Emmys: Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Each Variety Contender

6:00 AM 8/17/2017

by Scott Feinberg

The talk and sketch categories got injections of much-needed new blood and stiff competition in a season that mined the zaniness of the real world, writes THR's Scott Feinberg.

From left: Samantha Bee, Melissa McCarthy and James Corden
From left: Samantha Bee, Melissa McCarthy and James Corden
From left to right: Courtesy of Jessica Miglio/Turner Entertainment, Terence Patrick/CBS and Will Heath/NBC

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • 'Full Frontal With Samantha Bee'


    Myles Aronowitz/Turner Entertainment Networks

    PRO The only nominated show hosted by a woman (it also earned a Critics' Choice nom) landed a writing nom for the second straight year (it's been 22 years since a variety show won without one). Two offshoots — Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner and the show's online incarnation — combined for another five.

    CON If voters reward a once-a-weeker, Last Week Tonight is the likeliest.

  • 'The Late Late Show With James Corden'


    Terence Patrick/CBS

    PRO The most lighthearted of late night's offerings won a Critics' Choice Award in a year when two other Corden projects got Emmy noms: the Tonys (he hosted) and the Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special (last year's winner for variety special).

    CON Corden's is the only show that airs after midnight; Colbert has to be the Tiffany Network's priority this year.

  • 'Last Week Tonight With John Oliver'


    Courtesy of HBO

    PRO The defending champ also happens to have the most overall noms — eight, including one each for directing and writing, as only The Late Show also can claim. Its third nomination in a row is for deep-dive segments like the one in its season premiere, "Trump vs. Truth."

    CON Oliver's weekly show runs for a half-hour; chief competitor Stephen Colbert does longer shows most nights of the week.

  • 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!'


    Randy Holmes/ABC

    PRO Kimmel has been at the forefront of the cultural conversation in recent months, winning raves for hosting the Oscars (also Emmy-nominated) and for his emotional monologue about his son's heart issues and the larger health care debate. Live!'s fourth consecutive series nom comes with two others and on the heels of a Critics' Choice nom.

    CON It would be shocking for a show to win for the first time 15 years into its run.

  • 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert'


    Richard Boeth/CBS

    PRO The two-time winner (for The Colbert Report) was snubbed last year, his first in David Letterman's old chair. But Colbert surged back — by getting political again — to become the late-night ratings leader and snag a slot from chief competitor Jimmy Fallon. And he's hosting the Emmys!

    CON Even some Trump haters felt he got a bit crude in an address to the president in a May episode.

  • 'Real Time With Bill Maher'


    Courtesy of HBO

    PRO Nominated for the 12th time in the past 13 years, with guests ranging from Kellyanne Conway to Pitbull, the debate-heavy show and its host, who has a cult-like following among left-leaning intellectuals, got President Obama to come on just days before the 2016 election.

    CON Maher has yet to win an Emmy for a variety show, and that won't change this year after he used the N-word live on the air.

  • 'Billy on the Street'


    Nathaniel Chadwick/truTV

    PRO Hilariously aggressive host Billy Eichner previously was nominated in the short-format live-action category in 2015 and now has landed in primetime, delivering truTV its first-ever Emmy nom. Might his tongue-in-cheek Twitter campaign for his show and smear campaign against Saturday Night Live actually work?

    CON This is the show's sole nom, many are unfamiliar with truTV, and New York humor doesn't always play in L.A.

  • 'Drunk History!'

    Comedy Central

    Courtesy of Comedy Central

    PRO The Derek Waters-hosted show, on which celebs recount historical events while drunk, was born of a Funny or Die web series and got its third nom in a row as well as three others, including for directing. An episode centered on Alexander Hamilton and narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda drew attention.

    CON All of the other nominees are scripted, but this is not, which could undercut its chances. It last aired back in December, so it's also not top of mind.

  • 'Saturday Night Live'


    Courtesy of NBC

    PRO Lorne Michaels' brainchild is going strong at 42, enjoying its most watched season in 23 years and highest-rated in seven thanks to its handling of the insanity of the Trump era. Following its first truly live (coast-to-coast) episodes ever, SNL wound up tied for the most noms of any show (22), including an unprecedented four for supporting acting and record-tying five for guest acting.

    CON It hasn't won a variety series award since 1993.

  • 'Documentary Now!'


    Tyler Golden/IFC

    PRO SNL spawned a competitor when it aired a sketch that morphed into this mockumentary series, co-created and produced by Lorne Michaels and SNL alums Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. It lands its second nom for a season highlighted by a spoof of the 1992 Clinton campaign doc, The War Room.

    CON This is the sketch show's only nomination, and it last aired in October, longer ago than any other nominee in the category.

  • 'Portlandia'


    Augusta Quirk/IFC

    PRO This sendup of hipster culture offers a hilarious window into the "liberal bubble" blindsided by Trump. Its third consecutive nomination (for the second-to-last season) is one of three the sketch show received for its spoofs of "liberal slacktivism" and the like. It last aired in March.

    CON The show's quirky humor isn't for everyone, and the network's attention is divided, with Documentary Now! also in the category.

  • 'Tracey Ullman's Show'


    Rory Lindsay/HBO

    PRO With six Emmys on her mantel, 57-year-old Brit Ullman is a legend. Now, with her latest impersonations (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Angela Merkel and Theresa May among them) — not to mention a controversial sketch about sexual assault that went viral — she could add a seventh.

    CON This is the show's sole nomination, and having last aired in December, it's not the freshest of the batch.