2017’s Biggest Stars in TV

From Young Sheldon To Reese Witherspoon, 2017 had some unexpectedly big stars make big waves on the small screen.
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Late-Night’s New King: Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert Late Show Photo

Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show." December 11, 2017.

Stephen Colbert and his CBS Late Show ended The Tonight Show’s long, seemingly unstoppable reign as TV’s top-rated late-night show in 2017 – a position NBC held for the better part of the entire history of The Tonight Show.

Although David Letterman did the same thing for a time after he launched the then-new CBS Late Show in 1993, Jay Leno overtook him in 1995 and The Tonight Show remained in the late-night top spot until January 2017. That’s when Colbert overtook Jimmy Fallon with a nightly emphasis on razor-sharp commentary and comedy focused squarely on President Trump. And unlike Letterman, Colbert’s reign felt like it had staying power – at least for the duration of the Trump administration. 

Young Genius: Iain Armitage

Iain Armitage Young Sheldon Photo

Iain Armitage as "Young Sheldon."

It isn’t often that prime-time TV’s newest megastar is a nine year old. But that was the case in 2017 when CBS launched a prequel sitcom spun off from TV’s reigning hit comedy, The Big Bang Theory. In the show called Young Sheldon, Armitage faced the daunting challenge of portraying genius savant Sheldon Cooper – played as an adult on Big Bang by Jim Parsons – at age nine. Not only was Young Sheldon the top-rated new comedy on TV in 2017, but it was also the second-highest rated comedy in all of television, just behind the show that spawned it. Armitage had a banner year in 2017. He was also seen in HBO’s critically acclaimed and award-nominated Big Little Lies.

The Power Behind 'Big Little Lies': Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon Big Little Lies Photo

Reese Witherspoon in "Big Little Lies."

Long an A-list movie star (and Oscar winner for Walk the Line), Reese Witherspoon tried her hand at television and came out one of the big winners of 2017. She was an executive producer and one of the stars of Big Little Lies on HBO (along with a fellow Hollywood A-lister, Nicole Kidman. The series was about class conflict and domestic secrets among the residents of Monterey, Calif. The show was widely praised – as was Witherspoon, Kidman and co-star, Shailene Woodley, for their performances. All three were nominated for Golden Globes along with the show itself. 

Stranger Things Have Happened: Gaten Matarazzo

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Gaten Matarazzo from "Stranger Things" at The 2017 American Music Awards.

The 1980s-based, sci-fi series Stranger Things first became established on Netflix in 2016 but it came into its own as a pop-culture phenomenon in its second season in 2017. In the process, it catapulted one of its stars – Gaten Matarazzo – to A-list status. In 2017, this mop-topped, charismatic 15-year-old became so ubiquitous on TV that you didn’t have to be a regular Stranger Things watcher to see him almost constantly. Not only did he become the stand-out star of the show, but he also became the face of Verizon Fios in a series of commercials that aired everywhere in which he played a tech-savvy teen who lectured grown-ups on the advantages of fiber-optics.

The Doctor Is In: Freddie Highmore

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Freddie Highmore in "The Good Doctor."

He was mesmerizing as the young psychopath Norman Bates in Bates Motel on A&E (the role first made famous by Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960), and in 2017 British-born actor Freddie Highmore, 25, began applying some of the same otherworldly acting techniques to the title role of The Good Doctor on ABC. The show premiered in fall 2017 and quickly emerged as a bona fide hit, thanks in large part to Highmore’s performance as Dr. Shaun Murphy. He was a young doctor on the autism scale whose uncanny abilities to make diagnoses and recommend courses of treatment impressed some of his colleagues at a major hospital and unnerved others. In December, Highmore was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his work on the show.

Jimmy Kimmel Takes a Stand For Children’s Healthcare

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Jimmy Kimmel on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" with son Billy, December 2017.

Jimmy Kimmel was still in third place in the late-night pecking order, but he stood out in 2017 for a big reason: The host of Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC took a bold, very public stance against President Trump’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Specifically, Kimmel used his opening monologue on multiple occasions to persuade Congress to continue to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was established by Congress long before the ACA was enacted in 2010, but whose funding could be threatened by the Trump administration’s proposed healthcare reforms. The program provides funding for expensive and often life-saving procedures for children whose parents cannot afford them.

Kimmel based his stance on the medical history of his young son, Billy, who was born in April 2017 with congenital heart disease and then underwent several surgeries in 2017. Kimmel readily admitted that he and his wife were fortunate enough to be able to pay for the procedures out of their own pockets, but he still used his personal family story to speak out on behalf of thousands of parents who cannot. 

Larry David Generates New Round Of Enthusiasm

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Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

At age 70, Larry David could just as easily have eased into retirement, but instead, he roared back to HBO in 2017 with a new season of his critically acclaimed comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm after an absence of six years. In the new season – the series’ ninth – David pulled no punches. He produced a season-long storyline that had his on-screen character coping with uncertainty as a fatwa was declared against him after he impersonated the Ayatollah and sought to produce a new Broadway show called Fatwa! The Musical! The new season of Curb was so well-received that HBO announced in December that David is already working on a new season, the show’s 10th.

Newswoman of the Year: Megyn Kelly

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Megyn Kelly on "The Today Show."

The new year 2017 was barely three days old in January when NBC News announced its sensational new hire: Megyn Kelly. She would leave her long-time home at Fox News Channel to set up shop at NBC in the spring, where she would be given a prime-time news magazine show opposite 60 Minutes on Sunday night and one hour of her own on The Today Show weekday mornings starting at 9 a.m. Thus began the year of Megyn, as her every move and TV show were closely watched in the news media and entertainment trade press. For her, 2017 represented a year of adjustment, and as the year came to a close, her 9-10 a.m. hour of Today was reportedly still lagging in the ratings, but scoring some modest increases. Besides, where The Today Show was concerned, the world’s attention was drawn away from Kelly and towards the shocking news that broke at the end of November that long-time anchor Matt Lauer had been abruptly fired following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Hank Azaria Calls ’em Like He Sees ’em

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Hank Azaria in "Brockmire."

As Jim Brockmire, a washed-up, nationally known sportscaster whose drunken, profane, public meltdown on the air ended his career in the big leagues, Hank Azaria gave what was possibly the finest comedic performance given by anyone in a new TV comedy series in 2017. In the show called Brockmire – seen on IFC and co-starring Amanda Peet – Brockmire wound up calling baseball games in the extreme minor leagues for a team owned by Peet’s character. The role was a bravura performance for Azaria, who is nothing if not consistent. In addition to being the long-time voice of multiple characters on The Simpsons, Azaria has been seen in a wide variety of movies and TV shows – from The Birdcage to Ray Donovan.

Maid For Stardom: Jackie Hoffman

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Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita in "Feud: Bette and Joan."

Her co-stars in the 2017 FX miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan were two of acting’s best – Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange – but Jackie Hoffman still managed to steal every scene she was in with them in the role of Mamacita, Joan Crawford’s stern but loyal housekeeper. Hoffman, a veteran character actress seen in numerous TV shows, movies and Broadway musicals since the early 1990s, more than held her own with Jessica Lange (who played Crawford) and drew praise from critics and audiences alike. For Hoffman, playing Mamacita was a breakout role after years of near-anonymity, earning her an Emmy nomination.