The variety and reality categories are among the oddest at the Emmys, with the most-nominated show in Emmy history (“Saturday Night Live”) stuck in a category that is so small it shouldn’t even exist anymore. The reality categories, meanwhile, are the province of some shows that are always nominated but never win (“Antiques Roadshow,” 0-for-19) and others that have won every year they’ve been nominated recently (“Queer Eye,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race”).
This year, these categories bring us Norman Lear vs. Dr. Dre, Lizzo vs. Mark Cuban and fishermen vs. Kardashians. Here are our predictions for the nominees in four variety and four reality categories, part of a series of nomination predictions in all of the Emmys’ top categories.
Because the number of nominees varies depending on the number of entries in each category, we’ve indicated just how many slots are available, too. Note: In the event of ties, the number of nominees can change.
Outstanding Variety Talk Series
Number of nominations: 4
This category had six nominees for the first five years of existence and five for the last two years, but this year it’ll be down to four. That’s a real problem because it doesn’t even leave enough room for the late-night shows that are nominated virtually every year: John Oliver (who always wins), Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee, James Corden, Bill Maher… Maybe Corden (who hasn’t been nominated in three years) will get a bump because he’s leaving next year, and maybe this will be the year that Seth Meyers finally breaks into the category — but given how set in their likes voters are, it’s hard to pick against the four shows that are all riding streaks of at least four years.
Predicted nominees: “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”
Watch out for: “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” “Late Late Show With James Corden,” “Late Night With Seth Meyers”
Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
Number of nominations: 2
There are only eight qualifying programs in the variety-sketch category this year, so few that according to Emmy rules the category is subject to elimination or consolidation. And since one of those contenders, “Saturday Night Live,” is the most-nominated show in Emmy history, this is probably a contest to see which one of the other seven shows gets to be nominated and then lose to “SNL.”
The only other qualifying show that has been nominated in the past is “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” which received noms in both of its previous seasons, 2020 and 2021, when the category had three and two nominations, respectively. (“Whose Line Is it Anyway?” received a handful of performance and tech nominations in its original incarnation two decades ago, but nothing for the current version.) While “Ziwe” ought to be another strong contender, its best hope is probably that it and “Black Lady Sketch Show” get the exact same number of votes, allowing a tie to expand the category to three. (The other qualifying shows, by the way, are “The Amber Ruffin Show,” “PAUSE With Sam Joy,” “That Damn Michael Che” and “True Story With Ed and Randall.”)
Predicted nominees: “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Saturday Night Live”
Watch out for: “Ziwe”
Outstanding Variety Special (Live)
Number of nominations: 5
Even though this category is for one-time specials, the nominations follow definite trends. For instance: The Tony Awards are almost always nominated, the Super Bowl halftime show usually is and the live specials recreating Norman Lear’s classic sitcom episodes have won every time they’ve aired. And while it might be tempting to write off this year’s Oscars because most people thought it was a terrible show, we shouldn’t be hasty—most people thought that about last year’s Oscars, and that didn’t stop it from continuing a nomination streak that has now reached 15 consecutive years.
That leaves one open slot, which could make “Annie Live!” the eighth live musical to be nominated since 2013, or the Grammys, which have been nominated three times in the last four years.
Predicted nominees: “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes’,” “The Oscars,” “The Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent,” “The 64th Annual Grammy Awards,” “The Tony Awards Presents: Broadway’s Back”
Watch out for: “Annie Live!,” “For You, Paige,” Naomi Judd: A River of Time Celebration”
Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)
Number of nominations: 5
This category is typically a mixture of comedy specials, music specials, political specials done by late-night shows and the occasional recorded theatrical show like last year’s winner, “Hamilton.” This year, comedy is represented by Jerrod Carmichael, Norm Macdonald, Dave Chappelle (an Emmy favorite who might be hurt by the controversy that surrounded this special), Jim Gaffigan, Christina P. and many others; music includes Adele and the team of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga; politics includes Jordan Klepper’s “Hungary for Democracy” special; and theater is represented by “Come From Away.” But you can’t forget about the Kennedy Center Honors, a regular nominee in the category.
