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Awards Shows Vie for Awards, but Emmy Avoids Patting Itself on the Back

But catch-all categories like variety and special class pit apples vs. oranges

The Emmy telecast is not eligible to win an Emmy award. But the Oscars, Tonys, Grammys and Golden Globes are — and have all garnered nominations for this year’s ceremony.

Confused? By all means, get in line. Because while variety might be the spice of life, when it comes to the Emmy Awards, the variety categories can be a trifle baffling, throwing together people and programs that at the very least qualify as strange bedfellows, and at the very worst, apples and oranges.

Like the Golden Globes — where TV’s supporting actor/actress balloting encompasses movies, series and even sketch comedy like “Saturday Night Live” — variety has become one of the more expansive catchalls within the Emmy race. In addition, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences revised its rules in 2012, shifting award shows, concerts and entertainment connected to sporting events into special class programming, excluding them from consideration as best “variety special.”

So as presently constituted, the Kennedy Center Honors finds itself situated opposite the stand-up showcase “Louis C.K.: Oh My God” and the considerably more dour “12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief” in the variety special lineup.

Meanwhile, the Oscars, Tonys and Golden Globes are now dubbed “special class” contenders, along with the London Olympics opening ceremony and a Lincoln Center performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”

Got that?

Perusing related awards for writing and directing — which span both variety and special class fare — does little to provide greater clarity. There, Louis C.K. faces off against writers from “Saturday Night Live” as well as the Golden Globes and Tonys, while the directors of the Olympics opening go for the gold versus the Kennedy Center Honors, Oscars, aforementioned Hurricane Sandy special and, yes, the ubiquitous Louis C.K.

One would think that, with the dozens awards the Emmys dole out, this wouldn’t be a problem. But the definition of certain categories is broad enough to embrace a fairly wide assortment of programs, even if that means crowding latenight comedy, award shows and sketch fare under the same tent.

Moreover, there are only imperfect solutions when trying to decide where to place something like “Mel Brooks Strikes Back!” — essentially a filmed conversation with the comedy legend and raconteur — since there are hardly a glut of those scheduled in an average year.

Even the marquee competition, variety series, can be second-guessed when contemplating the divergent tone of a program like HBO’s acerbic “Real Time With Bill Maher,” which is up against more traditional latenight talk fronted by Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central’s half-hours hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the ensemble format of “Saturday Night Live.”

That said, thanks to “The Daily Show’s” record-setting 10-year winning streak, complaining seems potentially moot.

With CBS airing this year’s awards, the Emmycast will also feature the return of host Neil Patrick Harris, already the recipient of two Emmys for past stints as producer/host of the Tonys, and a nominee again this year for the 2012 edition.

Given all that he does, somebody should really give that guy a medal. Because no matter how good he is on Sept. 22, it won’t win him an Emmy.

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