Could this really be the Emmys’ category for Outstanding Variety Talk Series?
Trevor Noah’s wrong-footed start on Comedy Central’s flagship show and Colbert’s flailing freshman season on CBS should make this no big surprise even after the Television Academy split variety into “talk” and “sketch” categories.
But something still feels … off. It’s been too many years of Comedy Central dominating the late-night dais for this to seem in any way normal.
Last time the Emmys had no Comedy Central presence in the late-night slot was 2000. Garry Shandling hosted. The West Wing, which had just wrapped its first season, dominated the drama categories, with Will & Grace on the comedy side. Late Show With David Letterman beat out The Chris Rock Show, Dennis Miller Live, Politically Incorrect and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for variety/comedy.
In the days that followed, new The Daily Show host Jon Stewart would welcome Bob Dole, Joe Lieberman and Ralph Nader to the program for a series of ongoing presidential campaign segments the fledgling show labeled Indecision 2000: Choose and Lose which, given the election’s protracted outcome, was mighty prescient indeed.
And it was catching on fast.
By the time the 2001 Emmys came around the first for which Stewart’s run on The Daily Show was eligible it was nominated for best variety/comedy series and won the category’s writing award. It first took home the big prize in 2003, the start of a 10-year streak that could only be broken by you guessed it The Colbert Report.
Less than a year later, Mashable first reported that Colbert had a foot out the door for CBS. And 10 months after that, Stewart said he was stepping down, too.
Comedy Central kept a stiff upper lip, knowing that with strong brands and Stewart as an executive producer on both Noah’s Daily Show and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, it had a decent chance of continuity.
For whatever reasons fickle audience preference probably being the biggest, though some will point to Noah’s tone and missteps on Twitter it just hasn’t worked out that way. The Daily Show’s nightly viewership has taken a huge slide, often failing to even approach the million-viewer mark.
Whereas Stewart used to regularly beat guys like Jimmy Kimmel and Letterman, Noah can barely compete with The Late Late Show With James Corden and is lately neck-and-neck with Last Call With Carson Daly.
But viewers and Emmy voters are different crowds with different agendas. You’d think some momentum would have carried The Daily Show or even Wilmore, which is at least experimenting with the format and has earned its place in the conversation around racial issues like the #BlackLivesMatter movement into the Emmys race with a nomination for … something.
In that regard, The Daily Show and Wilmore stand out from 2016 nominees like Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show With James Corden and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in that they have a social-good and political commentary element. Those slots instead were taken by Daily Show alum John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Real Time With Bill Maher.
(That Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal isn’t in that group feels like even more of a surprise, as the former Daily Show correspondent’s show is gaining steam but perhaps too late to have been an Emmys factor.)
Comedy Central still fared well overall its 18 nominations put it in the Top 5 among cable brands. South Park just had its best season maybe ever, and is up for the top animated category. Inside Amy Schumer picked up four nominations, including lead actress, variety sketch series and writing.
And among comedy-focused networks, it dominated competitors like TBS, IFC, Adult Swim and Funny or Die.
And who knows? In a year’s time, Comedy Central’s flagship late-night shows could find their footing and get back on the Emmys track.
Colbert, meanwhile, is doing juuuust well enough at CBS, ratings-wise, to earn the benefit of the doubt for now. While he can’t touch Fallon, he competes favorably well against Kimmel. But the fact that the host who snatched the gold away from Stewart in 2013 and 2014 went over to a show that was the last to win it (in 2002) before The Daily Show‘s run couldn’t even get nominated? That can’t feel good for Colbert, who has to watch Corden into whom he leads every night compete for the top prize instead.
It’s going to be pretty weird when, come September, they pan around the Variety Talk nominees, and the only Comedy Central-associated face will be that of Oliver, whose Last Week Tonight felt, at least initially, like the least likely to break out from this club.
And now, your moment of Zen:
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