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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
CNN Special Report: Late-Night In The Age Of Trump. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 21, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:24] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN special report.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON: --because I'm coming in hot. This is going to be a crazy one.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Every day there's something nuts.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: If you're not the POTUS, you're the bloatus (ph).
SETH MEYERS, HOST, THE LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: Wait, how long does this wall have to be?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: He's the most mocked man in America.
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH: That is the problem with the media.
STELTER: Monopolizing late-night.
MEYERS: It's hard not to feel like you're being redundant.
FALLON: Kim Jong-un as rocket man.
KIMMEL: Kim Jong-un, rocket man.
JAMES CORDEN, HOST, THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN: Kim Jong-un as rocket man.
STELTER: Dominating "SNL".
ALEC BALDWIN, DONALD TRUMP IMPERSONATOR: Such a nasty group.
BILL CARTER, AUTHOR, THE LATE SHIFT: He's like a mine producing raw material.
STELTER: He's blowing up scripts.
BALDWIN: That's a really great joke.
STEVE BODOW, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH: The pace of the news. NOAH: Stop it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So much faster.
BALDWIN: Me first.
STELTER: Making and breaking careers.
ANTHONY ATAMANUIK, DONALD TRUMP IMPERSONATOR: It's like a little kind of Churchill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me.
STELTER (on camera): Would you say you're on a mission to take him down?
CHELSEA HANDLER, HOST, CHELSEA: I would like to see him brought down to the ground, preferably in handcuffs.
JOHN OLIVER, HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: You're turning into a real -- dictator.
STELTER (voice-over): Has late-night gone too far?
JOE PISCOPO, RONALD REAGAN IMPERSONATOR: -- disrespectful of the office of the presidency? I think so.
STELTER: Tonight, "Late-Night in the Age of Trump."
November 8th, 2016.
COLBERT: Thank you.
STELTER: "The Late Show's" Stephen Colbert was hosting a live election night special, a seemingly dream gig for the comedian who believed he'd be documenting history, the dawning of a Hillary Clinton presidency. He began the show upbeat.
COLBERT: You don't need to chant my name. America doesn't have dictators, yet.
CARTER: Here you have a guy, a host ready to tell a certain number of jokes that he expects are going to come out in the way he wants, and instead, the show starts to turn.
STELTER: Bill Carter is the author of, "The War For Late Night".
CARTER: So he's like in between. He doesn't know which way to go.
COLBERT: When Trump wins a state, it will turn bright orange.
STELTER: Colbert tried to keep the jokes coming as the race got closer and closer.
COLBERT: This one is a nail biter and a passport grabber.
STELTER: Then political experts gave Colbert some shocking news, Trump had taken the lead, winning two key states.
CARTER: The momentum shifts and his energy level drops. All the things about a woman being president, which was probably the theme of the night, has to be rejected and something else on the fly put in.
CARTER: Would you care for a cocktail?
GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO, CULTURE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: By the time that whisky ended up on his desk.
COLBERT: Here's to democracy.
RUSSONELLO: You knew that things were off the rails.
STELTER: Giovanni Russonello is a culture reporter for "The New York Times".
RUSSONELLO: I think he was just so incredibly unprepared to greet a Donald Trump presidency.
STELTER (on camera): At some point it stopped being funny for him.
RUSSONELLO: It did stop being funny.
STELTER (voice-over): And got down right uncomfortable when Trump went from underdog to frontrunner.
COLBERT: Donald Trump has taken state of Florida, that's a horrifying prospect. I can't put happy face on that. And that's my job.
CARTER: All of his emotions were on display and it made for incredibly arresting television, but in someway disturbing. You're watching a guy have his hopes drain out of them right on the air. I've never seen anything like that before.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sorry to keep you waiting, complicated business.
STELTER: When it was all over and the results were in, Colbert, shell shocked, left the audience with some dark final thoughts.
COLBERT: So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it's because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison.
CARTER: I think there was some sort of psychological change that came over Colbert.
COLBERT: We as a nation agree that we should never ever have another election like this one. Do you agree?
CARTER: He became a different host after that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert.
STELTER: Colbert harsh attacks on Trump galvanize viewers, catapulting him and "The Late Show" to its biggest ratings victory in two decades.
COLBERT: Welcome to "The Late Show". I'm your host, Stephen Colbert.
RUSSONELLO: It took him months maybe about a year before he found his traction. And the question was when he ditches the conservative pundit persona that he used throughout the Colbert report. Is he going to be able to consistently amuse people and be outrageous?
[21:05:09] COLBERT: You, Donald Trump, are a horrible, horrible human being.
