Emmys: Variety Categories Bring the Spice to TV

7:00 AM 8/3/2018

by Scott Feinberg

Elder statesmen like 'Saturday Night Live' and 'Portlandia' face off against new blood in the sketch category while the late-night race snubs Bill Maher in favor of first-time nominee Trevor Noah.

'SNL' (left) and 'Last Week Tonight'
'SNL' (left) and 'Last Week Tonight'
Courtesy of NBC; HBO

  • 'At Home With Amy Sedaris' - truTV

    Variety Sketch Series

    Courtesy of TM & Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company

    This rookie show 
of 10 half-hour episodes sees Sedaris — improv royalty — hosting a cooking and crafting program from 
her home. Bolstered by such guests as Stephen 
Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris, it earned rave reviews, attracted new viewers to truTV and has nabbed Sedaris the first Emmy nom of her career.

    On the other hand... It's a new show from an obscure network that got no other noms, so the nom is almost certainly the win for Sedaris.

  • 'Drunk History' - Comedy Central

    Variety Sketch Series

    Courtesy of Comedy Central

    This Derek Waters-hosted show — on which drunk stars (e.g., Tiffany Haddish this season) try to describe historical events, with their versions then performed 
by others (e.g., Jaleel White) — picked up its fourth series nomination in its fifth season of eligibility. The only variety sketch show that has ever received more series noms is Saturday Night Live.

    On the other hand... Its two overall noms this year are half 
as many as it got in 2017 — not an encouraging direction.

  • 'I Love You, America' - Hulu

    Variety Sketch Series

    Courtesy of Hulu

    Tonally, there's 
no other show quite like this one, hosted 
by two-time Emmy winner Sarah Silverman, who 
has conversations with the "un-like-minded." 
One notable episode included Silverman's reaction to the downfall of fellow comic Louis C.K.

    On the other hand... It's fairly outrageous that this show was eligible in this category, considering that it's a talk show, complete with a monologue, interviews and pretaped segments.

  • 'Portlandia' - IFC

    Variety Sketch Series

    Augusta Quirk/ IFC

    This fourth consecutive nom for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's sendup of hipster culture recognizes its eighth and final season, which, like those before, was packed with funny guests (Jeff Goldblum) and targets (hunger strikers' cheat day). It shares an EP — Lorne Michaels — with SNL, the only sketch show with more total noms.

    On the other hand... Virtually no one saw it (this season's highest-rated ep drew just 152,000 viewers), and its noms tally decreased from 2017 (three to two).

  • 'Saturday Night Live' - NBC

    Variety Sketch Series

    Courtesy of Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

    Easily the buzziest and highest-rated nominee, it garnered 21 noms, just one fewer than last year's record and one fewer than overall leader Game of Thrones. Among them: five for supporting acting (a show record), plus directing and writing 
(no other sketch entry got a writing nom). The show's Michael Che and Colin Jost will host the Emmys show.

    On the other hand... It wasn't as great as last season, when election insanity helped it win this (and more Emmys than any other show).

  • 'Tracey Ullman's Show' - HBO

    Variety Sketch Series

    Rory Lindsay/HBO

    This show, a BBC import built around impersonator extraordinaire Ullman (who already has seven Emmys), garnered two noms this year — this one and best variety costumes — which is twice as many as it got 
in its first year in contention. Expect HBO to aggressively campaign.

    On the other hand... It boasts the fewest episodes — just 
six — and many of Ullman's best impersonations are ones we've seen her do before (e.g., Angela Merkel and Judi Dench).

  • 'The Late Late Show With James Corden' - CBS

    Variety Talk Series


    Thanks to segments like "Crosswalk the Musical" (which earned 
a surprise choreography nom) and "Carpool Karaoke" (the recent Paul McCartney installment has drawn more than 26 million YouTube views), it landed four noms, the most in its four years.

    On the other hand... It's the only nominee that airs after midnight, which doesn't help its prospects. Plus, CBS' other nominee, Colbert, is likely getting a more aggressive push.

  • 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' - ABC

    Variety Talk Series

    Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube

    Kimmel, the dean 
of broadcast's late-night hosts, landed his seventh consecutive series nom — and won the Critics' Choice TV Award — for 
a season in which he made new friends and enemies by taking strong moral stands on issues like health care and gun violence. He even had a Twitter war with Sean Hannity. He also hosted the Oscars for the second year in a row.

    On the other hand... It's unprecedented for a show to win this prize for the first time in its 16th year of eligibility.

  • 'Last Week Tonight With John Oliver' - HBO

    Variety Talk Series


    The winner of 
this award for the past two years scored 
more noms than ever (nine). This season was both 
funny and controversial: Oliver's children's book about Mike Pence's "gay bunny" was a best-seller and his mockery of Xi Jinping got him censored in China. Unlike last year, he isn't up against fellow HBO yapper Bill Maher.

    On the other hand... Voters may want to recognize another show — perhaps one that puts out more than one episode a week?

  • 'Full Frontal With Samantha Bee' - TBS

    Variety Talk Series

    Screengrab/Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

    This category's sole female-hosted nominee scored four noms (including directing and writing), twice as many as in 2017. Bee received special recognition at May's TV Academy Honors for "covering topics not typically addressed in this format, particularly women's issues."

    On the other hand... Unlike all but one other nominee (Last Week Tonight), Bee's 
show airs just once a week. And some were jarred by her "feckless c—t" remark about Ivanka Trump.

  • 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' - CBS

    Variety Talk Series

    Last year's likely runner-up has the highest ratings of any 
of this year's broadcast nominees and also matched the series-high tally of three noms that 
it garnered in 2017. Plus, we know voters love the host — The Colbert Report won this award twice.

    On the other hand... Colbert's "comeback kid" narrative was fresher last year. Plus his show must again fend 
off another show from the same network (The Late Late Show).

  • 'The Daily Show With Trevor Noah' - Comedy Central

    Variety Talk Series

    Screengrab/The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

    The Daily Show was a perennial nominee and frequent winner in the Jon Stewart era, but this marks its first nom in any category since 2015, when Stewart was succeeded 
in the anchor chair by Noah, late night's youngest male host (he's just 34) and the format's only nominee who is a person of color.

    On the other hand... Considering that 
this series nom came as a surprise to virtually everyone, and did not come with a directing 
or writing nom, a win is unlikely.

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