The Grammys have yet to win an Emmy for outstanding variety special (live), but this year’s telecast — delayed to March because of the pandemic — was warmly received. Could the Grammys finally take home an Emmy in a program category? We’ll find out Sunday when the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on CBS.
The other nominees for outstanding variety special (live) are The Oscars (ABC), The Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show Starring The Weeknd (CBS), Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020: Democracy’s Last Stand Building Back America Great Again Better 2020 (Showtime) and Celebrating America – An Inauguration Night Special (multiple platforms).
As the Super Bowl halftime headliner, The Weeknd stands to win an Emmy if that show wins. There might be some satisfaction for him in beating the Grammys, after the Grammys failed to give him a single nomination last year. The Weeknd’s megahit “Blinding Lights” was widely expected to be a leading contender.
Remarkably, Jesse Collins has three chances to win in this category. He was one of the top producers of the Grammys, the Oscars and the Super Bowl halftime show.
Here are eight more burning questions that will be answered Sunday night.
2. Will RuPaul become the first person of color to win 11 career Emmys?
RuPaul may become the first person of color to win 11 Emmys. He’s currently in a tie with Donald A. Morgan, a cinematographer and lighting director, with 10 Emmys each. RuPaul won two awards at last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys for his work on RuPaul’s Drag Race and its spinoff RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked. He’s also nominated for outstanding competition program as an executive producer of the original VH1 show.
This would be that show’s fourth consecutive win for outstanding competition program. That would put it in a tie with The Voice (NBC) for second place on the all-time winners list in this category, behind only The Amazing Race (CBS), which won 10 times. Both of those shows are nominated again this year, as are Nailed It! (Netflix) and Top Chef (Bravo).
3. Will Cynthia Erivo win an Emmy for her portrayal of Aretha Franklin?
Cynthia Erivo is nominated for outstanding lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie for playing the Queen of Soul in Genius: Aretha (National Geographic). This would be Erivo’s first primetime Emmy. Her previous Emmy was for outstanding musical performance in a daytime program for a talk-show appearance promoting The Color Purple. She also won a Tony and a Grammy for that show and its cast album.
Erivo would be the fourth actress to win in this category in the 2000s for playing a real-life entertainer. The first three were Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (2000), Judy Davis as Judy Garland in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001) and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon in Fosse/Verdon (2019).
Another portrayal of Lady Soul is also likely to get some awards show love. Jennifer Hudson has a good shot at an Oscar nomination for playing Franklin in Respect.
4. Will Leslie Odom Jr. beat Lin Manuel-Miranda at the Emmys, as he did at the Tonys, for their leading roles in Hamilton?
Odom won a Tony for best performance by lead actor in a musical five years ago for his role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, beating out Lin-Manuel Miranda, who played the title role. The actors are competing again, this time for outstanding lead actor in a limited or anthology series or movie for their performances in the Disney+ filmed version of the theatrical blockbuster. This would be Odom’s first Emmy, following his Tony and Grammy wins for Hamilton. Miranda has already won all three of those awards and is just waiting on an Oscar to become an EGOT.
Daveed Diggs and Renée Elise Goldsberry, who won Tonys for their featured roles in Hamilton, are also nominated for Emmys in supporting categories.
5. Will Tracee Ellis Ross follow Isabel Sanford into the Emmy history book?
Ross is nominated for outstanding performance by a lead actress in a comedy series for the fifth time. Ross is vying to become just the second Black actress to win in the category, following Isabel Sanford of The Jeffersons (1981). Incidentally, Ross’ legendary mother, Diana Ross, has never even been nominated for an Emmy, despite many TV appearances over the decades.
6. Will Ted Lasso make Emmy history?
Ted Lasso won three Creative Arts Emmys and is nominated in six categories on Sunday, including outstanding comedy series. If it wins them all, upping its total for the season to nine, the series will tie two major Emmy records – most Emmys won by a comedy series in single season (Schitt’s Creek set the mark just last year) and most Emmys won by a series in its first season (The West Wing set the mark in 2000). If Lasso falls short in one category and winds up with eight Emmys, it would still tie The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2018) for the most Emmys won by a comedy in its first season.
7. Will Last Week Tonight With John Oliver win outstanding variety (talk) series for the sixth year?
That would put the HBO series in a tie with Late Show With David Letterman (CBS) for second place on the all-time winners list in this category, behind only The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central), which won an astonishing 11 times. Both of those franchises are nominated again this year, with their current hosts – Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, respectively.
The other nominees in the category are Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC) and Conan (TBS). This is the 10th nomination in the category for Kimmel’s program; it has yet to win. It’s the second nod in the category for Conan, which concluded an 11-season run in June. It too has yet to win.
8. Will Saturday Night Live win outstanding variety sketch series for the fifth straight year?
There is only one other nominee in the category — the buzzy A Black Lady Sketch Show. SNL won seven Creative Arts Emmys this year, bringing its Emmy total to 84, more than any other series in TV history. Five cast members are competing for Emmys Sunday night – Kenan Thompson, Bowen Yang, Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong. All are nominated for outstanding supporting actor or actress in a comedy series.
9. Will Bo Burnham become just the fourth person in Emmy history to win four Emmys in one year?
Comedian Bo Burnham won three awards at the Creative Arts Emmys for his work on his Netflix special, Bo Burham: Inside. He took outstanding music direction and both outstanding directing and writing for a variety special. If Burnham also wins on Sunday for outstanding variety special (pre-recorded), he will become just the fourth individual to win four Emmys in one year. The first three were Moira Demos (Making a Murderer, 2016), Amy Sherman-Palladino (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, 2018) and Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek, 2020).
But the competition in the variety special category is fierce. Dave Chappelle, who has won in this category in two of the last three years, is back with 8:46 (also on Netflix). The competition also includes Hamilton (Disney+), David Byrne’s American Utopia (HBO), Friends: The Reunion (HBO Max) and A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (HBO Max).
Several of these entries have proven awards appeal. Hamilton won a near-record 11 Tony Awards. Its cast album won a Grammy. David Byrne’s American Utopia is set to receive a special Tony at the long-delayed Tony Awards on Sept. 26. Its cast album was nominated for a Grammy. The West Wing won four consecutive Emmys for outstanding drama series. Friends won an Emmy for outstanding comedy series.
The first stand-up special to win in this category was Chris Rock: Bring the Pain (HBO) in 1997. The next two were Dave Chappelle: Equanimity (2018) and Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (2020).
Burnham’s album, Inside: The Songs, reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200.