STELTER: By February, Colbert edge out longtime rivalry Jimmy Fallon when he ripped apart Trump's first solo press conference.
TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess.
COLBERT: No, you inherited a fortune. We elected a mess.
STELTER: Colbert never let up, growing more vocal and more vicious as time passed.
COLBERT: I have the constitutional right to say that Donald Trump looks like a rotting haystack made of meat.
STELTER: Trump gave new life to all the late-night hosts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a human what is wrong with this picture?
CARTER: Trump keeps creating the material. He's like a mine producing raw material.
NOAH: He's going to look them in the camera and say, ISIS, stop it.
STELTER (on camera): Have you ever seen anything like this in another presidency?
CARTER: There's never been anything like this in a presidency. And now we've never had this many late-night people before, so we've never had teams of 10 or 12 comedy writers all writing jokes about the same guy all the time.
KIMMEL: We went into a weekend worrying about Kim Jong-un starting a war. We came out of it wondering if our president is cutting eye holes out of his bedsheets.
STELTER: How many late-night host are member of the resistance?
CARTER: Well, it's at least two more overtly. Colbert and Seth Meyers are, to me, they're like the voices of the resistance. Basically their whole shows are about Trump.
MEYERS: I boldly said on this show, it was a stunt and we would never really run.
STELTER: Seth Meyers was equally stunned on election night. He offered a mea culpa on "Late Night" the next day. MEYERS: Based on this pattern of me being wrong on every one of my Donald Trump prediction, he's probably going to be a great -- president.
STELTER: Then he gave the new president a warning.
MEYERS: We here at late-night will be watching you.
STELTER: Meyers kept that promised. Brutally dissecting Trump's every move in his signature "A Closer Look" segment.
(on camera): Would you call what you're doing now investigative comedy?
MEYERS: We do try to bring out information that you couldn't get out in a monologue joke, so we try to do a longer piece where we can sort of have a little bit more freedom to explain the story.
Trump is so fully out of his mind. He broke a general. That guy's been in wars.
STELTER: It might be my explanatory journalism sometimes?
MEYERS: Sure, I think we try very hard, explanatory comedy. Again, I'm always --
STELTER: You're afraid of j word, aren't you?
MEYERS: Well, I fell like -- it's doing a disservice to people actually practice journalism to say that I'm doing it as well. I like doing comedy the most. So, that's what I'd like to stick with.
STELTER (voice-over): But experts say that in the era of Trump viewers depend on comedians like Meyers to make sense of the constant cycle of news.
MEYERS: It's time for breaking crazy.
RUSSONELLO: He's going as in-depth as he can. The line between late- night comedy and news reporting is so thoroughly blurred. People want to kind of a frontline style late-night show.
OLIVER: 2016 has been an uncommonly -- year.
STELTER: What viewers want, they get, and plenty of it. Coming up "The Daily Show" descendant.
OLIVER: You were telling the president about Putin, go.
RUSSONELLO: You really see Jon Stewart version of late-night, it was really pushed along by the Donald Trump presidency.
NOAH: American legion Trump, respectful and strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to get going, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to go.
STELTER: And later, the ever expanding late-night landscape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are the president of the United States. Let's go.
[21:12:05] STELTER: January 10th, 2017.
MEYERS: We have a lot of people who are sort of tasked with watching things as they happen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York --
STELTER: One hour before Seth Meyers taped late-night, there was big breaking news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.
STELTER: That night, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's incoming White House counselor was scheduled to appear on his show.
MEYERS: I had the CNN printout of that story. I made sure I understood the details of it because obviously it wasn't my expertise.
STELTER: He started things out light.
MEYERS: He is my president.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Good for you.
MEYERS: And he's my president so much it's keeping me up at night.
STELTER: Then he got serious, probing Conway about the big news of the day.
MEYERS: I believe it said they did brief him on it.
CONWAY: He has said that he is not aware of that.
MEYERS: OK, that concerns me.
CARTER: He was incredibly prepared. Unlike even some news people interviewing her, he would not let her get away with anything.
MEYERS: I sometimes fear that the president elect has no curiosity as to the amount they tried --
CONWAY: That is completely false.
MEYERS: OK. CONWAY: He has enormous curiosity. I'm there every day with him. He has a number of different meetings every day, briefings and otherwise. He was curious enough to figure out America. He knew America --
MEYERS: That's a pivoted right there, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: No. The Democrats --
CARTER: He did not let her slip away. I thought it was very effective. It was one of the best interviews he's done.
MEYERS: In general you always walk away from interviews with politicians wishing, you know, you punished a little harder.
STELTER (on camera): Have the hosts stopped being funny and started getting too serious?
