The Land of Late Night is a new world in 2017, where maybe for the first time in the history of late night television, there is no true king. It’s a new era where there are no real “gets” to be had in the guest game, most celebrities either do all the shows or none of them. This is the wild west now, where press attention the next morning depends mostly on how you handle the daily Trump news. In fact, in 2017, the Trump element is so key to late night, that Trump is an absent co-host, sitting in with almost every late night host on our list.
This year (with a few small exceptions) late-night hosts have barely bothered going for the best comedic take on the news; they seem more interested in delivering political commentary outright. And while the ratings edge, for now, seems to go to whoever is being most political, the interesting question for 2018 will be whether those gains turn out to be something more than short term.
More than ever, we’re interested to see who you tune in to watch before you go to sleep. Scroll down to vote for 2017’s king of late night.
In 2017 Seth Meyers may be the most “woke” person in late night, and how you feel about him may have to do with how you feel about that phrase. Last year we praised Seth for being the only host taking late night serious with biting commentary and strong interviews, but 2017 has seen that smartness slide a bit too far into lecturing, preaching to the choir and repeating simplistic lessons.
2017 was the year that The Tonight Show lost its grip as the ratings frontrunner to Colbert’s more political Late Show, but NBC and Fallon don’t seem even slightly interested in following that path. Fallon fans continue to tune in to the Tonight Show to have fun, and Jimmy is just the gracious host of a big party where everyone (yes even Trump) gets treated politely. He may be the most frivolous of the hosts, but he also is the only one at 11:30 who doesn’t depend on Trump. NBC is betting that Fallon can wait out the temporary ratings cycles and flavors of the month to be the long-term King of Late Night. Fallon has also upped his game this year showcasing upcoming and established stand up comedians, offering more sets to better comics than ever before.
The Late Late Show may have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle this year as the ratings battle between the earlier shows heated up, but Corden has shown that he and his team can develop spin-off shows that can go to prime time- ie Carpool Karaoke and Drop the Mic- which may afford him the luxury of keeping his late night show chill. Closer to Fallon in style than anyone else, Corden has kept his show more about singing, dancing, games, party conversation, and reenactments.
2017 was a transition year for Jimmy Kimmel who found himself more issues-oriented. The catalyst for the change came early in 2017 when Kimmel got emotional on stage sharing the story of the birth of his son, and the health complications that followed. Kimmel became an advocate for healthcare issues and found it suited him. He’s the most “street” of the late nighters, and not afraid to throw some real body blows. Of all the hosts in the game, Kimmel is probably the closest to being done with all this and may already be eyeing retirement a few years down the road. He sees the finish line in a way the others don’t and that affords Kimmel a comfortability that seems to appeal to his guests. That and the fact that he remains the only 11:30 show that Hollywood doesn’t have to take a plane to get to.
Last year we were a bit worried about whether Trevor Noah was going to be able to keep the big chair at Comedy Central’s Daily Show desk but it turns out that we had nothing to worry about. Trevor Noah found his place in the late night universe this year when he and Comedy Central became comfortable with the fact that he’s not Jon Stewart. He stopped chasing Stewart’s fan base- the mainstream Democratic party audience- and instead goes after a younger, more multicultural, more gender balanced, and browner audience. It’s a smaller audience- for now, and the Daily Show doesn’t go viral or make the papers every morning, but maybe that’s just fine with Trevor Noah and Comedy Central, who happily upped Noah’s contract through 2022.
Conan O’Brien has built on his road gig successes of 2016 by continuing to travel. The surge in ratings that follow when Conan takes his circus on the road has turned him into a bit of a traveling salesman. It’s not a mainstream late-night show anymore, the show seems more interested in sweep weeks stunt programming that includes the road shows to Israel, Mexico, ComicCon, New York City, as well as plenty of full cast extravaganzas, but Conan has a loyal core audience who will follow him anywhere he leads.
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight can’t compete with a nightly network show for timeliness, and being on HBO it’s not as an important or influential show as some of the others. Where The Daily Show would parody nightly news broadcasts, Oliver’s LWT is more of a parody of a show like 60 Minutes, with a few topical segments. If you tune in for an episode where you’re very interested in that week’s issue, it’s a great show, but the next week if you aren’t someone who cares about payday loans or student debt, that half hour is blown on you.
Chelsea has the skills she needs, but that just wasn’t enough to make Chelsea’s new Netflix unorthodox late night talk show a success. Her demo did not follow her from cable to the streaming service. For whatever reason, it seems that people still expect their 11:30 viewing to take place at 11:30 and shot a few hours before. Any hopes of being the exciting new show that breaks format were quickly dispelled when Chelsea wasn’t different enough to be a “different” show and it wasn’t new enough to be a new format. But there wasn’t any way to know any of this until someone tried it.
2017 was Samantha Bee’s first full year with TBS and in the current political climate, things are going quite well. Bee has become the pink knitted pussy hat of late-night programming. She is the woman’s march. She’s the resistance against not only Trump but the entire patriarchy and this was absolutely a terrific year to be that person. Her challenge for 2018 will be to see if she can keep the troops amassed. As long as women are angry, Bee will maintain a hold on late night. Of all the hosts, she’s probably benefitted them most from Trump. It remains to be seen if her first two years are a sign of long-term success for Bee.
Colbert has entered his junior year at the Late Show, and 2017 was a year of big change for him. Colbert shed the song and dance man image of his first year, and bought himself a ratings boost with politically targeted commentary. He’s reinvented himself, and arguably late night, but has he transformed himself into a powerful political voice, or is he just a preachy white man speaking against other white men in power? He may be enjoying popularity now, but he’s also on the thinnest ice of all the hosts and most in danger of losing his hold. It may only be a matter of time before America decides they don’t need a powerful white guy to complaining about powerful white guys.
Jim Jefferies is the newest of all the late night hosts. He’s also the funniest, and his show, The Jim Jefferies Show, is the only politically leaning late-night series who puts comedy first. Jefferies always goes for the joke, and that’s what keeps his show so fresh and entertaining to tune in to each week. The fact that he’s Australian gives him the outsiders edge to American politics, and that’s absolutely working to his advantage, but he consistently remembers that he got his gig because he’s a comedian, and while being too preachy can drag a show down, being funny about politics will never get old.