Monday’s presidential debate was the most watched in history and “Saturday Night Live” deftly parodied this stand-off between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in its season opener (watch above). “SNL” recruited Alec Baldwin to play the Republican nominee with cast member Kate McKinnon reprising her signature impression of the Democratic contender. Both of these performers are Emmy winners and could help this late-night staple finally prevail in a top race at the Emmy Awards for the first time since 1993.
Baldwin is a favorite of both “SNL” — having hosted more times (16) than anyone else — and the Emmys where he has won two of his 16 nominations as a performer and producer (Best Comedy Actor for “30 Rock,” 2008-2009). And last month, McKinnon became the first regular cast member to win an Emmy since Dana Carvey in 1993.
That year marked only the show’s second Emmy win for Best Variety Series, having previously prevailed in 1976 for its first season. It contended for this top prize 21 times across 41 seasons, losing to various specials and awards shows in the early years and then to three talk shows that owned this award beginning in 1998 – “The Late Show with David Letterman” (1998 – 2002); “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (2003 – 2012); and “The Colbert Report” (2013, 2014).
Two years ago, the TV academy split this prize into two – Best Variety Talk Series and Best Variety Sketch Series, with “SNL” competing in the latter. It lost its first two bids in this race to “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Key & Peele.” With neither of those in contention, “Saturday Night Live” is in an excellent position to finally win its third series Emmy, for its 42nd season. In addition to crafting topical political satire, “SNL” hopes to attract viewers this season by eliminating two commercial breaks per broadcast. Episodes will now run about 73 minutes without commercials instead of just 65.
Chief among its competitors at the 2017 Emmys will be the penultimate season of “Portlandia,” which was also nominated for writing and won for production design this year. The other nominees for Best Variety Sketch Series in 2016 were “Drunk History” and “Documentary Now!” The former received nominations for its editing and production design while the latter did not reap any other bids. Fourteen other sketch series submitted for Emmy consideration, but none were nominated in any category.
Not only is the competition less formidable than it has been in recent years, but “SNL” is particularly strong in its own right with the Emmys right now. With 16 nominations this year, it not only led all variety programs in 2016, but tied its own record, which it had set in 2011.
“SNL” prevailed for Multi-Camera Hairstyling, Guest Actress (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) and Supporting Actress (McKinnon). That latter win was monumental as McKinnon became the first cast member to win since the Emmys discontinued the Best Variety Performance category in 2009. Since then, “SNL” regulars have competed directly opposite continuing supporting performances from sitcoms and dramedies.
This year marked a resurgence for the series with the Emmys , having sunk to eight nominations in 2015, its smallest tally in seven years. Following five consecutive wins for Best Variety Series Directing, “SNL” was snubbed in 2015 for the first time in a decade. And it had fallen out of the Best Variety Series Writing race the year before. But 2016 saw the series back in both races, along with a record number of hosts (two men and four women) nominated in the guest acting categories.