There’s a familiar battle brewing at the Emmys: NBC is campaigning two “Tonight Shows” against each other: the old Jay Leno version, which the network canceled for the second time earlier this year, and the new Jimmy Fallon edition, which premiered in February. The same thing happened in 2010 under much more contentious circumstances, when Leno battled the prematurely ousted Conan O’Brien. Will the result be the same this time around?
In 2010, Leno got “The Tonight Show” back, but it was Conan who went to the Emmys. For its one season in contention, O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” was nominated for art direction, writing, directing, and Best Variety Series, losing the top prize to a then-indomitable “Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Leno’s “Tonight Show” didn’t receive a single nomination that year, but that wasn’t a surprise. It hadn’t been nominated in any category since 2005, when Leno was up for Best Individual Variety Performance.
“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” hasn’t contended for Best Variety Series since 2003. Before that it was a staple in the Variety Series race, earning a total of 10 nominations starting in 1993 and winning once, in 1995. Its only other Emmys are a trio of awards for Best Technical Direction (1996, 1997, 1999).
Can Leno make a comeback in the Variety Series race for his (second) swansong, or will the TV academy prefer Fallon?
Recent history favors Fallon. He took over “Late Night” from O’Brien in 2009, and the show was an instant hit with voters, winning three Emmys in its first two years (Creative Achievement in Interactive Media in 2009 and 2010, Short-Form Picture Editing in 2010), and then three consecutive bids for Best Variety Series (2011-2013). Now that NBC has moved him up to 11:30, Emmy voters might just swap his “Late Night” for his “Tonight Show” on the ballot.
Universal Television recently shipped its Emmy mailer to TV academy members, which included Leno’s “Tonight Show” finale and Fallon’s premiere. Either episode may be a formidable submission, but even if both “Tonight Shows” get in they’ll have to face the Comedy Central titans: the 10-time winning “Daily Show” and defending champ “The Colbert Report.”
Stephen Colbert is as hot as ever, especially since he too is at the center of a dramatic changing of the guard: he will succeed David Letterman as the host of CBS’s “Late Show” in 2015. And since the Emmys favor repeat winners in the Variety Series category – before “The Daily Show’s” decade of dominance, Letterman swept for five years (1998-2002) – Colbert might just cruise to an easy second victory.
But with so much upheaval in the late night landscape, which also includes the arrival of Seth Meyers on “Late Night” and the impending exit of “Late Late Show‘s” Craig Ferguson, the coming years might yield dramatic changes in the Emmys’ usually static variety nominees.
Do you think one or both “Tonight Shows” will be nominated for Variety Series? And can they win?