By Dantzler Smith

From 1998 to 2002 The Late Show with David Letterman won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series five straight times. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has won the award every year from 2003 to 2009, that’s seven years running. Clearly Emmy voters in this category seem happy to build dynasties by heaping praise on the same show year after year. However, just as is the case with sports, dynasties eventually collapse and someone new walks away with the trophy. So the question in this category is whether or not there is a challenger who can upset the John Wooden UCLA-like dynasty of The Daily Show?

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – The defending champs didn’t have a national election to cover and the only major legislative topic open for ridicule was health care, which doesn’t particularly lend itself to high comedy. Still, The Daily Show proved yet again that it can whip up a satirical feast from even the most meager of ingredients. From cutting barbs launched at politicians holding up heath care to their hysterical coverage of the British elections and on to the BP oil spill, which they managed to lampoon in a way that made oil covered seagulls slightly less depressing, Jon Stewart and company didn’t seem to skip a beat. Thus, the defending champs made a great case for consecutive win number 8. The only way they will lose is if one of the challengers has raised their game above The Daily Show’s high standards. My odds would be 1:5

The Colbert Report – Can the student defeat the master? Steven Colbert has made it his mission to derail Jon Stewart’s gravy train and if ever he had the chance this is the year. Colbert sponsored the US Olympic Speed Skating team and took his act to the Olympics themselves. That coverage of the Winter Olympics was certainly funny and it might have been a big enough event to lure in Emmy voters who typically go for the status quo of The Daily Show. And of course there were a bevy of great and hilarious interviews, which has quickly become Colbert’s distinguishing virtue. Throw in the usual strong fanbase and their massive internet presence and The Colbert Report appears to be the greatest threat to The Daily Show’s dominance. My odds would be 2:1

Real Time with Bill Maher – Believe it or not, I think this show is the best long shot or sleeper pick. First of all, I watch this show religiously (which is ironic given Maher’s disdain for religion) so maybe I’m biased but I truly believe that this is the best example of substantive political dialogue on television, period. Sure Maher has his own political views and agenda, but he’s open about that from the get-go and does a good job of allowing his guest panel to share their own views without letting them go into a painfully long and practiced diatribe. In other words, Bill Maher is the only political pundit on TV who isn’t afraid to call B.S. on someone. The trouble with Real Time is that given its format as a panel show the quality of each episode depends on whether or not the panel was good or bad. If a longwinded politician or some bleary eyed partisan monopolizes the conversation then the show struggles. Still, Bill’s monologues and New Rules are consistently great week in and week out. The Emmy voters tend to agree with Maher’s politics so if they want to abandon the political satire genre in favor or something more substantive Maher could sneak in as a surprise winner. My odds would be 5:1

The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien – I guess the nominating committee was on Team Coco. Look, I’ve been a fan of Conan for a long time now but can’t we all admit that when he moved to the 11:30 spot the show simply wasn’t as good as it used to be? And yet everyone is willing to forget those lackluster months because the final week of his show was absolutely spectacular. If the entire lifetime of Conan’s Tonight Show had been as funny as the final week, he would have won this category hands down. As it is, Conan’s best chance for a win is as a sympathy vote. Almost everyone outside of the NBC board rooms thought the situation was handled terribly and as a result Conan has become this great sympathetic hero, remembered primarily for the last week of his Tonight Show (which was both funny and emotional) and all those great years as the king of the 12:30 slot. While I love the fact that his nomination is like a thumb in the eye of NBC, who will be broadcasting the Emmys, I get the feeling that Jeff Zucker would burn the building down before he’d let Conan O’Brien win the award on ‘his’ network. My odds would be 12:1

Saturday Night Live – Really? SNL got nominated, really? Seth Meyers writes like Stevie Wonder sees. And really, shouldn’t the January Jones episode alone disqualify SNL from getting nominated? At the end of the day this show has two good bits and the rest is just filler, I mean really? Joking aside (and I use the term ‘joking’ loosely), just as iTunes has corroded the need for bands to make quality albums so long as there are one or two downloadable songs on there, Hulu has allowed SNL to sneak into people’s conscious as something that is funny because everyone watches the two sketches that were good on the Monday after the show aired and then ignore the fact that if those were the only two funny parts then the other 90% of the hour was filled with dreck. My odds would be 1000:1

Road to the Emmys Series

July 5: Nomination Preview Podcast – Lilit Marcus, Andrew Payne, Rebecca Rose, and Phil Wallace

July 8: Nomination Analysis Podcast – Rebecca Rose, Dantzler Smith, Phil Wallace, and Bryce Van Kooten

July 12: Outstanding Host: Reality Show or Reality Competition – Adam Spunberg

July 14: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie – Adam Spunberg

July 15: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie – Phil Wallace

July 19: Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Movie – Phil Wallace

July 21: Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie – Gene Williams

July 26: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special – Savanna New

July 28: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series – Dantzler Smith

August 2: Outstanding Reality Program – Gene Williams

August 4: Outstanding Reality Competition Program – Savanna New

August 7: Outstanding Made for TV Movie – Savanna New

August 8: Outstanding Miniseries – Adam Spunberg

August 9: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – Colin Campbell

August 10: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – Kit Bowen

August 11: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series – Rebecca Rose

August 12: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series – Andrew Payne

August 16: Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series – Phil Wallace

August 17: Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series – Steve Neumann

August 18: Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series – Andrew Payne

August 19: Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series – Bryce Van Kooten

August 23: Outstanding Comedy Series – Kit Bowen

August 25: Outstanding Drama Series – Adam Spunberg

August 29: 62nd Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards