Gabfests dominate the variety, music and comedy Emmys


It's a reliable highlight of any recent Primetime Emmy telecast: The writers of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" and NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" submit daffy videos that depict them as monkeys or various freaks of the human world to accompany their submissions for consideration in the variety, music or comedy writing category. The message is that, well, they'll enter something as mainstream as an award competition if they must, but they remain far too cool to play by conventional rules.

Of course, it's all just a facade. The contenders for variety, music or comedy series are as covetous of industry attention as anyone else. But it could be bad for their bad-boy reps if anyone were to catch on to that fact.

"Daily Show" supervising producer David Javerbaum insists that the Emmys do matter to candidates, even though it takes a little between-the-lines reading of his sardonicism to get the point. As he maintains, "The writing category is possibly the least-anticipated single moment every year on Emmy night. That isn't opinion; that's fact."

Still, Javerbaum can't say voters don't love his work. "Daily Show" has claimed wins for series and writing the last four years running and has the potential to pick up its fifth consecutive writing achievement and series prizes in September. If it does, "Daily Show" will tie the consecutive-victory achievement of CBS' "Late Show," which took home the statuette from 1998-2002.

As it stands, "Daily Show" already has the longest winning streak for any basic cable series in Emmy history. All told, the program has picked up nine Emmys to date, also a Comedy Central and basic cable record. No other cable series even comes close.

As Javerbaum notes, "We aren't so jaded that it's meaningless. Believe me, it's nice to win. It's a really nice validation for the writers and the show. It's given out sincerely by people who have no vested interest in who wins or loses."

The rest of the writing and series categories tend to be filled out by both "Late Show" and "Late Night," the latter of which has 11 years of nominations in the writing category and four in the series category -- but no wins. And last year, a new pony entered the stable as Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" was nominated for series and writing.

But ask host and executive producer Stephen Colbert about the Emmys' effect on a show's success or credibility, and he'll just quip, "I don't know. Give us one, and we'll let you know."

Either way, "Colbert Report" seems to have done quite well even without an Emmy.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room that is NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" -- a comparative ratings behemoth -- has very little Emmy love to show for its numbers, with only one win in the series category in 1995. It hasn't even been nominated as a series in the past three years and has never been nominated for its writing.

Over the past nine years, there have been just three occasions when the writing and series winners in the variety, music or comedy category weren't the same. "Late Show" earned the series statuette in 1998, 1999 and 2002, each year, while the writing trophy got carted off by HBO's "Dennis Miller Live" and "The Chris Rock Show" and NBC's "Saturday Night Live," respectively.

The variety, music or comedy special lineup has shown a far greater diversity in terms of winners, which have varied widely each year. In 2006, for instance, the winner was NBC's Winter Olympics coverage. In 2004, it was HBO's "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," the performer's one-woman stage special. Since 1995, the Emmys also have honored concert specials headlined by Cher, Barbra Streisand and Chris Rock, a Cirque du Soleil event, CBS' annual "Kennedy Center Honors" broadcast and NBC's "Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary Special."

But if there is one constant among the special nominees, it's this: If you want to get Emmy notice, it helps to be, well, an award show. The annual Tony Awards telecast has won three times since 1995, in 1998, 1999 and 2005. And the annual Academy Awards telecast on NBC has received more Emmy nominations over the years than any other single program (though it rarely wins).

Now that's an inside ticket.