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 (listed in alphabetical order). 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 four years running (ever since it’s been eligible). ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” also has a four-year streak going (sans any wins). “The Late, Late Show with James Corden” has been nominated three years in a row, and one of Stephen Colbert’s series has been up for three of the last five years. (“The Colbert Report” was nominated for its last season in 2015, and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” snagged nods in 2017 and 2018.)
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” also has a two-year streak going, making five nominees coming into the 2019 race with active nomination streaks for at least two years, and last year’s only new nominee, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” has the second-most nominations in the history of the Variety category. In other words, there’s not much room for new faces, series that have fallen out of favor, or talk shows banging on the door for years now. And yet, hope springs eternal — and it should! With new ways to view series, format changes, and shifting audience interests, there’s opportunity for movement at the Emmys, too!
For one, “Conan’s” recent switch to half-hour episodes could bring in a new group of viewers or revitalize old fans. The TBS comedy would be looking to join “Samantha Bee” representing the cable network, while “Late Night with Seth Meyers” is hoping to get NBC back into the race. It’s got more buzz behind it than “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which has three nominations in the past, but hasn’t been up for the Variety Talk award since 2016. “Meyers” meanwhile keeps gaining steam through smart interviews, savvy bonus segments, and highlighting rising stars (like Amber Ruffin).
HBO would also love to get two nominees in there, with “Last Week Tonight” possibly joined by former perennial nominee “Real Time with Bill Maher.” With 12 nominations total, including two in the last three years, the regular rabble-rouser could sneak back into the race in 2019. Comedy Central would rather see “The Jim Jeffries Show” join “The Daily Show” for two-network nods, but there are also new series from oft-overlooked platforms to consider. “Busy Tonight” is one of the few women to have her own late-night show, and she’s been having a lot of fun making her own space on E! Meanwhile, “Desus & Mero” have successfully rebooted their series on Showtime, which would mark the premium cable’s first nomination ever.
- “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (Comedy Central)
- “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
- “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (ABC)
- “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
- “The Late, Late Show with James Corden” (CBS)
- “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS)
Spoilers: “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “Conan,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”
In a Perfect World: “Busy Tonight,” “Desus & Mero,” “The Jim Jefferies Show”