RUSSONELLO: It's become a new brand of comedy, I think, that's both informative, and, yes, I do think pretty funny.
STELTER (voice-over): Giovanni Russonello was hired by "The New York Times" to do a daily round up column called "Best of Late Night".
RUSSONELLO: We realized that Trump through his own style was redefining the landscape of late-night TV.
STELTER (on camera): Do you think there someone watch these shows every night the way you do they would find themselves changing their political views?
RUSSONELLO: No. I think that the way these shows work is they tune into a certain decibel level, a certain level of outrage, a certain angle of critique.
COLBERT: The president was griping about the size of the crowd and wondering how his pink tie played with his audience.
STELTER: Who would you say is the toughest on Trump?
RUSSONELLO: Colbert has been the most savaging his attacks.
COLBERT: And the most unpopular president in modern history. I've deepened America's racial divide, we're on the brink of thermo nuclear conflict. It's got to be the pink tie, right?
RUSSONELLO: Other hosts are making equally, if not, even more substantive critics of the president.
OLIVER: Trump's trust in Bretibart actually goes way back.
[21:15:00] RUSSONELLO: Every time we see John Oliver once a week, they spent a full week preparing whether essentially investigative reports.
OLIVER: Holding up a Breitbart article does not make you seem more credible.
STELTER (voice-over): Oliver, a daily show vet has earned the rep of being one of the sharpest political satirist on late-night. OLIVER: Talk to them.
STELTER: He devotes a huge chunk of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" to fact finding.
OLIVER: The press is going to be a key element in helping us sort fact from fiction and they are under attack.
STELTER (on camera): Do you remember in February he hires a bunch of singing dancers to try to inform Trump about Putin?
RUSSONELLO: Pageantry for him is activism and I think that's part of our new reality. He's essentially being a town crier and an advocate as well as a newfangled T.V. comedian.
CORDEN: Donald Trump is acting --
CARTER: James Corden a more broad approach guy but he's done some pretty tough this about Trump.
CORDEN: And reason he (INAUDIBLE) in one White House aide telling him, "I hate everyone in the White House!" Is this guy the president of the United States or a cast member on "Big Brother"? I hate everyone in the house.
CARTER: Cordon and Oliver have a way of looking at the American experience like, are you kidding me? This is what you people do?
CORDEN: I'm sharing news from the White House.
STELTER (voice-over): The clever bits kept coming. But with so many late-night stars, how do hosts stand apart?
(on camera): Do you ever worry about saying the same thing everyone is saying?
BODOW: Yes, I mean, think about it a little bit but it happens less often than you would think.
STELTER (voice-over): Steve Bodow is the executive producer of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah".
NOAH: We said Trump was an African dictator, right?
BODOW: Trevor has a certain point of view and a certain style, and so even if Stephen's show observed the same thing on a given night, it's still going to come out differently.
NOAH: Donald Trump does not -- around, yes?
RUSSONELLO: He delivers these punches against Donald Trump that doesn't have the nastiness other hosts do.
NOAH: Special like important? Or special like the guy I made fun of? Which one?
STELTER: He struggled to find his voice when he took over Jon Stewart's chair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah".
STELTER: But nearly two years later, Noah and "The Daily Show" were flying high. Then there was that one epic week in May.
BODOW: Comey is fired.
NOAH: If he's gone, who's going to investigate Russia's ties to --
BODOW: Comes out that Trump maybe leaked information to the Russians in the Oval Office.
NOAH: This is trap, no? No, it has to be. No, it can't be this easy, come on, come on.
STELTER: (on camera): Mueller's appointed --
BODOW: Mueller's appointed.
NOAH: Probably saying to himself, man, I'm glad I am not part of this anymore. I'm just like, ti-li-li-li-li-lit, hello?
BODOW: Each night we were just like rewriting the show almost on the fly when that happened. I was very proud of that.
STELTER (voice-over): Trump and those bombshells notched Trevor Noah his best week ever.
NOAH: -- reminds me of every black mother. I brought you into this word and child I take you out of it.
STELTER (on camera): Is Donald Trump the best thing that's ever happened to late-night T.V.?
MEYERS: There's certainly days where it seems that way.
STELTER (voice-over): Next, too much Trump?
FALLON: He refers to Kim Jong-un as rocket man, which beats the other nickname he gave him, "Little Kim."
KIMMEL: Maybe don't make it sound like he's an action pack new movie franchise. Just call him "Little Kim."
MEYERS: And then there are also times where it's hard not to feel like you're being redundant.
[21:22:32] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, here's Johnny.
STELTER (voice-over): There was only one real king of late-night.
