This year for the first time the previously combined Variety Talk and Sketch Series distinctions have been split up into two categories, meaning Saturday Night Live no longer will have to compete with the likes of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or Late Show With David Letterman and get its ass whipped. But wait — those three shows won’t be competing at all in their current form as all three hosts have had their farewell shows and are nominated for such in the Variety Talk Series contest. On the other side of the ledger, SNL will have to compete against relatively fresh competition in the Variety Sketch category including the uber-hot Inside Amy Schumer as well as the last year of the very funny Key & Peele, among others. This split between the two categories might mean more Emmy proliferation, but it makes sense. Here is how I see it falling into place:
OUTSTANDING VARIETY TALK SERIES
The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
This biting satirical series has been creeping up on its mentor, The Daily Show, by winning in the past couple of years. It’s no wonder Stephen Colbert is heading for the greener pastures of CBS in order to cash in and replace Letterman. But can he pull off a win against more sentimental choices Stewart and Letterman?
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
With the popular, hugely watched final days of Stewart’s Daily Show, it became clear that he went way beyond just being a TV host in terms of influence and power. Although he has won here so many times (I lost count), it would not be surprising to see him come back with a victory just one last time as a big wet kiss from the Academy.
Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC
After hanging around for a decade as ABC’s acerbic and very funny late-night host, Kimmel has yet to get the kind of Emmy recognition he so deserves. Although the episode is not technically eligible, his recent very touching tear-filled rant against the dentist killer of Cecil the Lion really resonated and could provide an opening for a Kimmel win, especially if the sentimental faves cancel each other out.
Last Week With John Oliver, HBO
Critics love this show and the Television Critics Association named Oliver for a major award. Will Emmy follow? I don’t know; it seems a little early. And against Colbert, Stewart and Letterman, it looks like Oliver would have a massive uphill climb. But if the Academy is looking forward and not back, he stands a chance.
Late Show With David Letterman, CBS
The legendary and incredibly influential late-night fixture on CBS, and before that NBC, has not been personally Emmy-nominated the past few years, but this would seem to be an irresistible chance for the industry to give Letterman one final giant hug to tell him how we love him. And indeed, those last Late Show episodes were awfully good.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NBC
Fallon likely will have his time, but I doubt the game player will get it this year. His show is light, fun and easy to take, but it lacks gravitas. And as an interviewer, he probably has Jack Paar and Johnny Carson turning over in their graves. Has there been a bigger late-night fawner over guests since Merv Griffin?
The Winner: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
OUTSTANDING VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Drunk History, Comedy Central
Developed by Derek Waters for Funny Or Die and Comedy Central and later spun off to the BBC the show finds a drunk narrator trying to recount moments from our country’s history, generally to hilarious effect. It hasn’t been around enough to necessarily merit an Emmy but it passes another test required for a win here: It’s damn funny.
Inside Amy Schumer, Comedy Central
Another Comedy Central star coming into her own, Schumer is riding high with hit movie Trainwreck (close to $100M at the domestic B.O.), and getting LOTS of publicity just as the Emmy race is heating up. Her abilities are on full view in this series, which could mean a surprise win for the show. It received six other Emmy noms, making her chances very real indeed.
Key & Peele, Comedy Central
The great comedy team have announced they are ending their show, so they also have a sentimental factor for them this year. But they still are young enough to come back and land in a series that really deserves kudos, not necessarily this uneven but undeniably funny variety show.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s deadpan comedy show is a gem of observant, dry humor that holds back so far you aren’t even sure if you should laugh. But laugh I do at this realistic, dizzyingly brilliant series that could upset if vote totals are just too close to call.
Saturday Night Live, NBC
The granddaddy of all TV sketch comedy successes of the past 40 years, SNL carries its weight in gold but has become even more vulnerable to accusations. It is way too hit and miss. But hasn’t that always been the way with this series? Bottom line is this remains the most nominated program in Emmy history and it just keeps building. And there is no question that the ratings-huge Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special (nominated in Variety Special) was as good as it gets comedy-wise. It could serve as a reminder of how important and groundbreaking SNL really was, and is — and that also could guarantee the Emmy in this category.
The Winner: Saturday Night Live