Emmy Predictions 2019: Best Variety Sketch Series

"SNL" looks to add to its growing stack of Emmy gold. [Updated September 16]
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Sandra Oh" Episode 1762 -- Pictured: Host Sandra Oh during the monologue on Saturday, March 30, 2019 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
Sandra Oh, "Saturday Night Live"
Will Heath/NBC

Last Year’s Winner:Saturday Night Live
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: “Saturday Night Live” has won two years running, meaning it’s won exactly half of the awards ever handed out for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. However, despite Lorne Michaels’ landmark NBC series’ Emmy dominance over the last few years, it didn’t fare all that well before the Best Variety Series category was split in two: Sketch and Talk. “SNL” only won two awards in 38 years prior to the separation and hadn’t taken home the top prize since 1993.
Fun Fact: Unlike other actors, when “SNL” performers are nominated for Emmys they’re not credited for each character they’ve played. For instance, last year Tatiana Maslany was nominated for playing “Sarah Manning, Helena, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Rachel Duncan, Krystal Goderitch, Elizabeth (Beth) Childs, Jennifer Fitzsimmons, Katja Obinger, Tony Sawicki, Veera Suominen (M.K.), Camilla Torres and Unnamed Clone” in “Orphan Black.” Kate McKinnon, meanwhile, was merely credited for “Various Characters,” even though her NBC page lists 102 characters the two-time Emmy winner has portrayed in the series.
Notable Ineligible Series: “I Love You, America,” “Portlandia”

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

Well, “Saturday Night Live” is primed to rule yet again — though not just for its persistent topicality. After landing 22 nominations in 2017 and 21 last year, the NBC late-night sketch series dipped to 18 in 2019, but remains in prime position to win. There’ve been memorable episodes featuring the likes of John Mulaney, Adam Sandler, Matt Damon, Emma Thompson, and Sandra Oh — all of whom are nominated for hosting in the Outstanding Guest Actor or Actress in a Comedy Series categories — and the weekly news cycle being skewered hasn’t seen any shortage of outlandish material.

None of the other nominees have more than four nominations this year, so do any stand a chance of upsetting the Emmy juggernaut that is “SNL”? Probably not. “Documentary Now!” may have the best shot, given its four nods (including directing and writing nominations), but the IFC program is awfully specialized. The Emmy voting body would need a significant number of indie documentary fans for it to stand a chance, and I’m just not sure if as many people will respond to a hyper-specific Marina Abramovi′c parody as will to Adam Sandler making goofy voices.

Audience size is a problem facing “Drunk History,” “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” and “I Love You, America,” as well. Derek Waters’ Comedy Central series has been nominated enough for voters to be familiar with it, but its basic cable origins could be a hindrance in the streaming age. “I Love You, America” benefitted from Hulu’s popularity, but clearly not enough: The streaming service canceled Sarah Silverman’s show before it snagged a nomination. As for “At Home with Amy Sedaris,” truTV has done quite a bit to plug the show around town — those billboards are everywhere — but are its two nominations enough to steal “SNL’s” thunder in the top category?

The dark horse here is Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” Though far from a dominant ratings force itself, the Showtime surprise release sure earned its fair share of headlines. There’s plenty to be impressed with, as well, be it Cohen’s committed turns (and refusal to back down in the face of extremely negative reactions) to the makeup teams, production designers, and Emmy-nominated editors. It’s a long shot, sure, but maybe, just maybe, Cohen can pull off one more surprise.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

  1. “SNL”
  2. “Who Is America?”
  3. “Documentary Now!”
  4. “I Love You, America”
  5. “Drunk History”
  6. “At Home with Amy Sedaris”

Will Win: “SNL”
Could Win: “Who Is America?”
Should Win: “Documentary Now!”

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