“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”
Why it might win: How does an eight-year winning streak sound? Stewart’s position as a modern media/political satirist is as strong as ever, and the program around him continues to enlighten and entertain with its comic outrage, silliness and incisive interviews.
Maybe not: And yet, how does an eight-year winning streak sound? Well, monotonous, if Emmy voters, some of whom might not have been enthralled by his D.C. rally last fall, are inclined to shake things up.
Memorable bit: Stewart’s pointed, bitterly funny and impassioned chastising of Congress and the media over scant attention to the 9/11 first responders’ bill is widely credited with its eventual passage.
“The Colbert Report”
Why it might win: Stephen Colbert’s virtuosic pundit role-playing allows this gifted performer to get into issues of the day in ways even his hypocrisy-exposing colleague Jon Stewart can’t. Should Emmy voters wish to give Stewart’s Emmy run a break, this might be the year for Colbert.
Maybe not: The performance art aspect of Colbert’s comedy is an acquired taste, and might come across as too goofy for Emmy voters.
Memorable bit: On the faux commentary level, a scathing verbal takedown of Sarah Palin in the guise of recognizing contempt for her in “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski’s eyes, and on a grander satire-in-real-time level, his efforts to start a Super PAC for himself.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
Why it might win: With increasing regularity, ABC’s latenight talk guy has turned his allotted hour into a buzzworthy combination of pre-recorded comedy segments, savvy pop culture jokes and lively, funny guest chat.
Maybe not: It’s a crowded field when it comes to this particular arena, and there’s still the sense that the old guard of Leno, Letterman, Stewart and Maher get more consideration from Emmy voters than Kimmel, who hasn’t hit 10 years yet in his post.
Memorable bit: Sure, Charlie Sheen kissed the host recently, but Kimmel’s post-Oscar shindig was especially killer this year, from Tom Hanks’ “Toddlers & Tiaras” spoof to the infomercial-ripping “Hottie Body Hump Club,” which boasted an astonishing array of female star cameos.
“Onion News Network”
Why it might win: Building on their successful Web videos, the first foray by news-satire brand the Onion into television proved how durably funny their kind of media jiggery-pokery is, with a spot-on spoof of cable-news bombast, from the slick graphics and smarmy tone to the straight-faced personalities spouting ridiculous nonsense.
Maybe not: The humor is often ice-cold and pitch-black, which may turn off the sensibilities of Emmy voters more accustomed to the friendlier fake-news style of Stewart and Colbert.
Memorable bit: A story delivered in perfectly attuned breaking-news tragedy tones, about a group of West Virginia miners being trapped … in their jobs.
Why it might win: IFC’s culty hit about the follies of the liberal-minded, from “SNL” member Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, hooked into a winning mixture of “Kids in the Hall”-style lampoonery and old-fashioned sketch smarts.
Maybe not: The modest, webvid-influenced aesthetics and sometimes left-field wackiness might not register as boldly with Emmy voters as the latenight gagfests and personality-driven chat shows that usually dominate this category.
Memorable bit: Armisen and Brownstein discover that indie rocker Aimee Mann is their cleaning lady, which spurs them to be both creepily fawning and cruelly bossy.
“Real Time With Bill Maher”
Why it might win: Maher’s bonafides as a politically minded comedian have never been surer, and his live hour mixes serious interviewing, panel argument, comic bits and humorous ranting in a way that shows remarkable hosting dexterity. Plus, he still manages to find conservatives to appear on his show – a feat in itself.
Maybe not: He’s a caustic personality, unafraid to court controversy with on-air statements and topics (usually about religion and drugs), which might not exactly endear him to Academy members.
Memorable bit: Maher pulled out a clip from his old “Politically Incorrect” show that showed senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell – then an abstinence advocate – admitting she’d “dabbled in witchcraft.” The footage forever altered the tone of O’Donnell’s campaign and became a media sensation.
“Saturday Night Live”
Why it might win: Another strong year of hosts (Jane Lynch, Justin Timberlake, Robert De Niro) and musical guests (Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Elton John and Leon Russell) was only fortified by the usual top drawer work of Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Seth Meyers as “Weekend Update” host.
Maybe not: It’s become easy to overlook this latenight comedy stalwart, and with no single episode as consistently great as the prior year’s Betty White masterpiece (which still didn’t land it a win in this category), just getting nominated might have to suffice.
Memorable bit: Samberg’s Digital Shorts were mostly on fire this year, with “Andy and Pee-Wee’s Night Out” – in which Samberg and Paul Reubens-as-Pee-Wee tear up the town – a particular standout for its comic outrageousness.
“Sports Show With Norm Macdonald”
Why it might win: Macdonald’s heyday as a “Weekend Update” anchor for “Saturday Night Live” was evoked by the smirking comedian’s new show, with his sarcastic riffing on real-life absurdity appropriately taking center stage.
Maybe not: There’s a brick wall of topical humor shows and latenight institutions to break through for a newbie like this to get Emmy recognition, making Macdonald’s chance at a nomination something of a Hail Mary pass.
Memorable bit: In “Blake Like Me,” Macdonald purports to go undercover — with the help of makeup — as NBA star Blake Griffin, which in the sketch is actually Griffin himself (dubbed by Macdonald) doing a hilarious job of pretending to be a terrible basketball player.
“The Tonight Show With Jay Leno”
Why it might win: Despite a controversial retaking of this venerable show’s helm, noted workhorse Leno has quietly returned it to middle-of-the-road prominence as a latenight bulwark for NBC. That he isn’t so hip with the youngsters could play in his favor with older Academy members who still like their topical humor in the form of monologue one-liners.
Maybe not: He hasn’t had a watercooler moment in a while, and his reputation is still not entirely free of stain after the circumstances surrounding his return to the “Tonight Show” desk.
Memorable bit: Leno can let comedians thrive, whether it’s Louis C.K. talking about trying to force hydrogen peroxide down his dog’s throat to save his life, or Paul Reiser appearing the week after his new sitcom had been canceled by NBC, where he jabbed at the network.
Latenight comedians can sway opinion
Series | Specials