The Emmys' Late Night Trump Bump

The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards go live Sunday at 8 p.m. EST. Despite the title and the time slot, this year's edition of TV's salute to itself is shaping up as a decidedly late night affair.  

"Saturday Night Live" arrives with a show-record 22 nominations, largely on the strength of its pre- and post-election resurgence. The "Outstanding Variety Talk Series" category brims with politically fueled late night comedians – among them Emmy host Stephen Colbert, whose "Late Show" surged in the ratings after Nov. 8.

There's little doubt Colbert will spend much of Sunday's show slamming President Trump, whom he declared the "biggest TV star of the year," in a recent interview with Variety.

The comment marked a tacit recognition that Colbert – and the Emmys – stand to benefit from a Trump bump. It also should put to rest any notions of an end to the era of irony in comedy. 

Trump, whose ascendancy was aided by his stint on "The Apprentice," hated the Emmys long before he got into politics. The man who responded to predictions of a presidential loss by preemptively charging the election was "rigged," blamed his "Apprentice" Emmy losses on a “dishonest” Hollywood.

Trump also infamously expressed his displeasure with Alec Baldwin's unflattering imitation of him on “SNL,” a show Trump twice hosted, boosting his profile. “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad,” Trump tweeted less than a month after winning the election.

He's largely laid off the entertainment world since his inauguration, saving his fiercest anti-media fire for so-called fake news – a term until recently used to describe current-events satire productions like the “Weekend Update” segment on “SNL” and "The Daily Show.”

Trevor Noah and Co. didn't get a major category Emmy nomination, but "Daily Show" alumni Samantha Bee and John Oliver notched nods. So did the reliably controversial Bill Maher, who built a career on politically incorrect humor, long before Trump co-opted and twisted the term.

Also missing from the major category nominees is "Last Night" host Seth Meyers, who’s gained notice for hurling barbs at Trump. Some have pointed to Meyers' tag-team skewering of Trump with then-President Obama at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association dinner as the insult that spurred the real estate developer to run for the nation’s highest office. (“Donald Trump often appears on Fox, which is ironic because a fox often appears on Donald Trump's head,” Meyers quipped.)

Meanwhile, Meyers' old TV home, "SNL" scored two early Emmys this week: Dave Chappelle for his searing post-election hosting performance and Melissa McCarthy for her rollicking impression of now-deposed White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

With "SNL" and other late night comic forces expected to collect more trophies during a broadcast hosted by Colbert, it's difficult, at least on the surface, to see how a President who hates “losers” could come out a winner.

But Trump’s proven that he can thrive on negative attention. If there were an award for dominating the popular culture in primetime or anytime, Donald Trump would finally get his Emmy.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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