Emmys: Can Anyone Beat Jon Stewart?

After a bizarre year in late-night, the perennial winner and returning favorites are back to face off again. THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg dissects the tricky variety series category.
Martin Crook/Comedy Central
Jon Stewart

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

PRO: Stephen Colbert had a banner ninth season, with a campaign to get himself appointed to a vacated U.S. Senate seat, a moving tribute to his mother, guests ranging from Bill Gates to Julie Andrews to Bill Clinton and, recently, a star-studded music video set to Daft Punk that went beyond viral. The Report has twice beaten The Daily Show in the writing category but never for series, despite earning noms every year since 2006. This might finally be the year Colbert upends his friend and former employer Jon Stewart.

CON: As good as Colbert is, Stewart and fill-in John Oliver didn't miss a beat during the former's hiatus to film a movie in Jordan -- a feat that could only further impress voters.

PHOTOS: 'The Daily Show's' Other Hollywood Graduates

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

Most likely to win!

PRO: The beloved funnyman has dominated the category ever since he took over Daily Show, racking up noms every year since 2001, and winning each of the last 10 years. This season, his guests included every major showbiz star with something to promote, plus two Supreme Court justices (Sonia Sotomayor and retired Sandra Day O'Connor) and an ex-president (Jimmy Carter). His "Nuke Kid on the Block" parody of Kim Jong-un went viral, and his offscreen antics -- including taking a hiatus to shoot a movie and appearing on Egypt's version of Daily Show -- also generated lots of buzz. 

CON: Stewart is abroad during voting. Could this mark the end of his run?

Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC)

PRO: Kimmel certainly didn't hurt his Emmy prospects by capably hosting the awards last year or by getting promoted in January to the 11:35 p.m. slot. (It's an achievement in and of itself that he's nominated and his more experienced rivals, David Letterman and Jay Leno, are not.) His 11th season's highlights include the episode in which his faux-nemesis Matt Damon bound and gagged him and stole his show -- it was renamed Jimmy Kimmel Sucks and was the night's highest-rated late-night show -- as well as the star-studded music video "(I Wanna) Channing All Over Your Tatum." 

CON:  If one of the young late-night guys is going to win, it seems like Jimmy Fallon would have the edge.

PHOTO: Matt Damon Returns to 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' Gets Labeled a 'Stupid Man'

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

PRO: A nominee for the past three years (and the youngest of the hosts recognized), Fallon is the most of-the-moment. Set to replace Leno as host of The Tonight Show in the spring, he is always likable and often very funny, as demonstrated during the show's fifth season, wherein he Slow Jammed the News about January's debt limit standoff, had his recurring imitation of Russell Brand corrected by the Brit himself and employed puppies to predict the Super Bowl and Oscars. Talk about variety!

CON: Late Night was the sole variety series nominee that was not also nominated for writing. No show has won the former without being nominated for the latter in the past 18 years.

Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO)

PRO: The stand-up comedian -- and his big mouth -- had a strong 11th season and extended his uninterrupted string of noms in this category that began in 2005. His show centers on politics and, in an election year and its aftermath, was at its most engrossing. His impressive guest list ranged from Nancy Pelosi to Julian Assange to Snoop Dogg.

CON: With various shows, Maher has accrued a record 29 noms without a win. He has four noms this year but faces major obstacles: Current events quickly become uncurrent; the show reaches fewer people than its competitors because it airs once a week and on pay cable; and his unabashedly partisan tone turns off as many as it turns on.

STORY: Emmys: Stephen Colbert Campaigns for Fellow Nominees in For Your Consideration Ad

Saturday Night Live (NBC)

PRO: The stalwart series' 38th season was rewarded with 15 noms -- only American Horror Story: Asylum and Game of Thrones garnered more -- including its sixth in a row here. (The show also boosted its record total Emmy noms to 171.) Election years always provide choice fodder, and this was no exception. And a lineup of capable hosts -- including Justin TimberlakeLouis C.K.Melissa McCarthy and alum Kristen Wiig, each of whom received guest acting noms -- were buzzy pop-culture highlights.

CON: The show doesn't generate the consistent laughs or interest it once did. Despite 18 variety series noms since 1976, it has won only twice -- most recently 20 years ago.