Emmy battle of the 'Tonight Shows': Conan vs. Jay (plus watch out for Jon Stewart -- AND Mo'Nique)
Two TV shows produced by NBC Universal are curiously missing from the Emmy campaign DVD mailer the studio recently sent to voters: Jay Leno's disastrous foray into prime-time ("The Jay Leno Show") and the program that took its place later each night ("The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien").
But that doesn't mean both will be missing from the Emmy ballot. No, "The Jay Leno Show" hasn't been officially submitted for best variety series, but — surprise — "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" has, and it will compete against "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" — plus "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," starring the host of the Emmy ceremony on Aug. 29.
"In the DVD campaign packages, typically we do not include shows that aren't returning," says Curt King, senior VP of Universal Media Studios. "In the race for best variety series, Conan decided to submit 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien' and we decided to enter 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for Jay.'"
All of those programs will compete against three formidable foes, which have all submitted official entry forms to the TV academy: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," which has won the category for the last seven years in a row; "The Colbert Report," which is overdue to win (it's got an excellent chance to prevail this year thanks to an episode it plans to submit to Emmy jurors — Colbert's hilarious trip to Iraq); and "The Mo'Nique Show," starring the "Precious" actress who swept the last film awards derby (New York Film Critics Circle to Oscars) undefeated.
All of the above-mentioned programs will compete against one show that they don't need to worry about: "Real Time With Bill Maher." Not only has it failed to win a single Emmy, even in the crafts categories, but Maher is the new Susan Lucci — the biggest loser in the history of TV's top award, with 22 defeats and no wins for producing, writing and performance.
It took Conan O'Brien a full decade of hosting "Late Night" before the show landed its first Emmy bid in the variety comedy music series category in 2003. It contended unsuccessfully in that race for five years, always losing to "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," which O'Brien will now face head-on in the ratings when he launches his new chat fest on TBS. In both 2008 and 2009, "Late Night" lost its slot in the list of nominees to the resurgent "Saturday Night Live," while "The Daily Show" kept winning.
O'Brien and his scribes finally won an Emmy in the writing category in 2007 after being also-rans every year from 1996 to 2004 and then again in 2006. That was the only Emmy won by "Late Night" out of 29 nominations, including two more bids for writing in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, the "Late Night" writers lost to the team behind "The Colbert Report" and in 2009 to the scribes for "The Daily Show."
Prior to "The Daily Show" owning the series category, "Late Show With David Letterman" won that award five years in a row beginning in 1998. The CBS late-night talk show hosted by David Letterman has competed in the top Emmy race every year since its debut season in 1994, when it won. In addition, it has taken three technical Emmys for a total haul of nine awards out of 64 nominations.
Compare that with the track record of Jay Leno, who returned to the "Tonight Show" in March. While he may be beating longtime rival David Letterman once again in the ratings, don't expect Leno to contend anytime soon at the Emmys. After all, he and the show were snubbed by the Emmys for his (first) farewell tour last year. The last nomination for Leno's edition of the NBC staple was in 2005, when he contended for the now-defunct individual performance prize, losing to Tony Awards host Hugh Jackman.
During Leno's 17 years at the helm, this NBC late-night staple won just one Emmy for best variety comedy series. That was way back in 1995, and the last of the show's nine nods in that race was in 2003. Add in three technical wins and the first incarnation of the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" managed to take home just four Emmys out of 40 nominations. While Letterman -- who won four consecutive Emmys as part of the writing team on the original "Late Night" beginning in 1984 -- has been a perennial writing nominee for "Late Show," Jay Leno and his team of gag writers were snubbed by the Emmys for the entire run of his first version of the "Tonight Show."
Check out the DVD campaign mailer recently shipped to Emmy voters by NBC Universal Studios here: see what's not inside ("The Jay Leno Show," Conan's "Tonight") and what is (Jay's "Tonight Show").
The end of the Emmy eligibility period is May 31. Voting on nominations begins June 4th and ends on the 21st. Nominees will be unveiled on July 8, winners on Aug. 29.