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 Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles 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 again 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?” Considering the shortage of contenders in this category already, there’s a good chance multiple freshman sketch series will earn the coveted spotlight only the Emmys can provide.
But first, “Saturday Night Live.” The five-time winner (and three-time defending champion) will be back with Season 45 in 2020, and there’s no reason to expect the TV Academy to sour on the long-running NBC staple. 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. Rounding out last year’s still-eligible nominees will be truTV’s “At Home with Amy Sedaris,” which is set to debut Season 3 in time for the newly realigned Emmy eligibility window.
So what’s trying to break in for the first time? “A Black Lady Sketch Show” should get a big push from the still-reigning Emmy queen, HBO, as Robin Thede’s new sketch series earned rave reviews for its first six episodes. “Alternatino with Arturo Castro” looks to do what Castro’s breakout series — “Broad City” — never could and land an Emmy nod for Best Program. “Sherman’s Showcase” might fill the spot left vacant by IFC’s “Documentary Now!” and “Portlandia,” especially if voters take to Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle’s comedy as much as critics did. But you can never count out Netflix, which has “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show” to push while we all wait for “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” Season 2 to hit. (It won’t debut in time for the Emmys, though.)
1. “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
2. “Drunk History” (Comedy Central)
3. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO)
4. “At Home with Amy Sedaris” (truTV)
Spoilers: “Sherman’s Showcase,” “Alternatino with Arturo Castro,” “The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show,” “Crank Yankers,” “The Degenerates,” “Tosh.0”
In a Perfect World: “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” would release new episodes every day.