On Dec. 4, The Television Academy announced its rule changes for the upcoming 73rd Emmy Awards competition. One was that separate awards for variety talk and variety sketch series were being recombined into one category: outstanding variety series.
Saturday Night Live has won the Emmy for outstanding variety sketch series the last four years running, but with the rule change, it would have had to compete with talk shows too, like five-time winner Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
It no longer will. The Academy released a statement that says: “The Television Academy’s board of governors has reviewed its recent decision to merge the Variety Series program categories and has determined Variety Talk and Variety Sketch Series will remain separate categories for the 73rd Emmy Awards.
“While the Academy remains concerned about the number of series produced and the relatively small pool of entries in the Variety Sketch genre, it acknowledges that the differences between Variety Sketch and Talk programs merit separate consideration. As the Academy continues to engage with industry leaders and constituents, it will always endeavor to uphold the integrity of the competition and be as fair as possible.”
It’s highly unusual for any awards show to reverse itself, but it happens. In August 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced a new category for the upcoming 91st Academy Awards, outstanding achievement in popular film. The reaction was mostly negative, both in the media and in the film community. The following month, the Academy announced that the award would be postponed to “examine and seek additional input regarding the new category.” And that’s pretty much the last we’ve heard of that.
The Recording Academy underwent a major streamlining of its awards categories in 2011, dropping the number of awards from 109 to 78 in one fell swoop. One of the categories cut was best Latin jazz album. There was a significant outcry by such artists as Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock, and even a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of Latin jazz musicians led by Bobby Sanabria, a four-time nominee in the Latin jazz category. The category was reinstated after a one-year absence.
The Emmys’ reversal suggests that they saw that would be comparing apples and oranges, but it is also a sign of Michaels’ power in television. Michaels has personally received 91 Emmy nominations and has won 19 times. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1999 in a class that also included Carl Reiner, Mr. (Fred) Rogers and MacNeil & Lehrer. (Michaels received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year too.)
The original cast of SNL was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2017.
As noted above, HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has won for outstanding variety talk series the last five years running, but it’s not for lack of competition. This year, the other nominees in that category were The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Against competition like that, SNL would have been lucky to be nominated.
The competition in its own category, outstanding variety sketch series, was much lighter. Only two other shows were nominated in the category this past year, HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and Comedy Central’s Drunk History.