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Why does 'Amazing Race' keep winning the Emmy? Why doesn't anyone gripe about 'The Daily Show's' romp?

September 22, 2009 |  7:32 pm

Amazing race jon stewart

There's a cruel double standard applied to the repeat Emmy victories by "The Amazing Race" and "The Daily Show" — both of which have swept their categories (best reality program, best variety series, respectively) seven times in a row.

When "Race" prevailed, amazingly again (it's never lost this category in the seven years of its existence), there was grumbling back in the press room. No one suggested it didn't deserve to win. The harrumphing was all about, "Oh, it won again? Isn't enough enough?"

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst even had the lousy manners to say, "Maybe 'Amazing Race' should do what Oprah did and pull itself out of competition." Moments later "Amazing" producer Bert Van Munster was asked by reporters if he'd do just that. He replied, "I'm going to discuss it with my committee here, but it's unlikely."

Jon Stewart Daily Show

However, when "The Daily Show" won again, none of the journalists seemed to mind, and nobody mentioned the Oprah option. Why?

The answer's obvious. Journalists think Jon Stewart is cool, so no one has the guts to suggest — out loud — that he should bow out. Daring to utter such a thing would risk instant ambush, flogging and crucifixion by peers. But if the basis for complaining about repeat victories is monotonous repetition, then both shows should be held to the same standard, shouldn't they?

If you wish to argue that "The Daily Show" deserves to win and "Amazing Race" doesn't (and no one I know has made that argument publicly), then consider this: A good case can be made that "The Daily Show" didn't deserve to win this year. It beat a nominee that was universally acclaimed to be one of the most relevant, important and brilliant programs of the past TV year: "Saturday Night Live" not only had a superb season, creatively speaking, but its riffs on U.S. presidential politics starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were the water-cooler talk of the nation. Did "The Daily Show" really deserve to beat that? Of course not. So how did it happen?

There are quirks of human nature that can be routinely observed as factors behind who wins Emmys. Let's start with Stewart's category: best variety series. Programs with multiple hosts seldom win Emmys. We see that all the time at the Daytime Emmys, where just a few weeks ago, for the first time in this TV award's history, a show with multiple hosts ("The View") finally won best talk show. That same voting bias hurts "Saturday Night Live." The show hasn't won this category since 1993 and that may be one of the reasons. Showbiz awards are all about hugs. When voters look over a ballot, they're more inclined to want to wrap their arms around one person than lots of people.

But there are four solo people emceeing the other four nominees in this category. One of them is just too mean. Even as much as he's liked and admired, no one, let's be honest, wants to hug Bill Maher. In fact, he's Emmy's biggest loser, with 22 defeats, no wins. David Letterman has always been a bit mean, but he's warmed up through the years. He used to win here frequently, but he's been pushed aside ever since Stewart emerged as the new Letterman, the new cool dude with snarky 'tude sitting behind a desk on TV.

Oh, yeah, Stephen Colbert is also in this category and behind a desk, but as brilliant as his show is (clearly superior to the excellent "Daily Show," methinks), he's just too silly, so voters don't take him seriously in this program category. However, he did beat "The Daily Show" for variety writing last year, so he's a threat.

Now to explain the mystery of "Amazing Race." It's no head-scratcher, really, not when you consider how Emmy voting works. A winner is decided by a few dozen academy members viewing a sample episode submitted by each nominee as an example of their best work. "American Idol" may be TV's most popular show, but that's a drawback in this case. Everybody knows how the singing contest ends, so there is no suspense when judges evaluate an episode from one random point in the TV season. In fact, it may seem quite boring — just a lot of amateurs crooning pop tunes and being subjected to ridicule by Simon Cowell.

Compare that to a typical episode of "The Amazing Race," which is always exciting — packed with adrenaline pace, fierce and quirky human interaction plus exotic locations. Many judges haven't seen the whole season, so they're delighted to discover it, and that only enhances their appreciation.

In the great big picture of TV things, it's rather appropriate that the Emmy should keep returning to an old friend. Seven years ago CBS was close to cancellling "Amazing Race," but it got a stay of execution after beating "Survivor" and "American Idol." Now "Race" has outrun that old threat, but keeps on reaping Emmys, as if to prove those early victories weren't flukes. "Amazing Race" joins other great TV shows saved by winning Emmys, including "Hill Street Blues," "Cheers" and "All in the Family."

