Emmy Nominees: Broadcast Writers & Directors Strong in Late-Night

Over-the-air variety series still thrive at Emmy time, with established franchises leading the way

Variety Series Emmy Race
Courtesy of HBO/Comedy Central

At last, a category in which the broadcast networks more than hold their own. The over-the-air latenight shows thrive here, with established franchises “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Late Show” all racking up nominations. Basic cable fares well here too, with HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” as the lone nominee from premium cable.

Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Directing: Ryan McFaul
Writing: Staff

Let’s talk about sex: The Madonna/Whore sketch goes where Schumer loves to tread.

She deals with the mixed messages about sex from her bed buddy, who wants “Hermione from the third movie and Nicki Minaj.” She’s confused about whether to play the good girl or the bad girl. Meanwhile, cheaper isn’t necessarily better, as Amy Schumer discovers when she takes a pal on a “Sex and the City” bus tour in New York. “This is a really good tour I bought you,” she assures her friend. Except it isn’t.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
Directing: Paul Pennolino
Writing: Staff

John Oliver’s freshman series has picked up the Jon Stewart trademark rant-at-the-desk mantle. Oliver unleashed a torrent of truth against Donald Trump’s blatant lies and failed businesses and topped it off with his catchy “Make Donald Drumpf Again.” Paul Pennolino directed the episode, which broke all HBO online viewing records. For writing, the show took on predatory televangelists (“Curse you demon lupus!”) and the lax IRS guidelines that allow almost anyone to form a church.

“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
Directing: Don Roy King
Writing: Staff

It’s hard to go wrong with former regulars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as co-hosts and Bruce Springsteen as the live performer. And it all made for a very special Christmas episode, packed with some dark comedy (“Meet Your Second Wife”) and Fey and Poehler singing original holiday tunes in their monologues. The show also had the two hosts returning as Clinton and Palin (“You betcha”) and the duo’s hip Dope Squad riff taking aim at Taylor Swift’s posse — with Amy Schumer strutting her stuff in leather glory.

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee (TBS)
Writing: Staff

The timing of this freshman show could not have been better. Launching during an explosive presidential election year, this “Daily Show” offspring made the most of the rich comedy fodder. A public shaming of Donald Trump, who erroneously thought Scotland had voted to leave the European Union, topped off her explanation of Brexit. The Scottish response was priceless.

Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Writing: Staff

The nominated episode starts with a crazy one-upmanship game between two cliché-spouting football players before a bomb blast settles the fight. There’s also a nice Obama/anger translator bit. It hits its stride with a terrorist on a plane and a jaunty piece about pirates wanting to be feminist friendly while still objectifying women.

The Late Late Show With James Corden (CBS)
Directing: Tim Mancinelli

The post-Super Bowl episode shined with the pop culture hit Carpool Karaoke with Elton John and former supermodel Cindy Crawford re-creating her iconic Pepsi ad. Mancinelli blended in a live report with Corden’s parents after the game, a Bud Light tailgate party, and the Boyz II Men concert.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
Directing: Dave Diomedi

Justin Timberlake and Fallon kick off the episode performing a rocking “History of Rap 6” going from “Hammertime” to “Summertime,” and added a healthy dose of humor. And who does Lip Sync Battle better than Fallon doing “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” and Ellen DeGeneres countering with “Bitch Better Have My Money”? Mic drop.

Portlandia (IFC)
Writing: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel, Graham Wagner, Karey Dornetto

Fred Armisen says the nominated episode, “Going Gray,” came from real-life experience, “specifically dealing with old technology, which to me still feels recent.” Carrie Brownstein adds, “ ‘Going Gray’ encapsulates the theme of the season: an encroaching anxiety about aging and irrelevancy. Plus it showcases the strengths of the show, absurdity mixed with an earnest exploration of life experiences.”