One of the truly most varied categories of any at the Emmys, even in its infancy, Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) houses everything from stand-up comedy to filmed music concerts and tributes, from Christmas specials to the indefatigable Kennedy Center Honors. This year adds one more type: the COVID-driven specials and benefits that were forced to record separately and then edited together using their own social distancing requirements to complete.
In that section we have Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, One World: Together At Home, Homefest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special and the Parks And Recreation Special. Each required more complicated productions than normal, putting it in the hands of the on-camera talent to record themselves in most cases. Any number of these could make the cut.
A Carpool Karaoke special has won this three of the last four years, but there wasn’t one this year. Corden is a huge Emmy favorite so watch out for his Homefest to likely get in. Dave Chappelle won this in 2018 for his stand-up special Equanimity and has two chances to get in this year. Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette was nominated last year and won the Emmy for Writing. She has a new special, Douglas, eligible this year. As mentioned above, The Kennedy Center Honors have won this category seven times, but hasn’t been nominated since 2016 and hasn’t won since 2013.
There’s also a few EGOT contenders this year. Most notably is 90-year old Stephen Sondheim, who has never even been Emmy-nominated. The birthday special in support of an out of work Broadway and with his namesake could be his ticket. Benj Pasek. His Saturday Night Seder, a variety show with stories and musical performances, and like the Sondheim special was filmed at home. It was a benefit for the CDC Foundation’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund.
One thing that needs to change, and likely will in the near future, is another possible split in the Variety Special category. We’re only three years into this category having two sections, pre-recorded and live, and in that time we’ve seen comedy specials explode (especially on Netflix) to a point where they might need give it its own category. In fact, the Emmy by laws even say, “if for two consecutive years the Board of Governors identifies that there are (or would have been had the category been in place) 14 or more entries that define such a significant, specialized and distinct achievement that they no longer are represented adequately within an existing category, [the board] may, at [its] discretion, separate these entries into a new category.” That threshold was easily passed this year and if it is again (and why wouldn’t it) then we could see another break-off.
With 104 submissions, this category will have six nominees. It can often be good to cross-reference which specials are also submitted and eligible in the Writing for a Variety Special category (as most of the stand-ups are) but it’s not a guaranteed science. Here are my 2020 Emmy nomination predictions for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded).
- Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones
- Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
- Homefest: James Corden’s Late Late Show Special
- John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch
- A Parks And Recreation Special
- Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration
Other contenders: Conan Without Borders: Ghana, The Disney Family Singalong, Tiffany Haddish: Black Mitzvah, The Kennedy Center Honors, Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything, Saturday Night Seder, Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill