×

Emmys: Variety Talk and Sketch Races Make for a Tale of Two Categories

Two years ago, the TV Academy split the Emmy for outstanding variety series into two separate categories: talk shows and sketch programs. Creatives like “Comedy Bang! Bang!” host Scott Aukerman lobbied for the change, arguing that such disparate programs as “The Colbert Report” and “Kroll Show” should not be competing in the same arena.

It was a fair point. After years of spotty recognition in the variety category, when shows like “Tracey Takes On…,” “Da Ali G Show” and “Saturday Night Live” managed to break through only sporadically, the sketch format appeared to be on the rise. Series such as “Drunk History,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Portlandia,” among others, made the case for a separate playground.

But what appeared to be a ballooning field has since thinned out. Previous winners “Key & Peele” (concluded) and “Inside Amy Schumer” (delayed) won’t be in the mix this year. A few of last year’s contenders are off the table due to hiatus or limbo, like “Adam Devine’s House Party,” “Nathan For You,” “Netflix Presents: The Characters” and “W/ Bob & David.” Two more — Comedy Central’s “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser” and Fox’s “Party Over Here” — have been canceled.

The aforementioned “Kroll Show” has also sailed off into the sunset.

There will be new blood, however. Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, should they be remembered, are an enticing option (NBC’s “Maya & Marty”). Billy Eichner could finally get in on the action (TruTV’s “Billy on the Street”). The triumphant return of Tracey Ullman would certainly make for a fun story (HBO’s “Tracey Ullman’s Show”). But the category mostly feels uneventful outside of what’s been previously nominated. Moreover, it just doesn’t look like the format is booming enough to maintain an Emmy schism.

And to be clear, there were only 20 eligible titles last year anyway. That number will probably drop. On the talk show side, there were only 17. Does the TV Academy really need two categories to cover 37 eligible contenders? Those are some enviable odds.

(“Comedy Bang! Bang!,” incidentally, hasn’t been nominated yet.)

All of this does, however, make for an interesting tale of two categories. Because while the sketch competition feels muted, the talk show race is catching fire.

Most are assuming it’s John Oliver’s to lose, as “Last Week Tonight” has forged ahead in this realm. But it could get interesting. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” could all be primed to return with nominations, but there’s going to be a bottleneck.

On CBS, Stephen Colbert has righted the ship at the “Late Show” helm, basking in the glow of 10 weeks on top of the late-night ratings mountain. Seth Meyers has finally found his footing on NBC, turning out inspired “Late Night” work (spurred, like Colbert, by the Trump era), while Trevor Noah has gotten more comfortable in the “Daily Show” chair over on Comedy Central. And Samantha Bee remains formidable, despite the fact that TBS only secured a writing nomination for “Full Frontal” last year.

The real question is whether the variety Emmy landscape will remain divided going forward. These tweaks don’t last forever. Movies and limited series were combined for a three-year stretch recently, only to go back to their separate corners. At the Oscars, original comedy scores enjoyed their own space for a decade before being consolidated with dramas once again.

It always seem like a good idea…until it doesn’t.

More TV

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized by the [...]

  • Naomi Watts

    Naomi Watts to Star in Jason Blum-Produced Quibi Series 'Wolves and Villagers' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Naomi Watts has been cast in the lead role in the upcoming Quibi series “Wolves and Villagers,” Variety has learned exclusively. The exact plot of the short-form series is being kept under wraps, but Quibi co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg has previously described the show as “Fatal Attraction 2.0.” Jason Blum is executive producing the series, with [...]

  • HBO's 'Breslin And Hamill' Documentary Drops

    HBO's 'Breslin And Hamill' Documentary Drops Trailer

    “Revolutionary,” “superstars,” “the voice of true New Yorkers” — that’s how Spike Lee and other influential figures describe journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill in the trailer released for HBO’s “Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists” documentary. The film, which premieres Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, follows the two newspaper columnists whose dedication and wit [...]

  • Riverdale Chapter Twenty-Six

    TV News Roundup: 'Riverdale' Sets 'Heathers' Musical Episode

    In Thursday’s roundup, “Riverdale” is set to tackle “Heathers: The Musical,” and Freeform has announced its second annual summit. DATES  The musical episode of the CW’s “Riverdale,” featuring nine songs, will air Wednesday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. On the show, Riverdale High School takes on “Heathers: The Musical,” with queen bees Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), [...]

  • The Bone Collector

    NBC Orders 'Bone Collector' Drama Pilot 'Lincoln'

    NBC has ordered the drama pilot “Lincoln,” formerly known as “The Bone Collector.” Based on the internationally bestselling book series, “Lincoln” follows legendary forensic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme, who was seriously injured during his hunt for the diabolic serial killer known as the Bone Collector. Called back into action when the killer re-emerges, Lincoln forms a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content