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A version of this story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
VARIETY TALK SERIES
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
PRO: The winner in each of the past two years is eligible one last time before his CBS Late Show debuts Sept. 8 and voters may want to give “Stephen Colbert” a grand sendoff. He consistently was funny (hence directing and writing noms) and had an unforgettable, celeb-packed finale.
CON: Colbert’s Daily Show mentor Jon Stewart also ended his show — more recently, and with Colbert’s on-air endorsement.
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) PROJECTED WINNER
PRO: This category’s winner for 10 consecutive years (2003-2012) had the most recent series finale on Aug. 6, which hammered home just how much of an impact it has had on comedy (spawning shows by Colbert, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore and others) and culture. Plus it has directing and writing noms.
CON: He faced criticism for going easy on Tom Cruise. Plus, few variety shows have won, lost then won again.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
PRO: This is the fourth consecutive nom for the show hosted by the likable everyman, who is as capable as ever of being silly (see: President Obama edition of “Mean Tweets”) but has also begun to display a mature side (see: his classy tribute to his hero David Letterman and his emotional defense of Cecil the lion).
CON: It has been 20 years since a show won a variety Emmy without a writing nom, which this show lacks.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
PRO: This cheeky Brit has employed a combination of biting jokes (hence a writing nom), endearing asides and long-form segments (targeting corrupt people and institutions, such as the NCAA and FIFA) to hook audiences—and beat The Daily Show to win the news and information TCA Award.
CON: Its episodes are short and air but once a week, whereas its competitors air longer episodes most week nights.
Late Show With David Letterman (CBS)
PRO: The lovable curmudgeon, who’s the last of his generation of late-night talkers, hopes his 14th nom (first since 2009), for his final season, will deliver his seventh win (his last came in 2002). A highly-rated series finale, featuring adoring guests reading one of his top 10 lists, won’t hurt, nor will its directing nom.
CON: In addition to the lack of a writing nom, it’s been nearly three months since Dave said goodbye (and, just a day later, CBS struck his set). Will voters still feel sentimental?
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
PRO: The most likable man on TV is nominated for the second year in a row (after being represented in this category in each of the three years before that by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), thanks to his patented new brand of late-night humor discoverable the next morning through viral videos (lip sync battles, adorable puppies and even U2-in-disguise busking, etc.). His show also landed a directing nom.
CON: Many purists grouse that his show is less “talk show” and more “silly games.”
VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Drunk History (Comedy Central)
PRO: This Derek Waters-hosted program, which grew out of a Funny or Die web series and recruits intoxicated people to discuss historical moments that are then performed by actors like John Lithgow and Winona Ryder, had a particularly memorable season finale narrated by its MVP, Jen Kirkman.
CON: The show has been off the air for almost a year, plus this is its only nom (all the category’s other nominees have at least one other).
Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) PROJECTED WINNER
PRO: The third season of this show — which blends standup, skits and interviews — was its best yet (it’s this category’s only nominee that also landed both directing and writing noms) and coincides with Amy rocketing to stardom. The Trainwreck star is beloved by critics (see her Critics’ Choice and TCA wins) and also bagged a lead acting nom.
CON: Might the other two Comedy Central nominees actually undercut her chances?
Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
PRO: The 2013 Peabody winner, hosted by two ex-MADtv stars, is up for its final season, so sentiment may be on its side. Key helped its cause by bringing Luther, Pres. Obama’s “anger translator,” to the White House Correspondents Association dinner, and landing an acting nom to go with the show’s writing nom.
CON: Its ratings are lower than not only SNL but also the other Comedy Central nominees.
PRO: Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s Oregon-set hipster sendup, a 2011 Peabody winner, this season began devoting the entirety of its half-hours to a single sketch, unlike its competitors. While NBC and Comedy Central have numerous contenders, IFC’s time, money and attention is exclusively behind this — and they’ve gotten creative, mounting an inexpensive but aggressive grassroots campaign.
CON: The show has the smallest audience of any of this category’s nominees.
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
PRO: The king of sketch celebrated its 40th season this year. It last won a variety award in 1993, losing 12 times since, including each of the last seven years. Now segregated from the late-night talkers that kept beating it, and with a category-best eight total noms (including one for acting), it stands a very strong shot.
CON: It arguably never has shared the air—and certainly never has shared a variety category—with as many other quality sketch shows.
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