Emmys: David Letterman Could Battle Newcomers John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, James Corden for Final Late-Night Slot

THR's awards analyst assesses who is likely to be helped most by the TV Academy's decision to split its variety series Emmy into two awards, one for variety talk and the other for variety sketch.
Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS
David Letterman

In a year of massive change for the world of variety TV — goodbye Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson and David Letterman, hello Larry Wilmore, James Corden and, well, Stephen Colbert — the TV Academy has implemented a change of its own that will markedly reshape the variety TV Emmy landscape as well.

The best variety series category, which has existed for 64 years — since the days of Sid Caesar, Ed Sullivan and Dinah Shore — is no more. But don’t panic! Variety shows will still be recognized — only now in two categories, variety talk and variety sketch. And for anyone in the world of variety TV, that’s very good news.

Since Tracey Takes On… took home the variety series Emmy in 1997, few sketch shows were nominated and only one managed to win. (Poor SNL, which won in 1993, has been nominated and lost 12 times since then including each of the last seven years.) But now six sketch shows will be assured noms; in addition to SNL, top contenders include Portlandia, Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer and Comedy Bang Bang — and one is definitely going to get its moment in the spotlight. (Well, sort of. This category, unlike the variety talk category, will be presented at the Creative Arts ceremony, not on the big night.)

None of this is bad news for talk shows. Assured is the return of three perennial nominees — the departing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (which won this award for 10 consecutive years, spanning 2003-2012) and The Colbert Report (which won in each of the two years since), the returning annual bridesmaid Real Time with Bill Maher (the show has lost in each of the last 10 years, and its eponymous host is 1-for-32 over the course of his career). And it’s a fairly safe bet that they will be joined by Jimmy Kimmel Live! for the fourth year in a row and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon for the second (Fallon was also nominated in each of the three years before last for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon).

That leaves one talk show slot up for grabs. Will it go to the final season of The Late Show with David Letterman? (It has accumulated 13 noms over the years — winning in 2000, 2001 and 2002 — but hasn’t been a finalist since 2009.) Will sentimentality be trumped by fresh blood? (John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show and James Corden’s The Late Late Show are eligible for the first time.) Or might there be a surprise? (Conan was last nominated four years ago, while Ferguson’s The Late Late Show, Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live, Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately and Seth MeyersLate Night with Seth Meyers have never been nominated.)

That is the question.