JOHNNY CARSON, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON: Hey, we've got a real humdinger of a show tonight. STELTER: Johnny Carson held court for 30 years. But when it came to politics, he chose punch lines over political attacks, razzing (ph) presidents like Ronald Reagan.
CARSON: Did you see picture in the magazine of Reagan riding his horse on the ranch with George Bush running behind with a popper scooper.
CARTER: Johnny Carson wanted to be everything to everybody. He wanted to be a middle American country kind of guy.
STELTER: Bill Carter has discovered the media industry for more than 30 years.
CARTER: He was looking for the joke of it. He look for the silliness of it. He wasn't a member of the resistance. Let's put it that way.
PISCOPO: Well, I don't know, --
My fellow Americans --
I just don't know, he just remember those things, you know.
STELTER: Former "SNL" cast member Joe Piscopo took his own jabs at President Reagan.
PISCOPO: If you vote for me again in 1984 you'll receive this handsome set of ginsu steak knives.
STELTER: Piscopo said back then, late-night hosts do not attack.
PISCOPO: Johnny Carson, he would always joke about Nixon.
CARSON: You're not going to lend me your make up men, are you?
PISCOPO: We joke about Gerald Ford, but it was never vicious. It seems to be vicious now.
STELTER: Like Johnny.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With Jay Leno.
STELTER: With "Tonight Show" Jay Leno kept his punches light.
JAY LENO, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO: A lot of people think I was popular I went up, because of that kiss he gave (INAUDIBLE) at the convention, remember --
CARTER: Leno is you can't tell how I vote. You have no idea how I vote and listening to me.
STELTER: Even David Letterman, the master of stinging insults, held back.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: Does it bother you that I'm always, you know, yacking (ph) about stuff? GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm glad you're saying my name.
CARTER: If you press David, like, what do I know? I don't know anything. I'm just an idiot who tells jokes.
JON STEWART, HOST, DAILY SHOW: Welcome. Welcome to "The Daily Show".
STELTER: Then in 1999, Jon Stewart, a new late-night host, burst on to the scene.
STEWART: This whole trial is sexy.
STELTER: And the slant, radically changed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There may be a woman candidate who will be elected president watching this evening.
STEWART: No, not on comedy central, sir --
CARTER: Jon Stewart really changed it. Jon Stewart brought big-time point of view to late-night, consistent point of view. He wasn't always liberal, but he was extremely committed to certain issues.
[21:25:03] STEWART: We are as we speak live from our election center studio in New York City's abandoned prostitute district.
BODOW: It was the 2000 presidential campaign when the show went from being mostly about pop culture to really focusing on the election.
STELTER: Steve Bodow was Jon Stewart executive producer on "The Daily Show".
BODOW: By then, the show was a political show, and it pretty much has been ever since.
STEWART: Good news from Mitt Romney, he has won tonight, we're going to announce this right now, most of the confederacy.
STELTER: Giovanni Russonello, writes "The Best of Late Night" column for the "New York Times."
RUSSONELLO: Mulling over certain compact new story and teasing out all the ironies of it has become the sort of the rubric for almost everybody in late-night.
MEYERS: Responding a Trump's ill informed tweets can be a full time job. And I know because it's my full-time job.
STELTER: Late-night now had a blueprint, new shows responding new talents.
RUSSONELLO: Jon Stewart is the jumping off point for Stephen Colbert.
STEWART: Mr. Trevor Noah. Trevor thanks for joining.
RUSSONELLO: Trevor Noah.
STEWART: Welcome "The Daily Show".
RUSSONELLO: And John Oliver.
STELTER: That late-night lineup exploded even more with Trump, all of them covering politics and the president 24/7.
STELTER (on camera): How he's changed the landscape?
CARTER: Just crazily change it. Basically, just learn more about Trump now, so. It's really not topical humor. It's Trump humor.
STELTER: Are there nights where you just feel like too much Trump or it is overkill?
RUSSONELLO: Yes. I think that there are most nights where it feels that way.
FALLON: Kim Jong-un as rocket man.
KIMMEL: Kim Jong-un, rocket man.
CORDEN: Kim Jong-un as rocket man.
MEYERS: That's not a diss (ph), that's a cool nickname.
STELTER (voice-over): With so much Trump news.
FALLON: Which piece the other nickname he gave him?
STELTER: Hosts have no choice but to rift (ph).
KIMMEL: I think he does that nickname thing.
STELTER: On the same material.
BODOW: The pace of the news is so much faster.
NOAH: What's going on, folks.
STELTER: Steve Bodow now runs "The Daily Show" with Trevor Noah, who took over for Jon Stewart as host in 2015.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fire ants are coming together to save each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyway, I admire them.
STELTER: They invited us in for a sneaky peek behind the creative curtain of their show.
