup, VH1 revealed the contestants for the upcoming season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the Oprah Winfrey Network renewed several of its unscripted series. CASTING VH1 revealed the 13 queens that will be competing on the 12th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” are Aidenn Zhane, Bria, Crystal Methyd, Dahlia Sin, Gigi [...]

  • Outmatched

    'Outmatched' With Jason Biggs and Maggie Lawson: TV Review

    The latest variation on network sitcoms’ beloved “a family, but with [x complication],” Fox’s “Outmatched” flips the usual parent-child dynamic on its head by following an Atlantic City family, including three bonafide genius kids who are too smart for their bewildered parents to understand. Each time one of their children tests off the charts, Mike [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content