- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Variety shows — programs showcasing ?an assortment of components, usually comedic or musical, often filmed with a live audience — date back to the earliest days of TV, when Your Show of Shows (hosted by Sid Caesar) was immensely popular, and continuing through the Golden Age, with the likes of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show. Just as they began fading from the scene, Saturday Night Live arrived, in 1975, and has more or less consistently carried the torch ever since. The Emmy categories that honor these shows have been less consistent — and never before this year have variety nominees been so … varied.
At the first Emmys, there was no category specifically recognizing variety. At the second, an award was introduced called best live show. At the third, there was best variety show, which in ?later years would be renamed many times over. In some ?years, variety series and specials shared a category; in others, ?they were kept apart. Today, with more content platforms offering ?variety-style programs than ever before, there are likewise an unprecedented number of Emmy categories devoted to them.
Best variety sketch series recognizes shows like SNL, which won last year and is favored to repeat, having tied last year’s record number of noms for acting: nine. Portlandia, nominated for its final season, and At Home With Amy Sedaris, nominated for its first, are skit-centric. As for the other nominees in this category, Tracey Ullman’s Show is all about impersonations; Drunk History ?is literally a form of performance art; and somehow, a talk show, ?I Love You, America, slipped in ?even though gabbers now have an ?award of their own. One can safely assume that Hulu pursued this blatant category fraud — ?as did Netflix in muscling David Letterman’s talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, into the category of best informational series or special — because there have never been more talk shows, making it hard for even strong ones to land a nom for best variety talk series (a category created, like best variety sketch, in 2015, when the best variety series category was split).
Because the talk category is so competitive, a program like ?The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, which epitomizes variety, with its singing and dancing and games, can still be excluded. This year’s field includes another show that does similar things well, The Late Late Show With James Corden (best known for viral segments set in cars or at crosswalks); two that employ the standing monologue and sitting interview format, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and ?The Late Show With Stephen Colbert; two that are deskbound, The ?Daily Show With Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight With John ?Oliver; and one standing ranter, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.
This year, for the first time, there will be two variety special awards — one for prerecorded content and the other for live shows. Prerecorded nominees include two Netflix stand-up specials, Dave Chappelle: Equanimity and Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life; Corden-spawned Carpool Karaoke Primetime ?Special 2018 (the 2016 and 2017 editions won the then-unified variety special prize); Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Presents: ?The Great American* Puerto Rico (*It’s Complicated), chronicling that show’s post-Hurricane Maria trip to the devastated island; and The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Special.
The live category is dominated by awards shows — the Golden Globes, Grammys, Oscars (not nominated for the first time in 10 years was the Tonys, which opted not to enter its Kevin Spacey-hosted telecast) — which probably need a category of their own; and also includes Jon Stewart-hosted fundraiser Night of Too Many Stars: America Unites for Autism Programs; and NBC’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.
Variety is also highlighted with awards for disciplines from directing to sound mixing and stunt coordination (sharing some of those categories with reality programs) and with a shortform variety series award (this year’s nominees include a Funny or Die program called Gay of Thrones — notching its second nomination for its seventh season).
I imagine Sid Caesar would be proud — or at least laugh!
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day