Late-Night Emmy Races’ State Of Confusion Deepens Amid Category Ambiguity & Odd Nominating Process For John Oliver & ‘SNL’

Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Kenan Thompson, Michael Che and Colin Jost all have hosted the Primetime Emmys in the past 15 years, but the late-night community once again is feeling aggrieved by the TV Academy as it heads into the latest awards season.

The central issue relates to the number of nominations in the Outstanding Talk Series and Outstanding Variety Series categories and the difficulty with fairly judging a wide range of shows that can be very different from each other.

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Insiders tell Deadline that there needs to be a change in terms of how late-night shows and variety series are judged at the Emmys. However, no one can really agree what that change is.

As the television world prepares for Emmy nominations to be unveiled on July 17, there are expected to be only three talk shows nominated for an award. Separately, Saturday Night Live and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver will find themselves in an unusual situation where, as a result of a low number of submissions, a separate group of people will determine whether they are nominated (more below).

“Doesn’t it feel that every year that the TV Academy is out of touch with the late-night world?,” one late-night source told Deadline.

As the number of nominations in the talk category falls by 40% this year, some have suggested recombining the two categories – talk and scripted variety – and sticking with five or six nominees each year, regardless of submissions.

Late-night folk admit that there’s no easy fix. “There is no blanket solution for this problem,” another late-night source added. “I don’t see how the Academy continues on this path forward for the categories as the number of series could potentially continue to dwindle, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here.”

But why should late-night get any special attention from the Academy given the incredibly small number of shows battling it out? The genre has long had an interdependent relationship with the Emmys given that producers have long relied on the hosting talents of the aforementioned stars, as well as the likes of Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson, who hosted for four consecutive years in the 1970s. Just this year, in fact, Deadline understands that ABC, which is airing the event in September, approached Kimmel if he was willing to host this year’s festivities. He politely declined.

This is why some believe late-night should be cut some slack. The community’s presence at the Emmys has also always been a boon to the Academy, since these shows pay for hundreds of people to attend the event. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show regularly send their entire staffs to LA.

But as the Academy has found over the years, comparing many of these wildly different shows is difficult.

Yes, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Daily Show are all relatively similar.Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen is also in this ballpark.

But these shows produce considerably more episodes than a show like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which has won eight times in a row. The deeply researched HBO show only produces around 30 episodes a year compared to The Late Show and The Tonight Show, which make between 150 and 200 episodes a year. Oliver was essentially moved to the scripted variety category because he doesn’t have guests. Then there’s SNL, which is a beast unto itself.

This is not to mention two other titles that are causing a stir in the community with their submissions: Hot Ones and John Mulaney Presents: Everybody’s in L.A. Both are gaining steam in voting circles.

YouTube series Hot Ones, which is hosted by Sean Evans and went viral with its recent Conan O’Brien episode, produces around 35 episodes a year (that’s still a lot of chicken), while Mulaney’s wildly chaotic show, which aired around the Netflix Is A Joke festival, only consisted of six episodes.

Deadline understands that Netflix first planned to submit the latter in the scripted variety category but after its live tapings, the TV Academy decided that it should be in talk.

“Recombining talk series and scripted variety will only make things worse; there’s already an unfair playing field that exists in the categories to begin with,” added another source.

The voting process for the scripted variety category highlights the difficulties for the TV Academy. Because of the tiny number of submissions – thought to be around five – SNL and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver will be “screened by the appropriate peer group for nomination” – an unusual move.

This voting would take place between June 28 and July 8, but it’s not entirely clear who would make up the jury. Deadline understands that there would be multiple people from a variety of television genres making this decision, but even those close to the shows don’t know who or how many.

The Academy has also changed the rules in the last couple of weeks; previously 90% of this peer group would have had to agreed for either SNL or Last Week Tonight to get a nomination but this has recently been modified to 70%.

Lorne Michaels, creator and boss of SNL and exec producer of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers, is arguably the man most effected when it comes to the peculiarities of late-night Emmys. However, he has stayed silent on the issue.

The Academy itself has a new boss in Cris Abrego and it’s likely that he’ll hear from some of his late-night constituents over the next few months. Whether anything changes, and what that could be, remains to be seen.

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