Emmy cliffhanger: Will Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon crush Jon Stewart?

Now that Gold Derby has exclusively uncovered all of the Emmy episode submissions in the race for Best Variety Series, it’s time to put on our Emmy judging hats and analyze the reels of all six series contenders. Below is our breakdown of this category based on our viewings of the submitted episodes.

As a refresher, last year “Colbert Report” shocked awards watchers when it dethroned “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” after a decade of Jon Stewart‘s Emmy dominance. This time around, if Stephen Colbert wins, it won’t be a shocker. In fact, thanks to his knock-out episode submission “August 6, 2013 – Robin Thicke,” Colbert has a fantastic shot of earning back-to-back trophies

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Colbert opens his episode by announcing that his planned summer concert series “Colbchella” is canceled thanks to headliner Daft Punk bailing on Colbert in favor of the 2013 VMA’s and giving him only a day’s notice. “Thank you for joining me for the end of my career,” says a forlorn Colbert. “I never thought it would end like this. I always imagined I’d be crushed under a collapsing pile of Emmys.”

He makes the best of a bad situation and asks many of his celebrity friends, including Ashton Kutcher, Hugh Laurie, Jeff Bridges, Bryan Cranston and co-nominees Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart, to help him make a music video parodying Daft Punk’s song “Get Lucky.” It’s a hilarious show of support from Hollywood in the face of the band standing up Colbert. Robin Thicke even pops up as the last-minute musical guest and sings “Blurred Lines.”

Colbert’s biggest competitor is new kid on the block Jimmy Fallon, who tries his luck by submitting the very first episode of “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” When we first see Fallon come out from behind his curtain, he has tears in his eyes as he announces how proud he is to be the new host and that he was able to bring the show back to New York. “This is important, this is fun. If you guys let me stick around long enough, maybe I’ll get the hang of it,” he tells an adoring crowd that includes his parents.

Emmys mystery: Was last year’s win by ‘Colbert Report’ over ‘Daily Show’ a fluke?

There are four memorable impact scenes in Fallon’s entry that could wind up making this episode unbeatable at the Emmys. First, that killer emotional monologue. Then, minutes later, a whole host of celebs come out to support Fallon and throw down $100 bills onto his desk because they supposedly all bet that he’d never get the gig — people like Tina Fey, Robert De Niro, Joan Rivers, Sarah Jessica Parker and Colbert (who has $100 in pennies). Third, Fallon and first-ever guest Will Smith do the “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” together. And lastly, Fallon gets musical guest U2 to sing an impromptu, acoustic version of their Oscar-nominated song “Ordinary Love.”

What about 10-time variety champ Stewart? Unfortunately, his “Daily Show” submission (“March 13, 2014 – Anita Hill”) doesn’t live up to the hype of either Colbert or Fallon. In it, Stewart spends much of the half-hour going after Fox News for its recent reports on poor people being moochers, then he makes fun of Mitch McConnell‘s campaign ad by putting funny music over the background (a trend known as #McConnelling), and at the end he has a serious discussion with guest Anita Hill. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special or even memorable about Stewart’s choice this year. But still, it’s probably not the best idea to ever discount Stewart’s Emmy chances, as the TV academy clearly just loves the guy.

Perhaps the person we’re most underestimating is Jimmy Kimmel for his “After the Oscars” special of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” For the ninth year in a row, ABC gave Kimmel the plum post-Oscars time slot and he ended up filling the episode with celeb cameos like Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Martin Scorsese and Anjelica Huston. Throughout the hour, Kimmel showcases several fake trailers for upcoming movies based on popular YouTube videos. There’s an adaptation of “Charlie Bit My Finger” with Meryl Streep and the Hemsworth brothers and a mind-trippy look at “David After Dentist” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s all very funny, but this episode selection hasn’t been a lucky choice in the past, as Kimmel lost Best Variety Series in 2012 with his “After the Oscars” special. He also lost for a similar celeb-heavy outing last year when Matt Damon kidnapped him and hosted the show.

See full list of Emmy episode submissions here

Reliable “Saturday Night Live” went with the Christmas episode hosted by Fallon and featuring music (and acting) by Justin Timberlake. Just in case you’re keeping track of all the Fallon appearances, that’s three of the six Variety Series episode entries that Fallon pops up in, showing his absolute dominance in the field this year. (Check out our separate Emmy episode analysis for Fallon’s appearance on “SNL,” where he’s also up for Best Comedy Guest Actor.) This year, with so much cast turnover, “SNL” isn’t nearly the dominant force it used to be. Better luck next year with Season 40?

And last but not least, there’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Emmy’s biggest loser continues to rack up nominations every year, but to this day Bill Maher has never won a trophy of his own. His submission this year is “Season 11, Episode 25” and features interviews with Larry Miller and Jay-Z. It’s a fast hour of comedy and politics, but with such killer competition this year, it’s unlikely Maher will pull off the win.

As for Gold Derby’s combined racetrack odds in the Best Variety Series race, “Colbert Report” is predicted to repeat with 8/15 odds, followed by “Tonight Show” with 27/10 odds, “Daily Show” in third place with 50/1 odds, “SNL” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” tied for fourth place with 50/1 odds and “Real Time” in last place with 100/1 odds.

What Variety Series do you think will win the Emmy based on these episode submissions? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu, then sound off in the comments section below.

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