Last Year’s Winner: “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: In the four years since the Variety Series category was split into Talk and Sketch, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” has won three times — a hot streak unbroken by seven different competitors.
Fun Fact: Despite the Variety Sketch Series category being introduced in 1951, and winners ranging from “The Carol Burnett Show” to “Your Show of Shows” to “In Living Color,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” holds the record for most awards in the category by a virtual mile. The Comedy Central landmark has 10 awards, while “Late Show with David Letterman” is the next highest with six, and two series — “The Andy Williams Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” — are the only other winners with more than two trophies. (They each have three.) Meanwhile, “The Daily Show” won all 10 of its Emmys consecutively, and “Late Show” won five of its six all in a row. Prior to those streaks, between 1998 and 2012, it was rare to see consecutive winners in the category, let alone the utter dominance exhibited by a select few over the last 21 years.
Notable Ineligible Series: None.
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz from the 2019 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, September 22. Fox is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
There hasn’t been a lot of turnover from year-to-year in the Best Variety Talk category. The three-time defending champion, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” has been nominated five years running (ever since it’s been eligible). ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” also has a five-year streak going (sans any wins). “The Late, Late Show with James Corden” has been nominated four years in a row, and one of Stephen Colbert’s series has been up for four of the last six years. (“The Colbert Report” was nominated for its last season in 2015, and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” snagged nods in 2017, 2018, and now 2019.)
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” also has a three-year streak going while “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” has made it two years in a row, which means all six 2019 nominees have been here before — and often. But does that indicate a strong field filled with possible winners, or that history will repeat itself yet again, and John Oliver is destined to walk off with his fourth trophy for Best Variety Talk Series come Emmy night?
It’s most likely the latter. Though each nominee has made minor waves here and there during the last year, none have separated themselves from the pack the way Oliver did in his inaugural season. His team has been able to meet or exceed the high qualitative bar they set for themselves, delivering viral videos and impactful stories based in deep, significant investigations and clever, pointed humor. “Last Week Tonight” remains a fan and industry favorite, and barring a hot new contender or steep drop-off in impact, the TV Academy doesn’t often switch horses.
That being said, James Corden is crazy popular with Emmy voters. After snagging seven nominations last year, he followed that up with seven more in 2019. He’s already won seven times, which means a crowning win for his “Late, Late Show” seems inevitable — it’s just a question of whether this is the year, or it’ll happen later down the line. Many thought Samatha Bee would be following a similar trajectory after winning an Emmy for her first “Not the White House Correspondents Dinner” in 2017, but despite 12 nominations and impeccable quality over three more seasons, that first trophy remains her only one.
Power Ranking the Nominees:
- “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
- “The Late, Late Show with James Corden” (CBS)
- “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
- “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS)
- “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (Comedy Central)
- “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (ABC)
Will Win: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
Could Win: “The Late, Late Show with James Corden”
Should Win: “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”