By Louis Allred

I don’t know what the official critics line is regarding the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series nominations, but I must confess surprise at the nomination for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” It was only on for seven months, and it was one of the most controversial and debated programs in recent television history. Though there was a groundswell of support for Conan after it was announced he would be stepping aside to allow Jay Leno to return, I didn’t think that would actually translate into Emmy success like this.

The whole Leno/Conan conflict has been rehashed many times over, and will be rehashed in even greater detail once books about the conflict are written. For the record, I’m on Team Coco; I think NBC’s treatment of Conan was shabby at best, and their favoring of Leno even as his primetime show failed horribly – to the point of insisting he return to 11:30 even as Conan had already started establishing himself there – was foolish. Given that, I can’t hide the minor, petty joy I feel with Conan’s show being nominated over the two shows Leno submitted. It provides some validation, however minor, that Team Coco was the right choice.

But, we must get to the heart of the matter here: “The Tonight Show’s” actual chances. Sadly, they’re pretty grim. It was nominated for three Emmys at the Creative Arts Awards (or, as Kathy Griffin has nicknamed them, “The Schmemmys”) and came away empty-handed, including the Writing Award, which went to “The Colbert Report.” Sunday’s main ceremony has it up against “Colbert,” “The Daily Show,” “Saturday Night Live,” and the Variety award’s budding SusanLucci, “Real Time with Bill Maher.” How does it look? “The Daily Show” has won the past seven years straight, and few, if any, people are complaining about its quality flagging this year. I think the sure bet is on Jon Stewart and his crew.

So, what are the factors against “Tonight” this year? First, as just discussed, the “Daily Show” juggernaut probably can’t be stopped, and I think the only show to even have a chance to do so is “Colbert.” Also, though, I think there’s an unshakable feeling that Conan’s “Tonight Show” is seen as a failure. It got its nominations possibly due to some love for Conan and sympathy for the predicament he was put in, but, on paper, it was a show that only lasted seven months and ultimately divided the television critical community. For every critic that enjoyed Conan and was pleased he injected some new life into a franchise many felt was getting stale, there was at least another who never liked him in the first place and pined for Leno’s return. Even some who enjoyed Conan on “Late Night” felt he couldn’t bring (or wasn’t bringing) his surrealist A-game to “Tonight,” and tuned out. Even with all his supporters, “Tonight” wasn’t the universally-adored program that “Daily Show” and “Colbert” are, and I think that’s where Conan’s defeat lies.

Still, I think it’s amazing enough that “Tonight” was nominated in the first place, especially considering NBC’s scorched-earth policy regarding Conan’s tenure. All clips of his show have been removed from NBC’s website and Hulu, and mere mentions of his show are also gone. When Slash performed a song on Leno’s “Tonight Show,” he wore a “Team Coco” pin, which led to some awkward editing and camerawork trying to obscure it. Conan’s face was even removed from a mural at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Those are some creepy, 1984-style shenanigans, so his nominations over any other NBC late night programming provide a perverse joy, especially with the ceremony being aired on NBC.

Though I’m sure it won’t win, “The Tonght Show” merely being nominated this year is victory enough for Conan and his team. It’s a capper on a tumultuous year for them. And while Leno is still lagging in ratings even after returning to the 11:30 slot he reigned over for upwards of a decade, Conan will walk into one of the most anticipated shows on cable when he begins at TBS in November.

Point is, even without the Emmy, I think Conan and Co. will be fine.