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Conan O’Brien Has Come Up with a Clever Emmy Strategy

Loophole allows 'Conan' to submit its Korea episode as a special.

Conan O’Brien is doubling down on his Emmy chances.

If you wondered about TBS’ decision to premiere O’Brien’s recent “Conan in Korea” visit as a special extended episode on a Saturday night, here’s why: The cable network was able to successfully petition the Television Academy to enter it in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special category.

That means O’Brien could wind up competing in that race, while “Conan” may simultaneously face off with the likes of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in the much more competitive Outstanding Variety Talk Series category.

TBS aired “Conan in Korea” on Saturday. April 9 at 11pm; “Conan” normally airs on Monday through Thursday nights. Unlike regular episodes of “Conan,” the host was followed, documentary style, as he explored the culture and people of South Korea, along with guests like “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun.

READ MORE: Confessions of an Emmy Virgin: TV vs. Motion Picture Academy

It was the latest in several recent overseas visits for O’Brien, who hosted an episode from Armenia in November and one from a U.S. Air Force Base in Doha, Qatar, this past January. The new format actually began last spring, when O’Brien became the first late-night host to film in Cuba in more than 50 years.

But the Armenia, Qatar and Cuba episodes aired in “Conan’s” normal weeknight timeslot and, as a result, were classified as regular episodes (even though, like “Conan in Korea,” they broke the show’s normal format).

Per the Television Academy rules, “A ‘special’ episode of a primetime series can petition the Primetime Awards Committee to be entered as a stand-alone special in a non-series category or area, but only if it was not part of the regular series order from the network or involves a significant and substantive format change throughout, e.g., from whole-episode live-action to whole-episode animation.”

Among the elements the Academy uses to determine if it’s a special vs. a regular episode: “whether the running time differs from that of the series episodes; whether writers and cast members are different from those on the series; whether there are differences in the program format; whether the story content is designed as a complete arc containing a beginning, middle and end rather than an open-ended serial-style; whether the main title is different, and similar considerations. The program must be promoted as a special.”

The Academy offered up some precedent last year. “Saturday Night Live” was nominated in the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series category (it lost to “Inside Amy Schumer”), while the “Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special,” which aired in primetime on a Sunday, was nominated in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special category (which it won).

READ MORE: How “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Became an Emmy Contender

The successful petition means the “Conan” staff may also be up for Emmys in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special (won last year by “Louie C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store”) and Directing for a Variety Special  (won last year by “Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special) races in addition to the Variety Series categories.

Can O’Brien pull off dual Emmy nods? Nominations will be announced on July 14.

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