Hope for Haiti Now

By Savanna New

Relegated to the Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special category does not usually receive as much attention as its peers, despite always showcasing a collection of both critically and popularly acclaimed programs. Specials are somewhat of an odd breed, as they tend to cater to specific sets of people (fans of a particular musician or comedian, for example) and, due to their “one night only” status, are not as publicly visible as regular series. In many ways, though, the award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special can be viewed as an especially great achievement, given the time and effort required to create a single televised event that runs its course within a few hours and lives on only in DVD form. Second chances here are rare (unless you are The Kennedy Center Honors).

The six specials nominated this year are fairly diverse, as you will see, but the networks represented are not. HBO clearly dominates, having produced four out of the six nominees.

The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert (HBO)

Forget silver; what better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than by  bringing together an impressive bunch of music legends for a two-night concert series at Madison Square Garden? The concerts were recorded live on October 29 and 30, and HBO did a fantastic job of distilling this epic event into a four-hour televised special.  The concerts featured an illustrious line-up that truly captured the evolution of rock and roll from the 1950s to today: Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, the Jeff Beck Group, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, U2 and Metallica. These performers were accompanied by an equally iconic set of guest artists that included, among others, the Black-Eyed Peas, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Taylor.

Bill Maher …But I’m Not Wrong (HBO)

…But I’m Not Wrong, an evening of comedy centered around hot button political and social issues ranging from the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin to Tiger Woods and healthcare, marks the ever-irreverent Bill Maher’s ninth stand-up special. Widely hailed as the “biggest loser” of the Emmys, Bill Maher has received a total of 22 nominations over the last 15 years but has yet to win a single award. With four more nominations this year, Maher has a chance to either finally proclaim victory, or add to an already laughably large number of losses.

Robin Williams: Weapons of Self Destruction (HBO)

Filmed in Washington, D.C., at one of the stops on his one-man Weapons of Self Destruction tour, HBO’s next entry sees two-time Emmy winner Robin Williams in his first televised comedy special in nearly a decade. Like Bill Maher, Williams tackles a variety of politically charged topics, but he also delves into some of his own personal experiences (such as his battle with alcoholism and recent open-heart surgery), adding a more introspective flavor to his humor.

Wanda Sykes: I’ma Be Me (HBO)

Rounding out the comedy nominees this year is the undeniably outspoken and often controversial Wanda Sykes, whose trademark frank humor takes center stage in her HBO special I’ma Be Me. Sykes previously won an Emmy in 1999 for her writing work on The Chris Rock Show. Leaving no subject taboo, Sykes draws upon an endless stream of material in I’ma Be Me, including Barack Obama, Somali pirates, Michael Jackson, life as a black lesbian and her first bikini wax.

Hope for Haiti Now (Tenth Planet Productions and MTV)

One of only two non-HBO-produced nominees in this category this year, charity telethon Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief originally aired on January 22. Co-hosted by Wyclef Jean, Anderson Cooper and George Clooney (who will be receiving the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award this year for his abundant charity work), Hope for Haiti Now raised a staggering $61 million through donations received over the phone, online, by mail and via text message. Broadcast from New York, Los Angeles, London and Haiti, this international event included performances by an impressive array of singers and bands, an assemblage of moving speeches and a miles-long celebrity phone bank.

The Kennedy Center Honors

The Kennedy Center Honors (CBS)

Frequently lauded (its awards roster includes six Emmys, seven Writers Guild awards and the Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television), The Kennedy Center Honors has emerged as Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special five times in the past, winning as recently as last year. The Honors have been doled out since the late 1970s, and the ceremony celebrating the latest Honorees (performing artists who have made lasting contributions to American culture) is the culminating event of a weekend-long series of gala luncheons and dinners. This year’s Kennedy Center Honors, broadcast on December 9, was hosted by Caroline Kennedy and honored new Honorees Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro and Bruce Springsteen. Performers and presenters included Melissa Etheridge, Jack Black, Harry Connick, Jr., Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, Ben Stiller and Glee’s Matthew Morrison.

Prediction

Given the fact that The Kennedy Center Honors has won so many times in the past, it would be nice to see another special shine this year. I can’t help but predict that the three comedy nominees will cancel each other out (sorry, Bill Maher), leaving The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert and Hope for Haiti Now as top contenders. While both specials have received a great deal of praise and possess a uniquely historical, once-in-a-lifetime significance, it is virtually impossible to compare the two. The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert was a large-scale event celebrating the 60-year history of rock and roll, while Hope for Haiti Now was quickly organized and televised a mere 10 days after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, its mission one of pure philanthropy and altruism rather than entertainment. The impact of Hope for Haiti Now can’t be ignored, and I think it has the best chance of winning the Emmy.

Savanna New is an associate editor at Picktainment. Email her at savanna@picktainment.com.

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