Late-Night Emmy Race Wide Open After John Oliver Category Swap, But Talk Community Laments Loss Of Another Nomination

John Oliver will not be picking up his eighth straight Emmy for Outstanding Talk Series at this September’s gala.

The Last Week Tonight host will instead be battling it out with Saturday Night Live, and potentially A Black Lady Sketch Show, in the Outstanding Scripted Variety Series category after the TV Academy made a number of changes at the end of last year.

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The move means the late-night talk show Emmy race will crown another victor – the first non-Oliver win since The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won the award in 2015. Ironically, Stewart is now back in the same category with his Apple series, The Problem with Jon Stewart, after moving from the Outstanding Hosted Non-Fiction Series category.

It also means the race is far more wide open than it has been for years with shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show vying to take home the trophy.

However, while this is something that all of the nightly talk shows have long lobbied for, there is now a sense of trepidation and nerves. They can’t blame their lack of wins on Oliver any longer.

“I like that the answer to ‘how does somebody beat John Oliver?’ is you just move him elsewhere,” Seth Meyers told Deadline.

The other fear, which seems likely, is that only four shows will be nominated this year thanks to a dwindling number of late-night shows.

The TV Academy’s rules mean that if a category scores between 8 and 19 submissions, which is most likely, that the number of submissions will be divided by four and rounded to the nearest whole number.

Last year’s 19 submissions would have attracted five nominations – something that a crew of late-night showrunners had to subsequently lobby for – this year it seems that the number of submissions will be closer to 15, meaning that there will be only four nominations, down from the high of six in 2019.

The loss of series such as Conan, which scored a nomination in its final year in 2020, Showtime’s Desus & Mero and the cancelation of TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has hurt the category and it’s unlikely that E! News Nightly Pop will submit following its cancelation in October.

Deadline spoke to a number of late-night sources over the last few months and the shake-up has caused consternation as to who will be nominated, and who will win.

The general consensus is that The Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night and The Daily Show will score the nominations, although a few late-night folk are wondering whether former multiple winner Stewart could edge in there.

Multiple people we spoke to suggested that Jimmy Kimmel was a frontrunner to win. The host is well-liked, and some highlight the fact that he’s an “LA guy” could play into this with voters, as well as the fact that he has kept his profile high with jobs such as hosting the Oscars.

The writers strike could also shift the narrative. Some point out that voters have a relatively short memory so often vote for the shows that are strong at the point of voting. However, given that all of the late-night shows are shut down, there’s no chance to gild the lily with a slew of top-tier guests and bits during the voting period.

This may play well for both The Daily Show and The Late Late Show. Comedy Central is entering Trevor Noah’s final season for consideration and despite the fact that the South African comedian stepped down in December, it could well continue its run with a sixth nomination. As shown with Conan, voters have been known to give a nod to an exiting favorite.

“He didn’t do it for the awards, but c’mon,” reads The Daily Show’s Emmy FYC campaign.

James Corden, meanwhile, stepped down at the end of April with a star-studded last week featuring the like of Tom Cruise. Those close to the show were not optimistic at a final nomination before, but the fact that Corden exited days before the writers strike, a complete coincide, and with all of his rivals shut down could work out for the CBS show.

There are other outside possibilities; Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and Real Time with Bill Maher are both long-time submissions.

“I do think the Emmys is better if there’s some competition,” one source told Deadline. Another, however, added, “It’s nerve-wracking”.


John Oliver (L) & Lorne Michaels (R) (Getty)
John Oliver (L) & Lorne Michaels (R) (Getty)

While Oliver will not be competing in Outstanding Talk Series, the British comedian will have a shot to take SNL’s crown.

His network, HBO, however, is understood to have lobbied to keep Last Week Tonight in the talk category, but its more scripted nature and the fact that Oliver doesn’t regularly have guests on his show, meant they were rebuffed.

“A Scripted Variety Series is defined as a variety program that is primarily scripted, or loosely scripted improv,” the TV Academy’s rules state. “Scripted Variety may occasionally feature unscripted elements, but the main intent of the series is scripted or performed entertainment.”

Lorne Michaels’ venerable show has won the category six times in a row so it will be interesting to see which long-running winner will lose out. SNL has not had its most star-studded year. Following the departure of the likes of Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney, Alex Moffat, Chris Redd, Melissa Villasenor and Cecily Strong, Michaels called season 48 a “transition” year.

HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show is also expected to score its fourth nomination as the category is also set to have its number of nominations rise from two to three, thanks to the TV Academy’s new rules.

Having said that, it will face competition from Paramount+’s reboot of Inside Amy Schumer. Although the series only aired five episodes – six is the minimum number needed for new shows – because it has been submitted before, and won, there is a clause that allows it to be nominated due to its past eligibility, Deadline understands.

These shows would have faced competition from Schmigadoon! if Apple had had its way but the Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul-created musical comedy that stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key was forced to enter as comedy series rather than scripted variety series, despite a petition.

The Emmys may look a lot different in September if the writers are still on strike, possibly joined by actors in SAG, but if they do go ahead, they will crown at least one new late-night winner.

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