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Late-Night Shake-Up Plays Big Factor in Awards Race

With former Emmy winner David Letterman and record-breaker Jon Stewart off the air, this year’s race for the Emmy in late night has become an open field for newcomers. Meanwhile veterans Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel continue to seek that elusive Emmy win.

The only other person to break that juggernaut was Stephen Colbert, who jumped ship from Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to mainstreaming with CBS’ “Late Show.” For a whopping 13 consecutive years either “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” or its offshoot “The Colbert Report” has won the variety category. Prior to that, “Late Show With David Letterman” took the category from 1998-2002. In the hotly contested battle of the bye-byes, Stewart beat out Letterman and took home the 2015 Emmy. Last year, although Craig Ferguson was also bidding adieu to his show, there were essentially only two frontrunners destined to take home yet another golden statuette.

The one thing we can predict for 2016: Someone new will be taking home the Emmy.
This year’s hosts have all achieved varying degrees of success. Some have racked up impressive ratings, others have been blowing up the internet with their sketches and monologues.

“It’s a hard year to stand out, but that’s what makes it so satisfying,” says CBS’ “The Late Late Show With James Corden” executive producer Ben Winston. “There are essentially at least five new shows, all competing for eyeballs.”

“Corden” executive producer Rob Crabbe says having so many newcomers to the game has helped make this a particularly good time for late night.

“It raises everybody’s game when you have to work harder to get noticed,” Crabbe says. “It’s good for us and for late night in general.”

Many of the potential candidates for this year’s race trace their roots to “Saturday Night Live,” including Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, and “The Daily Show” (Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee). Some have exceeded expectations while others, including Stewart’s replacement Trevor Noah, have not yet gained their footing. Ratings for “The Daily Show” have sunk more than 30% since Noah replaced Stewart, and the buzz has been almost nonexistent for a show that has always thrived in big election years. And this has been a year when political satire has had access to a lot of easy pickings. Critics have been, at best, lukewarm to Noah’s charms. Stepping up have been “Daily Show” alums Wilmore on Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show” and Oliver and Bee who, admittedly, have only had to shine once a week rather than four or five.

“While ‘The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore’ hasn’t achieved the heights of its predecessor, ‘The Colbert Report,’ it has a host whose deadpan delivery and improvisational chops make for a dependably funny half-hour,” writes Variety chief TV Critic Maureen Ryan.

“It’s a hard year to stand out, but that’s what makes it so satisfying. There are essentially at least five new shows, all competing for eyeballs.”
Ben Winston

“In an election year in which race is part of the conversation as it rarely has been in the past, Wilmore has found a multitude of serious and sarcastic ways to come at that crucial topic, and his riffs on the news of the day are often dryly amusing as well.”

HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” each have offered up sharp looks on the political scene with a biting edge.
“Oliver seems almost a guarantee to win a [repeat] nom, because his show is truly doing something new: investigative comedy,” says Bill Carter, author of three books on late-night television, including the seminal “Late Shift.” “I’m sure a range of his extended examinations on topics will make excellent submissions.”

As for Bee, Carter says no one has brought more passion to the pursuit of political satire. With Stewart out of the picture, she seems to have jumped into that niche both with fervor and creative excellence.

“On weeks when we are away from the office, we should be enjoying time off but instead we are texting each other,” says “Frontal” showrunner Jo Miller, formerly of “The Daily Show.” “When you talk about Congress not passing a non-partisan [military] sexual assault bill, it’s hard not to get passionate about that.”

Bee is also the only woman in the game who appears to have outstanding reviews and widespread support to help her break through the male-dominated field. When the Academy split the variety category last year, Amy Schumer took home the Emmy for the newly created variety sketch category. Prior to that, the last woman to win in the category was Tracey Ullman’s HBO series “Tracey Takes On…” in 1997.

“We do visceral rage that is wonky and nerdy,” Miller says. “But beyond that, John Oliver was the first one who took what we did on ‘The Daily Show’ format and take those strengths to go deeper.”

Miller says most of the late-night shows have developed through the strengths of the hosts’ backgrounds.

“Kimmel’s man on the street is so much fun to watch, [as is] Conan going abroad. Fallon would be bored to death if he had to just sit at a desk,” Miller says.
NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” has become more political this sophomore year, which may bode well for the show. He still bests newcomer Corden in the ratings. But most eyes are on the 11:35 p.m. broadcast contenders.

The traditional network talk shows have gotten a good shake-up in the past few years with the departures of Jay Leno and Letterman, once the powerhouses of network late-night talk.

“You have to think Jimmy Fallon is the shoo-in to win an Emmy nomination both by his consistent edge in popularity and the fact that he basically re-invented the format — or at least put his own spin on it,” Carter says. “What used to be a talk show with comedy is now a comedy performance show with talk.”

And while Colbert’s appearance on a broadcast network as Letterman’s replacement came with much excitement last fall, he hasn’t seemed to be able to maintain that initial thrust. His show still bests the now veteran Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, but not by much. Unlike Kimmel, Fallon and his late-night CBS teammate Corden, he hasn’t made a huge impact online.

On the flip side, newcomer Corden, who took over Ferguson’s spot, appears to be settling in much better than expected. He may be last in the timeslot ratings by a slender margin, but he’s become a YouTube sensation. All his clips do well, with his most successful being Carpool Karaoke, where he takes celebrated recording artists such as Jennifer Hudson and Adele out of the studio and into a car for a seemingly spontaneous chat and sing-along with the aid of a dash camera.

Crabbe, who previously worked on the Fallon show, says the late-night talk-show format has been restructured to serve the strengths of the new hosts.

“Jimmy [Fallon] came to it after years on ‘SNL’ and a sketch comedy background. [Corden] came as a Tony Award winner, Disney film actor and successful [British] sitcom star. What he hadn’t done was monologues or standup, so the tropes of late night were new to him,” Crabbe says. “I think the skill set is different than those that used to host late night.”

When Emmy voters stamp their ballots, they’ll need to look at a lot of fresh faces, and also perhaps take a second glance at the ones who might have been overlooked in the past.

“I still think Jimmy Kimmel gets better every year, and he can trot out a host of signature comedy bits. Corden really has defied the odds [from an unknown] to become the most talked about and massively streamed of the new hosts,” Carter says. “Corden has provided a jolt to the format and I really expect him to get some sort of recognition, even with all the competition. The ever-increasing number of late-night stars makes selecting just [six] of them or fewer tougher than ever.”

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