BODOW: And we watch line of video clips. We throw jokes around the room. I like that better.
And we take maybe an hour and a half to rewrite the show. Tape it at 6:30 and get to go home. That's the normal way. It doesn't happen very much anymore.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thank you.
STELTER: In the age of Trump, shows are sometimes turned upside down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know this got a piece of information in my ear that Scaramucci has just resigned.
STELTER: At the 11th hour.
(on camera): When is the last time you had to blow up the script?
BODOW: Yesterday. The mooch couldn't make it to day 11.
NOAH: The guy got fired before the job began.
STELTER: Being able to plan ahead has become virtually impossible.
PISCOPO: And now the president tweets again. You can't make this up. I'm loving every minute on it.
Five minutes after 9:00 with Piscopo in the morning on AM 970, the answer live --
STELTER: Joe Piscopo doesn't mind the rapid pace of Trump news.
PISCOPO: It's a gift from heaven. It's a gift from God. Everybody is so upset. Oh, there's the vitriol, the hate, the divide. I am loving it.
STELTER: The former "SNL" comic now hosts of a conservative talk show.
PISCOPO: I campaign to Florida. I spoke at a Trump/Pence rally. I've know Donald like 25 years man, OK?
STELTER (on camera): If someone to go over from, you don't get angry at the jokes -- all the attacks from late-night comics the way that others do?
PISCOPO: No. Does it go too far? It does go too far. Just go disrespectful of the office of the presidency of the United States? I think so.
COLBERT: Let me read this presidential briefing. Yes, I got the press, I got the briefing right here.
STELTER (voice-over): Next, how far is too far? Late-night goes off the rails.
COLBERT: You're the president, but you're turning into a real -- dictator.
[21:32:54] LESTER HOLT, NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening from Hofstra University. I'm Lester Holt.
STELTER (voice-over): Its debate night on "SNL". October, 2016, this was Alec Baldwin's debut as Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: Our jobs are fleeing this country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to China. I will stop that. If Hillary knew how, she would have done it already, period, end of story, I won the debate, I stayed calm. Just like I promised and it is over. Good night, Hofstra.
STELTER: Baldwin was winging it.
Later, he told "The Late Shows" Stephen Colbert that the first time he tried out Trump was during his "SNL" dress rehearsal.
BALDWIN: Its total a caricature. You know, you just pick a few things. And I'm sitting in the room, I'm going your left eyebrow up, right eyebrow down, shove your face, so you're trying to suck the chrome off the fender of a car.
HOLT: Mr. Trump, two more minutes.
BALDWIN: The thing about the blacks --
STELTER: As he sparred with Kate McKinnon's hilarious Hillary Clinton, the viewers ate it up.
KATE MCKINNON, HILLARY CLINTON IMPERSONATOR: This man is clearly unfit to be commander in chief.
MCKINNON: He is a bully.
BALDWIM: Shut up.
MCKINNON: He started the birther movement.
BALDWIN: You did.
STELTER: After that night, Baldwin's rendition of Trump was forever cemented in America's psychics.
MCKINNON: -- and number four.
CARTER: "Saturday Night Live" now has a permanent character. They always have presidents, but this is now this, you know, iconic, "Saturday Night Live" character.
BALDWIN: Send in Steve Bannon.
STELTER: Members of Trump's team gave "SNL" even more red meat.
Kate McKinnon stole the show as Trump's overworked Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway.
MCKINNON: Hello Jake. Do you want a drink?
BECK BENNETT, JAKE TAPPER IMPERSONATOR: Jesus.
STELTER: In post election, Kate impersonation of an unhitched Conway trying to win over CNN's Jake Tapper.
[21:35:03] MCKINNON: I'm not going to beaten off.
STELTER: Gave "SNL's" version of fatal attraction another hit.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, SEAN SPICER IMPERSONATOR: I'm here to swallow gum and I'm here to take names.
STELTER: Comedian Melissa McCarthy struck comedy gold as Press Secretary Sean "Spicy" Spicer.
MCCARTHY: And our president will not be deterred.
STELTER: Driving his podium into the press.
MCCARTHY: Are you kidding me?
CARTER: A lot of it is just funny. And again, all credit goes to Trump for that. He sets that up.
STELTER: Trump gave "SNL" a record-shattering season.
BALDWIN: Come on over here to daddy.
STELTER: And brought Baldwin back for another round.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.
STELTER: "SNL" has historically always gone after presidents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on, Harry, why so tense?
STELTER: Arguably, no one did a better Ronald Reagan than comic Joe Piscopo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Alec Baldwin is absolutely brilliant. Folks get upset when they see Alc Baldwin portray Donald Trump, but you know what, I learn then you don't cut funny. And if it's funny, you got to -- it's going to hurt, but you kind of have a sense of humor about it.
