Reality's Final Elimination Round
Surprise nominees and shocking snubs signal that the unscripted categories are due for a shake-up.
A wave of gasps swept the TV Academy's theater on nomination morning as two of the genre's most stalwart contenders -- American Idol and the only man to ever win host trophies, Jeff Probst -- were overlooked. This year, the four major unscripted races reveal that voters are hoping for buzzier fare (The Voice) and newcomers (Shark Tank) to shake up the status quo. "Our nom proves there's always room for another music show if it's done well," Voice host Carson Daly has said. There may also be room in the annals of Emmy history, too.
OUTSTANDING REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
Biggest snub: Poor Nigel Lythgoe! The executive producer of Fox's nine-time nominee American Idol (and frequent grouser over its losing streak) realized his worst fears when Idol didn't make the cut for competition contenders this year. After a shaky 11th season, lagging ratings and Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler's exit from the show, this had to hurt. Luckily for Lythgoe, he has another horse in the race, So You Think You Can Dance. Also snubbed? CBS' four-time nominee Survivor.
Surprising newcomers: Defying all odds, NBC's garishly addictive sing-off The Voice supplanted Idol in the race.
The playing field: With the exception of Mark Burnett's The Voice, it's the same roster as last year: Eight-time winner The Amazing Race battling one-time winner Top Chef, with Emmy bridesmaids Dancing With the Stars and Project Runway still in the wings and the youngest-skewing series, So You Think, hoping for an upset in its return to the race.
Likely winner: While singing competition Idol never pulled off a win here -- even in its early heyday -- The Voice had twice the flash, twice the star power and bigger overall numbers than its Fox competitor. Odds are that all that -- and those gimmicky spinning chairs -- will pay off on Emmy night.
OUTSTANDING REALITY SERIES, NONCOMPETITION
Biggest snub: There are fascinating omissions here, namely last year's winner -- and Discovery's gold standard for unscripted TV -- Deadliest Catch. Also missing is A&E's 2011 nominee Hoarders and Discovery's two-time nominee Dirty Jobs, not to mention some of the biggest reality series on TV: the never-nominated Pawn Stars and Deadliest Catch-like Swamp People, both from History.
Surprising newcomers: NBC's first entrant here, the celebrity genealogy-themed Who Do You Think You Are?, makes its debut after a strong third season (and on Friday nights, no less), as does ABC's entrepreneur contest, Shark Tank, another one produced by Burnett.
The playing field: The 2010 family-friendly winner Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution has been canceled, which doesn't bode well for an exit victory. Stalwart, eight-time nominee Antiques Roadshow has never won, nor has Discovery's four-time nominee Mythbusters or CBS' 2011 nominee Undercover Boss.
Likely winner: With such an odd mix of new and old, odds play in favor of fresh competition, like Who Do You Think or Shark Tank.
OUTSTANDING NONFICTION SERIES
Snubs and newcomers: Once again, this contest is such a strange hodgepodge of documentary work and academic-minded programming (all mostly on cable and PBS) that there aren't any glaring snubs or surprise newcomers this year.
The playing field: Last year's winner, the PBS docuseries American Masters, is back, as is Travel Channel's three-time nominee Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Bravo's 13-time nominee Inside the Actors Studio. Discovery's epic seven-part tundra doc Frozen Planet debuts in the race.
Likely winner: Planet was stunning, but The Weight of the Nation has the serious, activist bent many voters value (when they aren't watching The Voice). And it was on the Emmy-magnet HBO, which never hurts.
OUTSTANDING HOST FOR A REALITY PROGRAM
Biggest snubs: After four straight victories -- the only talent to ever win here -- Probst was voted off the ballot. Runway's three-time contender Heidi Klum was snubbed for the second year in a row, which is odd, considering her series is in the mix.
Surprising newcomer: Can you be a newcomer if you've won 13 Emmys? Betty White can! The TV legend showed off her hosting chops on the senior-citizen version of Candid Camera, NBC's Betty White's Off Their Rockers, proving again there's life after 80. And 85. And 90.
The playing field: White stealing Probst's slot aside, the race is identical to last year's: Idol's Ryan Seacrest is back for a fifth time, So You Think's Cat Deeley has a second nom, Race's Phil Keoghan has racked up four noms, and it's Dancing's Tom Bergeron's fifth go at a victory.
Likely winner: One should never bet against White. Why start now?