Contenders include John Oliver, Kate McKinnon and J-Lo and Shakira, but many of the variety and reality categories are being downsized this year because of new Emmy rules
The Emmy categories for variety and reality shows include many of the programs that have been most altered by the pandemic — talk shows and sketch shows that moved from studios to homes, singing competitions that lost their studio audiences, specials in which all the talent participated remotely. And while these are categories in which voters are famous for nominating the same shows year after year, the adjustments some programs have made for the virus may factor into some of the choices.
These are also categories that, for the most part, have shrunk in size because of the new rules that make the number of nominees proportional to the number of entries. The three reality categories will all drop from six to five nominees, while variety talk series will lose one nominee and variety sketch series will lose at least two, barring ties.
As with all of our predictions, we’ve included the number of nominees that each category will have, and the number of eligible submissions in each category.
OUTSTANDING VARIETY TALK SERIES
Number of submissions: 24
Number of nominees: 5
John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden and Stephen Colbert have been the nominees in this category for the last two years in a row, but one of them is going to be pushed out because the category is shrinking from six to five nominees, and more than one will have to lose out for anything new to slip in. It’s hard to imagine that voters won’t return to Oliver, who has won the last four years in a row, or Colbert, who had a couple of wins when the category was Outstanding Variety Series. Kimmel might be vulnerable, but he’s the only person besides Oliver to be nominated in every year of this category’s five-year existence. And don’t forget that Jimmy Fallon is lurking in the wings, waiting to get back in Emmy voters’ good graces after being banished for the sin of mussing Donald Trump’s hair. Bill Maher would also love to be back after his own two-year absence, and Seth Meyers and Hasan Minhaj would like a turn as well.
But this is a hard category to break into, so the likeliest outcome is that the nominees will be the same as last year minus either Noah, Corden or Bee. If there’s a tiebreaker, it might be how voters think these hosts have dealt with putting on a show during the pandemic, where Bee might get a few extra points for moving the production to her backyard.
Predicted nominees: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”
Watch out for: “Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” “Some Good News,” “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon”
OUTSTANDING VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Number of submissions: 14
Number of nominees: 1-4
This category is also accustomed to having six nominees but with only 14 entries, it won’t even have five this year. The good thing is that only three of last year’s nominees — “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” “Drunk History” and “Saturday Night Live” — are eligible in 2020, so they can all fit and still leave room for one first-timer to squeeze in, assuming that the category gets four nominees. (The Television Academy is vague on what happens in categories with fewer than 20 nominees, only saying that they receive between one and four nominees.)
If there are four nominees, the new show to break in will probably be “A Black Lady Sketch Show” over “Sherman’s Showcase” or “The Iliza Schlesinger Sketch Show” or “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready.” Oh, and “SNL,” which has won the last three years in a row and been nominated in the category 24 times, which is 19 times more than any other show, is one of the biggest locks on the entire Emmy ballot.
Predicted nominees: “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Drunk History,” “Saturday Night Live”
Watch out for: “Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show,” “The Degenerates,” “The Iliza Schlesinger Sketch Show,” “Sherman’s Showcase,” “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready”
OUTSTANDING VARIETY SPECIAL (LIVE)
Number of submissions: 29
Number of nominees: 5
If you look at this category over the past decade, you’ll see a whole lot of the same things: the Oscars (10 times), the Tonys (nine), the Golden Globes (nine), live televised musicals (seven), the Grammys (four), the Olympics opening ceremonies (three), the Super Bowl halftime shows (two) …
A lot of those are in the running again this year, and it’s a safe bet that a couple of awards shows will be nominated again — the Oscars for sure, and maybe the Tonys over the Ricky Gervais-hosted Golden Globes, although Emmy voters are strangely fond of the Globes. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s Super Bowl halftime show is a likely nominee, and so is “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times,'” if voters are OK with Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear trotting out the same approach with which they won last year. Other contenders include the Grammys, the live Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood concert and “The Little Mermaid Live!” We think voters will consider the particular challenges of producing live television under lockdown and give a nod to “Garth & Trisha Live!”
Predicted nominees: “Garth & Trisha Live!,” “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times’,” “The Oscars,” “Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show Starring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira,” “73rd Annual Tony Awards”
Watch out for: “Everything Was Fine: The Good Place Finale Special,” The Little Mermaid Live!,” “OPRY – Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Brad Paisley,” “77th Annual Golden Globes,” “62nd Grammy Awards”
OUTSTANDING VARIETY SPECIAL (PRE-RECORDED)
Number of submissions: 104
Number of nominees: 6
With a far more robust and varied slate of contenders than Outstanding Variety Special (Live), the pre-recorded category includes a few past nominees: Dave Chappelle, Hannah Gadsby, James Corden, the Kennedy Center Honors, the AFI Tribute … But Jerry Seinfeld and Ben Platt and Taylor Swift and Mel Brooks and Kacey Musgraves and Patton Oswalt and the “Parks and Recreation Special” and the Grammy tribute to Prince are all in the mix as well, and a nomination for “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration” would put Stephen Sondheim in the mix to complete his EGOT.
Chappelle’s special, “Sticks & Stones,” and Gadsby’s “Douglas” seem to be likely choices, and it’s hard to imagine that voters would overlook “Homefest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special,” given that his “Carpool Karaoke” specials have won in the category in three of the last four years. “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” is a formidable contender as well and if voters want to celebrate shows made under the pandemic, either Lady Gaga’s “One World: Together at Home” or LeBron James’ “Graduate Together” could prove to be irresistible. For the last spot, we’ll go with classy (“The Kennedy Center Honors”) over wild (“Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince”), though this could go in a lot of different directions.
