There’s a classic movie and TV scene we’ve seen a thousand times — a courtroom or hearing room playing the role of battlefield for our heroes, who are armed only with their intelligence and the truth. With wit and skill, the righteous challenge their opponents, and the scene climaxes in a moment which spells clear victory for those on the side of good.
The classy versions of this scene will end with subdued silence and murmurs; the more cliched versions will probably see the room erupt with thunderous applause after the gavel rings out. But if you think we’re going to see either version of that scene when former FBI director James Comey appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify regarding his interactions with the Trump administration, you’re mistaken.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but the hard truth is real life politics is nothing like Hollywood endings, where justice is almost always served. And we have people like John Oliver, Seth Meyers and Samantha Bee to thank for this cold, hard reminder.
Thanks to the release of Comey’s opening statement, the basic content of the hearing will be pretty clear (though c’mon, Senate Intelligence Committee — a spoiler warning is considered good manners). The eyes of the nation will be watching Comey on Thursday morning as he explains what exactly Trump said to him about Michael Flynn and Russian interference in the 2016 election, while the committee asks questions to determine whether or not this might have amounted to obstruction of justice…
…And that night, many Americans will look to the late night television world to help us understand it (with a much appreciated side order of jokes). This isn’t because people no longer trust the mainstream media, but because a number of the late night shows which have audiences captivated these days have dug in on tackling political issues.
“Late Night With Seth Meyers,” which has evolved into one of television’s most politically engaged talk shows with its “A Closer Look” segments, took that transition so seriously that it led to new hires.
“We have had to increase our research staff and our graphics staff because the pure logistics of what we’re doing with A Closer Look,” Meyers said during a recent press luncheon. “I just have volumes of praise for the people who started working on our show without the expectation that the show would turn into this thing. They kind of had to learn on the fly how to do these longform political pieces and they are so great at it.”
How much of a staff increase did this mean? “On the research side, four-fold,” Meyers said, though added with a laugh, “That might have been from one to four [people].”
Another show heavily invested in the research process, creating some of the most informative commentary on today’s political process, is “Last Week Tonight.” While the series hosted by John Oliver initially resisted digging into topical political issues — the show only really took on Trump for the first time in February 2016, well into his ascendency to the Republican nomination for president — Oliver and his team have since reluctantly embraced covering what has become our current political ecosystem.
Most recently, Oliver did a thorough breakdown of the brutal reality that is both the American impeachment process and the line of succession. The segment, bluntly entitled “Stupid Watergate,” took viewers through the procedures involved as well as who exactly would take over the job of President if Trump was removed from office. For anyone who was hoping that something like Comey’s testimony would be what ended Trump’s reign, “Stupid Watergate” was as smart as it was sobering.
“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” is in some ways the yin to “Last Week Tonight’s” yang, as Bee and her team have always tackled timely stories with a unique mix of rage and insight — while also never being afraid to dig into less urgent but still relevant topics which provide perspective on the political climate. Just one of Bee’s landmark early segments was this look back at the 2010 midterm elections, which Bee framed as an incredibly important political moment that went ignored at the time.
Looking back at the 2010 midterms serves as a helpful reminder that today’s current situation isn’t just the result of one seismic moment, but a series of complicated events stretching back years. And it’s also worth looking back at that election as we consider the 2018 midterm election, and whether the balance of power could be truly restored.
The Comey hearings will undoubtedly be an important political moment, but don’t expect the Hollywood ending. Instead, expect late night television to help us make sense of what happened — and where we go from here.