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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Variety Talk Series

Political satire has dominated television’s Outstanding Variety Talk Program for years, but will this year’s Emmys deliver the same result. Though not as tough to predict as other categories, the current batch of nominees present a unique perspective from previous years. With a lack of a live studio audiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever evolving face of entertainment media, the nominees showcase something new.

Last year’s and the 6-time consecutive award winner, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, still leads the nomination field this year. It is joined by three other returning contenders and somewhat of a newcomer.

The nominees for Outstanding Variety Talk Series include; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Conan. Let’s take a closer look at the nominees.


This year’s most intriguing nominee comes in the form of a goodbye – the final season of TBS’ Conan. O’Brien, a longtime comedy writer and talk show host has been (literally and figuratively) the red headed step child of late night TV. From his rough early days to his brief tenure on The Tonight Show to his move to TBS, he always retained more a cult status. The series, while popular and respected, lacked the recognition of its competition. However, with Conan’s recent move to HBOMAX, the show earned a much-deserved nomination. Being the last chance to recognize Conan, this could be the time voters reward him for an impressive career. For that reason O’Brien is our sleeper pick.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah/Comedy Central

Similarly to the previous series, The Daily Show also handles the political environment, but focuses more on the day to day of American politics. As the successor to John Stewart, Trevor Noah has blossomed as a host, but even more so without a studio audience. His show, which in 2020, was shot from his home still showcased the same creativity of his in studio work. Through the more personal setting, set in Noah’s New York apartment, brought to life a more intimate talk show than the standard studio set show.

Jimmy Kimmel Live!/ABC

Kimmel’s series, which resembles more of the standard talk show formula with his a heavy dose of his own flair, has always thrived off of its Hollywood studio audience. Even without them, the Live! team continued to deliver great sketches, humorous sidekicks and a long line of guest hosts that keep it consistently fresh. While not as politically focused as some of his competition, Jimmy Kimmel’s show is still a popular 6 time nominee, but we don’t see a win in the cards.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/CBS

Much like Kimmel, Colbert’s more traditional talk show was impacted by the pandemic but never missed a beat. Instead of going on hiatus he had the show up and running from inside his home. Then in August of 2020 he moved to a replica of his studio office located four floors below his real one. While the show’s staff members were smaller than usual the show took on the latest headline right through the election, insurrection and the continuing pandemic.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/HBO

There’s a reason John Oliver’s show has been awarded an Emmy six years running for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. This Week Tonight which has tapped into the cultural zeitgeist by tackling the turbulent political era, consistently has proven to be a favorite of Emmy voters. Oliver’s ingenuity even showed through budget restrictions and the lack of a studio audience during the 2020 COVID shutdown. Though Oliver was up to its antics as usual, the series showcased a more somber tone highlighting the world’s most important issues.

There is so much more than meets the eye in terms of these nominations, but the easy prediction is going to the 6-time consecutive winner, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver he continued to deliver right through the pandemic and is obviously a voter favorite. But we can also see a path where Conan fans end up celebrating like they are in the year 2000 (the year 2000).

Prediction: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Preference: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Sleeper: Conan

Predicted Ranking:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah


The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Jimmy Kimmel Live!


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