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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Variety Sketch Series

Even with a scant three nominees, the question isn't who will win, but if any sketch show can topple "SNL"? [Updated September 10]

"A Black Lady Sketch Show"

“A Black Lady Sketch Show”


Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will be evaluating the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Variety Sketch Series — if you’re looking for Variety Talk Series projections, those can be found here. This article will be updated throughout the coming months, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out the week of September 14. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place virtually on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.

Last Year’s Winner:Saturday Night Live
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: The last show to topple “Saturday Night Live,” which has won Best Variety Sketch Series three years running, was Comedy Central’s outgoing gem “Key & Peele” in 2016. The year prior, “Inside Amy Schumer” took home the inaugural trophy, after the Best Variety Series category was split into Sketch and Talk.
Fun Fact: Only two series have five or more nominations in the category: “Saturday Night Live” has 24 (including Best Variety Sketch Series and Best Variety Series nominations) and Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” has five.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Documentary Now!” (Season 4 will not premiere in time), “I Love You America, with Sarah Silverman,” (ended), “Who Is America?” (ended), “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” (Season 2 will not premiere in time)

The State of the Race

“Saturday Night Live.” “Documentary Now!” “Drunk History.” “Portlandia.” “Tracey Ullman’s Show.” Over the past three years, the above titles were nominated again and again, always with the same result: “SNL” walked away victorious, and the cycle started over the next year.

But 2020 is different. Many of the perennial favorites are no longer eligible, including “Documentary Now!,” “Portlandia,” and “Tracey Ullman’s Show,” in addition to two of last year’s most patriotic nominees, Hulu’s “I Love You America, with Sarah Silverman” and Showtime’s “Who Is America?” There are also fewer nominees than ever before, which could cement the status quo or cause a much needed category shake-up. Sure, it’s likely “SNL” will keep its winning streak active, but the odds favoring a new champion are almost as good.

First, let’s look at “Saturday Night Live.” The category’s five-time winner (and three-time defending champion) is back with Season 45 in 2020, and there are few reasons to think the TV Academy has soured on the long-running NBC staple. “SNL” is tied with “The Mandalorian” and “Schitt’s Creek” with 15 total nominations — the fifth most of all programs. Over the three years it’s won Variety Sketch, “SNL” had 18 total nominations in 2019 and won five times; 2018 saw 21 nods and eight wins; 2017 hit a recent high with 23 nominations and nine wins, including four acting trophies. So Lorne Michaels’ juggernaut is trending down… and it’s still one of the most recognized programs at the Emmys. Even if voters agree Season 45 wasn’t the best iteration of the series, it’s built up decades of goodwill.

Also returning is five-time nominee “Drunk History,” Derek Waters’ Comedy Central favorite, which has emerged as an Emmy darling over the past half-decade of expert reenactments. Despite its awards season success and allure for excellent guest stars, the series was abruptly cancelled post-nominations. Given “Drunk History” has never won the category, perhaps an outpouring of support could push it over the finish line in what turned out to be its final season.

Still, “A Black Lady Sketch Show” should have slightly better odds. Undoubtedly given a big push from the still-reigning Emmy queen, HBO, Robin Thede’s new sketch series earned rave reviews for its first six episodes and continues to build buzz as new fans discover its strong sketches. If Emmy voters are eager to look past “SNL,” they could easily favor elevating a new, talented voice being backed by one of their favorite networks.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

1. “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
2. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO)
3. “Drunk History” (Comedy Central)

Predicted Winner: “SNL”
Actual Winner:

  • September 20

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