Ten years ago, the Television Academy introduced a new category honoring Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. To mark the introduction of the new category, that year’s five nominees — Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, and Ryan Seacrest — were also tapped to host the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards telecast.
It was a disaster.
The five hosts failed to come up with a cohesive plan to open the show — and their lack of preparation, oddly, became their bit. It was a cringe-worthy affair, one that people still talk about (TV Guide Network even named it one of TV’s “25 Biggest TV Blunders” of all time).
No one probably remembers who actually won that year: “Survivor” host Probst, who went on to dominate the category for its first four years, winning in 2008 through 2011. After that, “Dancing with the Stars” host Bergeron won in 2012.
And then, something miraculous happened. The Emmy reality hosting category got woke. Although the world of TV hosts — particularly in late night — has been notoriously mostly white and male throughout TV history, things are changing. And this year’s nominees for reality-competition host is the best example of that.
The Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition category may be one of the most diverse in the entire Emmy race this year, as not a single nominee is a straight, white male: W. Kamau Bell (“United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell”), RuPaul Charles (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”), Ellen DeGeneres (“Ellen’s Game of Games”), Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”), and Jane Lynch (“Hollywood Game Night”).
Charles, who won last year and in 2016, is the frontrunner. But before that, Lynch won for three years in a row, and before that, it was Klum and Gunn. In reality, that means the category has been diverse for quite a while.
That doesn’t mean the host competition couldn’t use a shakeup. This year, DeGeneres is the only newcomer to the category — but she’s no stranger to winning an Emmy for hosting. As the star of the daytime talk show “Ellen,” DeGeneres has won four Daytime Emmys as Outstanding Talk Show Host. And among the other nominees, only Bell hasn’t won. (Nominees from last year who didn’t return are Alec Baldwin, Gordon Ramsey, and Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg.)
But a lack of shakeup has been a larger issue in all of the reality categories. The Outstanding Reality-Competition Program category was introduced in 2003, yet thanks to multiple wins by “The Amazing Race” (ten) and “The Voice” (four), only three shows have ever won the Emmy (“Top Chef” is the other, having won once).
This year, the category looks exactly the same as last year, as all the nominees have returned: “The Amazing Race,” “American Ninja Warrior,” “Project Runway,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Top Chef” and “The Voice.”
The Outstanding Structured Reality Series category is also unchanged: “Antiques Roadshow,” “Fixer Upper,” “Lip Sync Battle, ” “Who Do You Think You Are?” and last year’s winner, “Shark Tank,” are all once again nominated. The only new entry: “Queer Eye,” which replaced “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The Outstanding Unstructured Reality Series race has the same problem: Just one new entrant, “Naked and Afraid,” which had previously been nominated three years ago. The rest are repeats from last year: “Born This Way,” “Deadliest Catch,” “Intervention,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” and incumbent winner “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.”
There are so many unscripted series out there that it seems unfair that a handful of shows continue to hog all the nominations in the major categories. TV Academy voters have proven to be really progressive when it comes to whom they nominate for host, and the kinds of shows they choose in the major reality categories as well. Now, they just need to expand their view a bit wider.