The weeks of press sentimentality and celebrity genuflecting are over. The furious Foo Fighters series finale montage —featuring 562 different memorable moments from Letterman’s 33 years on late-night TV (thank you, screengrabber.com for counting) — has been aired. The set has been struck, the ratings ruminated, and David Letterman officially is history as host of CBS’ Late Show, ending a record 33 years headlining a late-night broadcast TV show.
But one more thing about Letterman. This is the last year he’s Emmy eligible — time to think about whether he should be Emmy-nominated and Emmy-awarded for his final season and/or legacy. Based on the finale walk-up adulation, the Most Likely Nominees seem to be advocating for it.
ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, who purports to be his most obsessive fan, came right out and said Letterman’s show deserves this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. “I would like to see Letterman win the Emmy, absolutely,” Kimmel recently told AwardsLine. “I can’t think of anyone more influential when it comes to comedy in America from my generation.” Kimmel also said there should be a category to specifically fete the year’s best late night host — a Primetime Emmy derby that currently does not exist.
The recent split of the Variety Series category into Variety Talk and Variety Sketch moves perennial nominee Saturday Night Live into the latter category and, in theory, opens up a slot in the Variety Talk race for Letterman, whose show hasn’t been nominated since 2009. Last year’s Variety Series noms also included Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Real Time With Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon — which now are eligible for Outstanding Variety Talk Series.
Among these nominees, Jon Stewart has owned the category the past dozen years with 10 consecutive wins for The Daily Show, followed by two consecutive wins for spinoff The Colbert Report, which Stewart co-created with Stephen Colbert and Ben Karlin and on which he was an executive producer. While Stewart hasn’t publicly addressed Letterman’s Emmy-worthiness, he recently spoke forcefully about his importance to the genre, pronouncing the list of late-night figures that have been able to innovate the genre and have staying power to be: David Letterman.
Stewart also showered Letterman with praise for having been “kind enough” to be his final guest on his long-gone The Jon Stewart Show, during which Letterman “single-handedly turned what was a funeral atmosphere into a celebration, just by his presence” and during which he dispensed a “wonderful” bit of advice Stewart never has forgotten: “Do not confuse cancellation with failure.”
Conan O’Brien, whose TBS series Conan last was nominated in the variety category in 2011, recently proclaimed Letterman “The North Star for… every comic of my generation.” He likewise credited Letterman with rescuing him with a “simple act of kindness” back when Letterman had decamped for CBS and O’Brien took over NBC’s Late Night, which was going so poorly he’d been turned into a “national punchline” by the network and the media.
Colbert, who is getting ready to replace Letterman at CBS in September, hasn’t shared his thoughts on Letterman’s retirement, except to tell media buyers at CBS’ upfront presentation that, in tribute to his predecessor, “We will do the best show we possibly can, and occasionally make the network very angry at us.”
Letterman would have extraordinarily stiff competition in an Emmy race. So many late-night shows are on their last runs that the list of likely nominees reads more like a late-night TV In Memoriam.
If you, like Kimmel, are a Legacy Sentimentalist, here’s what you need to know before casting your vote:
Colbert’s final The Colbert Report aired on December 14. Yes, his Comedy Central series is eligible for this Emmy cycle and that’s it. On the other hand, Colbert’s not retiring but going on to take over for Letterman. And The Colbert Report won the category the past two years. But, realistically, even Letterman’s much-ballyhooed finale would be hard pressed to beat Colbert’s series’ swan song. Pound for pound, Colbert may have been the heart-string-pullingest TV finale ever, with its celebrity-studded “We’ll Meet Again” sing-along, after which Colbert declared himself — or his faux-newsman alter-ego, it got hard to distinguish the two toward the end—immortal after shooting the Grim Reaper during a game of chess. The series ended with a final scene featuring Colbert, Santa, a unicorn, Abraham Lincoln, Alex Trebek and a sleigh ride into eternity.
Then there’s Jon Stewart, whose last day hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show is August 6. That means his show is eligible this Emmy cycle and next. Next cycle, however, Stewart would be competing against his replacement, the controversial Trevor Noah.