One of the categories in Emmy history that seems easiest to predict would be the one that, over the past decade, awarded The Daily Show With Jon Stewart a victory as Outstanding Variety Series 10 straight times. Its only loss in that epic run came last year. Of course, that loss also came at the hands of The Colbert Report, which Stewart exec produced for more than 500 episodes, and came before host Stephen Colbert was named to replace David Letterman on CBS’ The Late Show.
It would seem with that announcement, Colbert might be in line to repeat his victory and break for all time the stranglehold that Stewart has had on a category that once was fairly regularly won by none other than Letterman.
In addition to Stewart and Colbert, the category this year includes regulars Saturday Night Live and Real Time With Bill Maher, leaving only two traditional late-night talk shows — hosted by Jimmy Kimmel at ABC and Jimmy Fallon at NBC — to carry the Emmy torch for the broadcast networks. Still, this is one of the most stable categories in the Emmy world, and only rarely does a new show have a chance to break in (which Fallon technically did with his version of The Tonight Show versus Jay Leno’s farewell partial season, which also was eligible).
Below are snapshots of each contender and my prediction for the eventual winner on Aug. 25:
The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
Let’s face it: Stephen Colbert is the flavor of the month, after last year’s record-breaking achievement of winning over 10-time victor Jon Stewart. What Colbert started in 2005 as a Daily Show spinoff has turned into a full-fledged competitor. And Colbert looks like he could win again, especially considering the momentum he’s gaining in taking over for Letterman next year.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Stewart delivers one of the most consistent shows on TV, and by that, I mean consistently funny when it sticks to its news parodies, less so with some of the sketches, which can be overwrought. The Daily Show’s previous 10 wins in a row are a testament to the love Emmy voters have for the show, but I think Colbert might have given them license to give up the habit.
Jimmy Kimmel Live!, ABC
One of the two traditional late-night talkers in the competition, Kimmel is, quite frankly, way overdue for a win. His show is always fresh and clever and a textbook example of how to do late night. Last year’s Matt Damon takeover should have been enough to cement a win, but perhaps this year’s crop of episodes finally will do the trick for one of the two late-night Jimmys.
Real Time With Bill Maher, HBO
Bill Maher has never failed to be nominated here, earning 29 in all, but he also has never failed to lose. No one this side of Susan Lucci has had to sit in the audience and awkwardly smile more than Maher, who at this point might as well keep losing. He gets more publicity this way, but after nearly 30 nominations, something is very wrong, TV Academy. Throw the guy a bone.
Saturday Night Live, NBC
This late-night commodity turns 40 next year, yet SNL has only won this category a couple of times, which seems incredible. The always reliable, yet taken-for-granted weekend comedy show has been a staple of the NBC network for decades but seems under-Emmy’d to me. Maybe it’s time voters gave the long-running sketch-comedy trailblazer a serious shake.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NBC
The other late-night Jimmy has quickly turned around NBC’s previously aging Tonight Show franchise. But will it be enough to reclaim an Emmy last won by the Jay Leno-hosted version in 1995? Tonight hasn’t even been nominated in this category since 2003, but the arrival of Fallon certainly may change the network’s Emmy luck. A win wouldn’t be surprising, but also would not be likely.
The Winner: The Colbert Report