STELTER (on camera): So Trump should embrace these caricatures?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Donald Trump should invite Alec Baldwin to the White House. STELTER (voice-over): But so far, Trump is not laughing. After Baldwin's debut, the president hate tweeted his disdain. "Just tried watching "SNL" unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny, and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad."
TRUMP: I do miss my old life.
COLBERT: We all, do, sir.
STELTER: As the Trump jokes escalated, the president's distaste for late-night, intensified.
COLBERT: You attract more skin heads than free Rogaine.
STELTER: In May "The Late Show'" Stephen Colbert found himself in hot water when he blasted Trump in an over the top profanity-laden meltdown.
COLBERT: The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's -- holster.
STELTER: His tirades spark a firestorm in the press and fueled a hashtag #FireColbert campaign on Twitter. Trump did not respond right away.
RUSSONELLO: Trump was obviously restrained for about the first six months of his presidency.
STELTER: But days after the attack, the president surfaced, condemning Colbert in a "Time" magazine interview saying, "You see a no-talent guy like Colbert. There's nothing funny about what he says."
RUSSONELLO: He was probably watching these shows and probably feeling offended every night. At that moment we realized that he couldn't take it anymore.
COLBERT: The only thing smaller than your hands is your tax returns.
STELTER: Trump went on slamming Colbert over his improved ratings. The guy was dying. By the way, they were going take him off television. Then he started attacking me and he started doing better. Colbert's response was, to say the least diffusive.
COLBERT: The president of the United States has personally come after me and to my show. And there's only one thing to say.
CARTER: I think when Trump tweets about one of these shows, they probably have a party. They must love that because that means they're scoring points.
STELTER: Months later, Trump took aim at late-night again tweeting, "Late Night hosts are dealing with the Democrats for their very unfunny and repetitive material, always anti-Trump. Should we get Equal time?" It did not take long for a late-night retort. Jimmy Kimmel tweeted, "Excellent point Mr. President you should quit that boring job. I'll let you have my show ALL to yourself." The Trump versus late-night war rages on.
KIMMEL: So we put the baby in an ambulance.
STELTER: Coming up crossing the line from satire to activism.
KIMMEL: If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make.
[21:43:07] COLBERT: I have something to say here. Donald Trump, if you're watching, first of all, you're a bad president, please resign. Second of all
STELTER (voice-over): In the Trump era, the "Late Show's" Stephen Colbert's satirical voice cracked the code. But Colbert's method of madness is in sharp contrast to what not long ago was a winning formula on NBC's "The Tonight Show."
FALLON: Wow, I look fantastic.
CARTER: The thing about Jimmy is he does an impression of Trump, a very good impression.
TRUMP: All right. Me, we've got a big interview with Jimmy Fallon coming up.
FALLON: Let's be honest, Fallon is a light weight. No way he deserves to interview me. The only one qualified to interview me is me.
STELTER: Bill Carter is the author of "The Late Shift".
CARTER: He doesn't want to be in the mix of this is my point of view and, you know, I'm pounding away at the president. He knows it's not his strength. He doesn't want to do it.
TRUMP: I hope they're going to understand.
STELTER: Just months before the election, Jimmy Fallon was vilified for being too soft on Trump. His ratings suffered.
(on camera): Was interviewing Trump and playing with him a big deal was actually a big deal.
(voice-over): Giovanni Russonello is a cultural reporter for "The New York Times".
RUSSONELLO: I think he's acknowledged since then, that, yes, it was a huge deal and he was surprised by the kind of blowback that he got that but he has to reckon with it.
KIMMEL: Today Trump say he believes in torturing prisoners, which is bad news for Melania. And --
STELTER: Like Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel stops to a more traditional show on ABC.
RUSSONELLO: He sort of like your all-American 1950s guy. He is not special progressive in a social view, in my opinion. I don't think of him like out there to bash conservatives.
[21:45:04] STELTER: That persona changed last May.
KIMMEL: So now --
STELTER: When Kimmel threw tears revealed a healthy scare involving his new born son.
KIMMEL: -- and it's a terrifying thing. You know, my wife is back in the recovery room. She has no idea what's going on. And --
STELTER: Kimmel's emotional story became a call to action on healthcare.
KIMMEL: If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make. I think that's something that whether you're a Republican or Democrat or something else, we all agreeing on that, right? I mean we do.
CARTER: He puts himself out there in the middle of the healthcare discussion, I think he really zeroed in and it's kind of made him, you know, a heroic figure for some people.
