Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” have had that category on lockdown for the better part of a decade. They’re currently riding an eight-year winning streak. There’s a pretty good chance they can make it nine in a row this year, but they’ll have a higher mountain to climb to get there.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the academy has not reflexively nominated “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” or “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Because of that, the competition in this category is fierce, with at least three of the five other nominees having a good chance of siphoning votes from the super-topical Comedy Central staple.
But it’s not like “TDS” had an off year. To the contrary; between the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Stewart’s usual fights with Fox News, extensive interviews with people of influence and the rise of the Tea Party, the show has had one of its best years in the last half-decade.
So do any of the nominees have a shot at knocking Stewart and company off their perch? Let’s take a look at each of the other five nominees and what their odds of winning are.
“The Colbert Report”: As brilliant a year as “TDS” has had, Stephen Colbert and Co. have been keeping up with their parent show laugh for laugh. His part in setting up the rally — ratcheting up the “fear” that Stewart was trying to address — was well done, he’s expanded his guest roster to include a number of on-the-verge musical acts, and his skill in keeping his “high status idiot” alive and viable for six years deserves to be awarded. After all, it’s not like Stewart loses if “Colbert” wins; he’s an executive producer of the show. Odds: 3-1
“Conan”: It stands to reason that if the academy didn’t vote for Conan O’Brien for his brilliant, not-give-a-hoot final episodes of his version of “The Tonight Show,” he has less of a chance of winning here. But the fact that he’s been able to move to basic cable and do a show that’s more creative than what he was able to do in the seven months he was on “Tonight” might sway voters. Then again, the fact that after the comedy bits he reverts to the same ol’ boring talk show format might work against him. Odds: 10-1
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”: Fallon looks like he’s having a blast on his show, and its loose, fun nature has made “Late Night” a very watchable show in only its second year. Regular bits like “Thank You Notes,” “Jersey Floor” and “Hashtags” get lots of viral attention, and the games he plays with his guests (beer pong, anyone?) put them at ease, making his interview segments fun to watch. This year may not be Fallon’s year because of his relative newness on the late-night talk scene, but his time is coming. Odds: 20-1
“Real Time with Bill Maher”: It’s not that Maher’s show has done anything that would put him at the back of the pack; the interview segments and roundtable format are as informative as ever, and Maher’s “New Rules” bit is always funny. But “TDS” covers much of the same ground and does it better, so there’s no reason for voters to suddenly turn to Maher after voting for “TDS” for the last eight years. Odds: 100-1
“Saturday Night Live“: It hasn’t won in this category since 1993, when its competition was Leno, Letterman and “Unplugged.” This past season was mediocre at best, and considering its competition, this feels more like a legacy nomination than anything else. Odds: 1000-1
Who do you think has the best chance of beating “The Daily Show?”