There is, let's admit it, something amazing about that, thus making "Race's" kinship with Emmy a good thing. I think it should remain in the Emmy race for many years-- and continue to win as long as it deserves the honor. Just because some grouchy TV critics are bored by the repetition is no reason for "Race" to hit the brakes.

But maybe it's time for "The Daily  Show" to quit the derby, considering it just won when it didn't deserve to.  Let's pose the same question to Stewart that was posed to Van Munste: Don't you think it's time to pull an Oprah and withdraw from competition?

Photos: "Amazing Race," left; Jon Stewart at the Emmy Awards / CBS

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The comments to this entry are closed.


Who the hell LIKES Shill Maher, Tom (no one I know, including on the web)? And forget about "hugging" him; who knows where he's been...

The Amazing Race is so stupid and lame.

But in less petty words, I find TAR incredibly shallow, whereas Survivor actually has character development.

On TAR, the contestants constantly archetype themselves. When interviewed each episode, they constantly talk about the challenges of being ___. Furthermore, that show THRIVES on stereotypes. Last season, because Mike and Mel were the bi son and gay dad, respectively, NONE of the other gay cast members were allowed to discuss their sexuality on the program. It's preposterous!

Luke is gay. Kisha is gay. Victor is gay. And yet they already had their roles: Luke was a deaf mama's boy. Kisha was a black sister (as in sibling, not sistahhhh). Victor was an Asian brother.

I call BS.

Meanwhile, on Survivor, they go beyond just their "identities". They are more than just labels. Even caricatures like Coach have some depth and personality to them.

Plus, there's genuine suspense and twists on Survivor. On TAR, there's eye-roll-inducing attempts to trick you, but the editing is SOOOO obvious per episode that you generally know who will come in 1st and who will get cut. It sucks. At least Probst winning is akin to Ang Lee winning, so it seems like Survivor is also a primary winner, a la Brokeback Mountain.

The Emmys, as usual, don't measure the actual best. If that was the case, that wanker director of American Idol would've lost for his epic fail in allowing shows to run overtime. Yuck.

I agree with many of the posters. I can't sit through an entire SNL ep. There are moments of brilliance (mostly political satire) but most of their skits are terrible. Maybe they should consider a 1/2 hour format.

Survivor is a FANTASTIC show - high quality - well produced and the golden standard of all reality programming and should certainly be a competitor in this category. Amazing Race is also a quality show however I agree that there have been years that other shows were more deserving of the Emmy. I think Jeff Probst was giving them a compliment by comparing them to Oprah, an unstoppable force yet ultimately it is up to the show if they choose to continue their domination or allow others a chance.

Saturday Night Live's opening political sketches and overall political posturing were brilliant last season, but they barely scratched the surface of what really happened during the nightly political followings of the Daily Show. Through nightly skewering of the mass use of loose tongued lying during the political campaigns, hyped to the max by Fox News, the Daily Show clearly helped lead the young and politically astute citizens of this nation through to finding the real truth each night. The writing and video exposures were brilliant and the John McCain life story narrated by Ian McShane was a piece that so neatly tied together the righty fantasies into a neat bundle, easy to digest.

I don't care too much about who wins in the reality competition show categories. I always considered that genre a waste of time and a cheap form of entertainment created by television executives. So, basically, who cares if "The Amazing Race" won again? I sure don't.

TV/Variety series, however, involves more creativity and demands a consistent level of entertainment. This is why "Saturday Night Live," and "Real Time with Bill Maher" lost. Sorry, Bill Maher fans, but your guy has a real problem trying to determine whether he is a comedian or a political commentator. He is way too self aware of his own jokes (whether they are bad or good), and while the actual creative portion of his show (i.e., opening monologue, "New Rules," various scattered clips/skits, etc.) can be hilarious, they are few and far between. The emphasis of this show is on the interviews. Sometimes they can be very insightful, but Maher doesn't necessarily feel a responsibility to maintain a comedic slant to his program, so the interviews are often very much on the nose.

What's to say about "Saturday Night Live"? There were only a couple of great performances and episodes this season, and that was more due to the individual talent of the performers (i.e., Justin Timberlake, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, etc.), most of whom either won or were nominated this year. The rest of the season was tired and unfunny. Better luck next year, SNL.

Next comes David Letterman's show. The bulk of that show relies on interviews and performances. Great interviews? Sometimes. Great Performances. Eh, why not? David Letterman rocks as an emcee, but the structure of the show doesn't take him away from his desk as much as it does the next two contenders.