Predicted nominees: “Adele: One Night Only,” “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah Presents: Jordan Klepper Fingers the Globe — Hungary for Democracy,” “43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors,” “Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel,” “Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special”
Watch out for: “Come From Away,” “Dave Chappelle: The Closer,” “Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts”
Outstanding Structured Reality Program
Number of nominations: 5
History says that three of these slots are already taken: One for “Queer Eye,” one for “Shark Tank” and one for “Antiques Roadshow,” all of which are pretty much nominated every year. Of the other contenders, “Love Is Blind” and “Fixer Upper” have been here before, while “RuPaul’s Drag Race — The Pit Stop With Monet X Change” and “VH1’s Out of the Closet” have the advantage of being linked to current reality champ RuPaul.
Predicted nominees: “Antiques Roadshow,” “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home,” “Love Is Blind,” Queer Eye,” “Shark Tank”
Watch out for: “Married to Real Estate,” “Restaurant: Impossible,” “VH1’s Out of the Closet”
Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program
Number of nominations: 5
Three of the contenders in this category — “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” “Cheer” and “Deadliest Catch” — have won in the past, and the first two seem likely to be back. “Deadliest Catch” is a trickier case: It has the most wins and the second most nominations in the category, but it hasn’t been nominated since 2019. The other past nominees in the running this year are “Selling Sunset,” “We’re Here,” “Life Below Zero” and “Intervention,” while the never-nominated contenders include “Couples Therapy,” “Love on the Spectrum” and “90 Day Fiancé.”
And while “The Kardashians” and “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans” are in this category as well, Emmy voters have never recognized either of those long-running franchises. It might be a stretch to think that they’ll start now.
Predicted nominees: “Cheer,” “Deadliest Catch,” “Life Below Zero,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked,” “Selling Sunset”
Watch out for: “Intervention,” “Love on the Spectrum,” “We’re Here”
Outstanding Competition Program
Number of nominations: 6
This category contains some of the biggest juggernauts in Emmy history: “The Amazing Race” has been nominated 18 times in 19 years, missing only in 2020, when it didn’t air eligible episodes; “Top Chef” is riding a streak of 15 consecutive nominations dating back to 2007; and “The Voice” has enjoyed a 10-year streak going back to 2012. In that company, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a relative newcomer, with only five straight nominations, but it’s also won the last four years in a row.
Until voters give us reason to think otherwise, we have little choice but to pick those four programs. Could the hottest newcomer, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” find a way to grab one of the last two slots? Possibly, if it can nudge out “Nailed It!” (three consecutive noms), “American Ninja Warrior” (four noms between 2016 and 2019), “The Masked Singer” (one nom in 2020, but probably not helped by booking Rudy Giuliani this season) or two of the most provocative seasons of “Survivor” (6 noms, but nothing since 2006).
It feels as if it’s time for new blood in a terribly predictable category. But sadly for Lizzo, no show has broken into this category in its first season since “Dancing With the Stars” 18 years ago.
Predicted nominees: “The Amazing Race,” “American Ninja Warrior,” “Nailed It!,” “ “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Top Chef,” “The Voice”
Watch out for: “The Circle,” “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” “The Masked Singer”
Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program
Number of nominations: 6
Five of the hosts (or hosting teams) competing in this category were nominated last year and the year before: RuPaul Charles (who’s won five years in a row), Nicole Byer, Padma Lakshmi (nominated as part of a “Top Chef” team the last two years but competing solo this year) and the hosting teams in “Queer Eye” and “Shark Tank” (which is to say, the sharks themselves). Given the tendency of voters to reward the same people over and over in this category, it’s hard to pick against any of those past nominees, which only leaves one slot for a group of contenders that includes Lizzo, Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman (nominated in 2019 and 2020, ineligible in 2021), Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (six-time nominees for “Project Runway,” now up for “Making the Cut”) and Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg for “Baking It.”
First-season nominations are more frequent in this category than in the competition-program one, so maybe Lizzo gets in here.
Predicted nominees: Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness, “Queer Eye”; Nicole Byer, “Nailed It!”; RuPaul Charles, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”; Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary, “Shark Tank”; Padma Lakshmi, “Top Chef”; Lizzo, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls”
Watch out for: Michelle Buteau, “The Circle”; Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, “Making It”; Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg, “Baking It”
Read more of Steve Pond’s Emmy nomination predictions here: