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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

It’s a literal head to head battle in Outstanding Variety Sketch Series this year. In fact, there are only two nominees this year – A Black Lady Sketch Show and Saturday Night Live.

Thanks to rules enacted last year at the Emmys, the size of nominees in each category has been decided by the number of submissions each category gets. Normally, this usually means categories with many submissions (like supporting acting categories) can have up to eight nominees. However, for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, this meant only two shows would receive the honor of being nominated. The odds were still pretty great for the submitted shows. Only nine programs were submitted in this category, giving them a 22% chance of being nominated. Other programs submitted in the category include The Amber Ruffin Show (Peacock), How To with John Wilson (HBO MAX), Studio C (), That Damn Michael Che (HBO MAX), Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready (), Whose Line Is It Anyway? () and Ziwe (Showtime). Of those other shows, there were enough quality nominees (such as The Amber Ruffin Show, How To with John Wilson and Ziwe) to fill out a full category slate.

Still, with such low submissions, we are left with only two nominees. Let’s take a look at who is competing for the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series:

A Black Lady Sketch Show / HBO / Robin Thede, Issa Rae, Tony Hernandez, Brooke Posch, Dave Becky and Jonathan Berry, executive producers; Lauren Ashley Smith, co-executive producer; Deniese Davis, Montrel McKay and John Skidmore, producers; Linda Morel, produced by

A Black Lady Sketch Show season two started off with a bang thanks to Robin Thede’s hilariously (and confidently) misinformed Dr. Haddassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman, Pre-PhD. From there, it didn’t quit. The show built on its promise in season one and delivered an even funnier and more outrageous season two. Whether it be a “Black Lady Courtroom” or the Fairy who turns you into an Auntie, there’s a joy to these original ideas. Thede and crew have a fresh perspective on sketch comedy that constantly surprises and delights. It also helps that the rest of the cast, Ashley Nicole Black especially, are all uniformly great. A Black Lady Sketch Show earned five nominations this year, including writing and two guest actress slots. That’s up from three nominations last year, including one in the Variety Sketch Series category. It has already won Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Programming at the Creative Arts ceremony. While that is far below the nomination total for Saturday Night Live, it is a reminder that the show is building a fan base among Emmy voters.

Saturday Night Live / NBC / Lorne Michaels, executive producer; Ken Aymong, supervising producer; Lindsay Shookus, Erin Doyle, Tom Broecker and Caroline Maroney, producers; Steve Higgins and Erik Kenward, produced by

SNL is an easy front runner here. The legendary program, now in its 46th season, has won this category the past four consecutive years. It’s worth noting that the category has only existed for six previous years. Prior to that, the show competed in the broader Outstanding Variety Series, winning only twice (1976, 1993). This year, it has an incredibly impressive haul of 21 nominations. This is up from 15 nominations the previous year. Even after all this time, SNL manages to stay an Emmy juggernaut. Particularly in political election years (the submission time includes the 2020 Election period of the show), SNL usually ends up dominant. The political sketches were extra relevant this year, but could still be hit or miss. The biggest thing separating this season apart was the extra screen time given to Bowen Yang, nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. His viral moments, such as the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, made SNL feel like a must-watch. Other great highlights include Cecily Strong’s Jeanine Pierro finale and the entire cast (plus Rege Jean Page) belting “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo.

The Creative Arts Emmys basically solidified Saturday Night Live as the winner in this category. While A Black Lady Sketch Show took home one award, Saturday Night Live took home seven awards, including Guest Actor, Guest Actress and Directing for a Variety Series. Still, everyone loves a good David versus Goliath story. A Black Lady Sketch Show would make for a worthy upset.

Prediction: Saturday Night Live

Preference: A Black Lady Sketch Show

Sleeper (aka only other nominee): A Black Lady Sketch Show


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Written by Chris James

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