Predicted nominees: “Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones,” “Hannah Gadsby: Douglas,” “Homefest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special,” “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill,” “The Kennedy Center Honors,” “One World: Together at Home”
Watch out for: “AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Denzel Washington,” “Graduate Together,” Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince,” “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” “Taylor Swift City of Lover Concert Special”
OUTSTANDING STRUCTURED REALITY PROGRAM
Number of submissions: 47
Number of nominees: 5
Since this category was created in 2014, the 36 nominations have gone to only 11 different shows and there’s never been a year in which at least four of the nominees didn’t repeat from the previous year. But that’s going to change in 2020 because only three of last year’s nominees — “Queer Eye,” “Antiques Roadshow” and “Shark Tank” — are eligible this year.
All three of those shows will certainly be nominated again, but then there’s room for new blood in a category that is usually more of the same. Contenders include “Dr. Pimple Popper,” “A Very Brady Renovation,” “Flip or Flop,” Kristen Bell’s “Encore!” and “Property Brothers: Forever Home,” which might have a leg up because the Property Brothers were at least nominated in the category for one of their previous shows. (They’re also in the running with “Celebrity IOU.”) But the PropBros should watch out for the Brady gang.
Predicted nominees: “Antiques Roadshow,” “Encore!,” “Queer Eye,” “Property Brothers: Forever Home,” “Shark Tank”
Watch out for: “Celebrity IOU,” “Dr. Pimple Popper,” “Flip or Flop,” “Little Big Shots,” “A Very Brady Renovation”
OUTSTANDING UNSTRUCTURED REALITY PROGRAM
Number of submissions: 44
Number of nominees: 5
This is another category that tends to nominate the same shows year after year. But last year’s winner, “United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell,” isn’t eligible because it didn’t air a new season during the eligibility period, and another of the 2019 nominees, “Somebody Feel Phil,” has moved to the Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special category. But with this category also shrinking from six to five slots, four of last year’s nominees are back: “Born This Way,” “Deadliest Catch,” “Life Below Zero” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked.” Other contenders include past nominees “Intervention,” “Naked and Afraid” and “Wahlburgers,” as well as “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook,” “Couples Therapy,” “Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up,” “Life After Lockup,” and one of the big winners at the Critics’ Choice Real TV Awards, “Cheer.”
Unless something like “Intervention” dislodges one of them, we’re guessing that the four 2019 nominees will be back, joined by the new cheerleading program.
Predicted nominees: “Born This Way,” “Cheer,” “Deadliest Catch,” “Life Below Zero,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked”
Watch out for: “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook,” “Couples Therapy,” “Intervention,” “Kevin Hart: Don’t F**k This Up,” “Naked and Afraid”
OUTSTANDING COMPETITION PROGRAM
Number of submissions: 60
Number of nominees: 5
The marquee reality category, and the only one presented on the main Primetime Emmys telecast, has five returning nominees, but not 10-time winner “The Amazing Race,” which didn’t air a new season in the eligibility window. With this category also dropping from six to five nominees, that makes things more comfortable for the other five from last year: “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which won in 2018 and 2019; four-time winner “The Voice,” with its string of eight straight nominations; 2010 winner “Top Chef,” with 13 nominations in the category; “American Ninja Warrior,” with its four straight nominations; and “Nailed It,” which last year ended the 14-year nomination streak of “Project Runway.”
Still, you can’t count out a return for “Project Runway,” or for 11-time nominee “Dancing With the Stars” or even reality-show granddaddy “Survivor,” which somehow hasn’t even been nominated since 2006. Then there are the shows hoping to break in for the first time, which include “Making the Cut,” “Lego Masters” and the zeitgeist-defining oddity whose time might have arrived, “The Masked Singer.”
Predicted nominees: “American Ninja Warrior,” “Nailed It,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Top Chef,” “The Voice”
Watch out for: “Lego Masters,” “Making the Cut,” “The Masked Singer,” “Project Runway,” “Survivor”
HOST FOR A REALITY OR COMPETITION PROGRAM
Number of submissions: 82
Number of nominees: 6
Two of last year’s nominees, James Corden and Marie Kondo, aren’t on the ballot this year. That could make room for frequent past nominees Jane Lynch and the team of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum to get back on board alongside 2019 nominees RuPaul (who has won four years in a row), Ellen DeGeneres, and Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler.
But others vying for the six spots include Nicole Byer from “Nailed It,” Jimmy Kimmel from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio from “Top Chef,” Dwayne Johnson from “The Titan Games,” Keegan-Michael Key from “Game On!” and Melissa McCarthy from “Little Big Shots.” Meanwhile, the rebooted “Queer Eye” always seems on the verge of landing a nomination for its five hosts, though that hasn’t happened yet.
Predicted nominees: Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness, “Queer Eye”; Nicole Byer, “Nailed It”; Ellen DeGeneres, “Ellen’s Game of Games”; Jane Lynch, “Hollywood Game Night”; Amy Poehler & Nick Offerman, “Making It”; RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Watch out for: Tim Gunn & Heidi Klum, “Making the Cut”; Keegan-Michael Key, “Game On!”; Jimmy Kimmel, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”; Padma Lakshmi & Tom Colicchio, “Top Chef”; Melissa McCarthy, “Little Big Shots”