STELTER: Then Kimmel was fully immersed in the political fray when he had on the Louisiana senator who was making a last-ditch effort to pass a new health reform bill.
KIMMEL: The Jimmy Kimmel test I think should be no family should be denied medical care emergency or otherwise because they can't afford it. Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test? Is that oversimplifying it?
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUSIANA: All right, man. You're on the right track. In fact, this closes as we get that work straight in government. Now we got to be able to pay for it. And that's the challenge.
KIMMEL: I can think of a way to pay for it is don't give a huge tax cut to millionaires like me and instead leave it how it is. That would be one way.
STELTER: Month later in September, Kimmel went on a three night tirade announcing that Cassidy's proposed Jimmy Kimmel test, failed.
KIMMEL: And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.
STELTER: They continued to duke it out when the senator said Kimmel didn't understand the bill.
KIMMEL: Could have be, Senator Cassidy, that the problem is, that I do understand and you got caught with our GOPenis out? Is that possible?
STELTER: Kimmel didn't let up.
KIMMEL: I don't want to turn this into a Kanye and Taylor Swift type situation.
STELTER: This time calling out Trump.
KIMMEL: There's only that President Trump write this bill. The Democrats should just rename it, Ivanka care. Guaranteed it gets on board.
RUSSONELLO: Kimmel is not a political active by nature, but the entire spirit of late-night has become so politicized that it's also within my job description now.
STELTER: As Trump's wild ride continued, Jimmy Fallon was pulled in too. It was the horrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia, that provoked him.
FALLON: Even though the tonight show isn't a political show, it's my responsibility to stand up against intolerance and extremism as a human being. What happened over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, was just disgusting. The fact that it took the president two days to come out and clearly denounce racist and white supremacists is shameful.
RUSSONELLO: It was a moment when the gloves came off. I think even Fallon said this is no way for a president to act and that he needs to apologize.
STELTER (on camera): Do you think he was reluctant to do this?
RUSSONELLO: I felt like yes, well, I guess mode of delivery was strange.
FALLON: It's important for everyone --
RUSSONELLO: This made me think, oh, he's just telling this like he tells his jokes.
FALLON: Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it.
RUSSONELLO: So Kimmel is still mining that divide between in, am I the all-American guy or am I the critic? It's one that Fallon has decisively sort of advocated that choice. He said I'm not going to even budge.
STELTER (voice-over): Fallon ditched the hair messing, but continued the Trump mocking.
FALLON: Buckled up because I'm coming in hot. This is going to be a crazy one. Daddy came to play.
MEYERS: I think when you look at the 11:30 shows there are different kind of television shows. COLBERT: You were a better president --
MEYERS: Some people want to turn on late-night shows and they want to see hard takes on politics and other people use it for escapism. And I think it's important that those shows still exist.
FALLON: Oh, this made me laugh.
MEYERS: And I think Jimmy does that better than anybody.
STELTER: Coming up, the new faces of late-night.
ATAMANUIK: I won't deport you.
[21:52:56] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready?
ATAMANUIK: I hold my breath for a very long time.
STELTER (voice-over): The ritual is a labor of life for comedian Anthony Atamanuik. He's transforming into President Trump.
ATAMANUIK: Let's roll.
STELTER: Atamina is the breakout star of a show unlike anything else on T.V. Comedy Central's "The President Show" imagine Donald Trump hosting his own late-night series.
ATAMANUIK: I turned the Oval Office into a classic late-night set.
STELTER: Anthony channels a darker version of Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the person you hate?
ATAMANUIK: It's me.
STELTER (on camera): What did you figure out early on about playing him?
ATAMANUIK: He has a sort of like an animal thing with his jaw, where he's like he pushes his jaw forward and does this Mussolini sort of turn.
STELTER (voice-over): Anthony got his start at New York's improv (ph) clubs.
ATAMANUIK: We were never plagiarized Michelle Obama. I don't want to hear it.
STELTER: Which is where he realized he did a pretty good Trump.
(on camera): You're performing at UCB, then you pitch this show to Comedy Central. ATAMANUIK: Yes. The pitch was, Donald Trump is bored at the White House, what he does he always wanted his T.V. show.
I think it's important to let the audience know who's being nice and who's being not nice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.
STELTER (voice-over): "The President Show" was born.
ATAMANUIK: I'm the president, can you believe it?
STELTER: Airing once a week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went to your wedding to Mar-a.
STELTER: It looks like a real late-night talk show with celebrity guests and banter with Trump's sidekick, V.P. Mike Pence.
ATAMANUIK: You know what, get out of here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
ATAMANUIK: Get him out. I don't want to talk to you either. Get him out here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But sir.