That leaves "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show." Personally, I think both Colbert and Stewart are brilliant, informative comedians. This isn't to say they don't have their faults. Like Bill Maher, Jon occasionally spends too much time out of the "comedian" zone and plays "serious political journalist/analyst." Not only does that slow the pace of the show down, it kills the wit and whim with which he and his crew expose hilarious, outrageous aspects of American and world society.

Colbert, on the other hand, is a master comedian, and I rarely see him pull out of that head space. He does pull some punches, though, in a way that disappoints me (couldn't he have been a little more of his caustic self during his trip to Iraq?), but that's probably not why he lost.

The creativity of "The Daily Show" lies in its ability to engage the world outside its studio in each episode via its bevy of AWESOME correspondents. Stewart does hold down the fort, but Wyatt Cenac, Samantha Bee, Lewis Black, Larry Wilmore, etc. put the "variety" in "Comedy/Variety series." It's a unique characteristic, and unless someone figures out how to top that, expect to see "The Daily Show" win many, many more Emmys.

The Daily Show is far superior to the Colbert Report.

I love Amazing Race, and love watching it beat stupid shows like American Idol and Survivor year after year, but I would have to agree that it might have a bit of an unfair advantage. It has all the things that other shows have, along with incredible and constantly changing visuals. It's truly in a class by itself where reality quality is concerned. Idol, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, and the Biggest Loser are basically the same show, over and over.

As for the Daily Show--the fact that Saturday Night Live made the news a lot doesn't mean it deserved the Emmy. The Emmy, faulty as it may be, is a measure of quality. It's true that quality is entirely subjective, but it is what the award is based on.

As for Daily Show, they won with their episode of the DNC convention which was quite great.

As for SNL not winning, well they had Fey and TImberlake win for guest stars. Which is what they deserve. SNL had great cold openings, but their skits are pretty bad. I find myself only watching their cold opens and then tuning out. TDS on the other hand I can easily watch the whole show and be amused.

If SNL put as much time into writing their sketches as they did their cold opens then they would have won.

Why does Jeff Probst even care? Survivor wasn't even nominated so if TAR wasn't there, Survivor, even if a replacement nominee wouldn't have won!

Thank You. I agree 100%! The Amazing Race is awesome and it deserves every Emmy that it receives. There is no way they should drop out of the running. It is the best reality show ever! There is no competition.

the comments are right on target. I did expect SNL to win , maybe to the Fey & Timberlake win s for guesting and the general heat and traction it got surrounding Fey /Palin, essentially reviving , yet again, a moribund show.
Why MADTV never bested them is beyond me , as they humor was far more subversive and risky then SNL's - I can only guess it is the east/west divide..?
I also thought Colbert might win too ....but the mention of the Cramer spot on the Daily Show reminded me that Stewart goes further than Colbert, as he can ask the serious questions , all the while being himself, And be comedic too...

As journalist yourself you are also clearly looking at things through the same lenses you accuse your colleagues of doing. For the Daily Show not to win would just defy common sense. I agree that the Colbert Report is wonderfully done, but it will always remain an appendage of the Daily Show, though many likely view the two as a single hour-long program with the news from Stewart followed by Colbert's right-wing commentary

The only difference I see is that Amazing Race won *every* award not just 7 in a row but the only 7 awards for best reality program. Daily Show winning 7 is like Frasier winning 5 best comedy one ever said Frasier should take itself out of that race. I think people like there are more amazing reality shows and for none of them ever to win is a bit of a shame because new categories should add excitement and variety to an award show not just give it to 1 program.

You're dead wrong about "Saturday Night Live." You're right that it's all about episode submission. SNL made headlines and got critical raves for its election parodies, but people are quick to forget that outside of a few election-season home runs, the show's writing has been woefully uneven. It would have had a hard time finding any episode submission that wasn't 1/3 bad sketches, and often the ratio is worse. After November, what did SNL do that was noteworthy? Other than "Motherlover"?

I wonder if "The Daily Show" submitted its Jim Cramer interview from the spring. If it submitted that, there's really no need to rationalize its victory. No other show would be able to touch it. If "Colbert" submits one of its Iraq shows from this past summer, it might have the edge next year. What did the shows submit? Because that might be more useful in figuring out "The Daily Show's" Emmy success than just analyzing who they want to hug and who they think is cool.



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