ATAMANUIK: What we've tried to do is turn them into sort of a dark version of Abbott and Costello.
STELTER: Like art imitating life. Others in Anthony's Trump administration have had short runs.
[21:55:00] ATAMANUIK: Wow.
STELTER: Like Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who put that door in the doorway?
SCARAMUCCI: You guys heard me in the front, though, right? What I say John?
STELTER: And his infamous White House communications director.
SCARAMUCCI: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
MARIO CANTONE, ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI IMPERSONATOR: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so good with being short because I don't want to step out on stage and (INAUDIBLE), do the mooch.
ATAMANUIK: Anthony Scaramucci.
STELTER: Played by "Sex and the City" actor Mario Cantone. CANTONE: Snap out of it.
STELTER: The real fun begins when POTUS (ph) leaves the studio for improvise sketches.
ATAMANUIK: This is really terrible. What are we, off floating?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go, wonderful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank was so great.
STELTER: In one popular segment, Anthony's Trump.
ATAMANUIK: It's all changed. This is not like the old neighborhood at all.
STELTER: Visits his childhood home in Queens, New York.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a beautiful neighborhood.
ATAMANUIK: What an awful block.
STELTER (on camera): Why did you decide to bring your character here?
ATAMANUIK: I always wanted to do the roots of Trump. My version of him is like sort of petulant and like always rejecting his past.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where Donald Trump was born.
ATAMANUIK: I don't need my own biography, Mike.
STELTER (voice-over): The formula worked. The show has vaulted to the top of Comedy Central's ratings. This demand for Trump humor brought another comic to an unexpected place.
CARTER: I would never think to watch a late-night show on NETFLIX on a daily basis because that's not what it does. But it's interesting that she landed there.
STELTER: Chelsea Handler, landed NETFLIX's first ever talk show, Chelsea.
HANDLER: Donald Trump, monkeys --
STELTER: Viewers (INAUDIBLE) outrageous rants.
HANDLER: A little place I like to call monkey business.
STELTER: About her least favorite person.
(on camera): How much has your show here changed as a result of the Trump presidency.
HANDLER: A lot. I mean I'm a real loud mouth. I can't help myself.
According to web-MD, the symptoms of syphilis are exhibit, A, patchy hair loss. Exhibit B, visual problems and squinting.
STELTER: Would you say you're on a mission to take him down?
HANDLER: I would like to see him brought down, down to the ground, preferably in handcuffs. I want him to be in prison. I think a lot of people want him to be in prison.
STELTER (voice-over): Handler used her hour long show to delve into divisive issues like DACA.
HANDLER: These young people are the American dream, 91 percent of them are employed and 99 percent of them have no criminal record. That means they've never obstructed justice, colluded with Russia, to fraud people through a fake university, brags about sexual assault, or pardoned a racist maniac, so?
STELTER: In the end, Handler chose politics over late-night. After a rocky two seasons.
HANDLER: Don't you know when to stop clubbing (ph).
STELTER: The comedian said she was ending her NETFLIX show to focus on activism.
HANDLER: It's important to me to use my platform for good. You know a lot of people stay, I don't keep politics. It's like you don't have a choice now. OK. This is like, this is serious stuff. So we don't have a choice to opt out.
STELTER (on camera): Has Trump been good for the Chelsea Handler's of the world?
HANDLER: I mean, in terms of comedy like, oh, God, you must have so much material. Yes, you can take the material. I don't want this kind of comedy. No.
STELTER (voice-over): Same goes for Anthony Atamanuik.
ATAMANUIK: We're going to take people who are illegal immigrants and ship them in other countries. What do you think of that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
STELTER (on camera): What happens on the day President Trump is our new president?
ATAMANUIK: Probably put some stones in my pockets and walks out to the ocean. I don't want to do him any more.
COLBERT: A lot people are saying that Trump's foreign policy to be a good cop, bad cop. I think it's more like good cop, insane president.
MEYERS: There's no way anyone who comes after will ever take up as much ink on the show than we've already spilled on President Trump.
CARTER: That is going to be a fascinating thing to watch, if it happens in four years or whenever it happens. They're going to be like addicts that have to completely go cold turkey.
MEYERS: I'm sorry, have you seen Donald Trump? If there's one thing he's never going to get, it's a clean bill of health.
CARTER: There's never going to be somebody like Trump again.
KIMMEL: Even though he mainly talk about Donald Trump much tonight, and then he opened his mouth and all manner of stupid came out.
CARTER: This is a one of a kind situation both for the country and for the comedians.
ATAMANUIK: I have the power to destroy any country on earth, but I promise you, it'll be America first. See you next week. Bye-bye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, that's it for the late show, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a great night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night everybody.