Brow Beat

The Emmys Must Bring Back the Best Part of Their Old Telecasts: The Late-Night Writers’ B-Roll

You can do better than this, Emmys.
You can do better than this, Emmys.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Last year’s Emmys telecast wasn’t bad. In fact, considering how a lot of these awards shows go, it was even pretty good. It was funny, it was inclusive, and the voters’ choices of winners showed good taste. But something was still missing. That something was what has arguably been the most consistently and genuinely funny Emmys bit for the past decade or so: the B-roll that announces the nominees for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series.

If you’re not familiar, this B-roll basically announces the names for all of the nominated writers of each variety show (in Emmy-speak, “variety show” translates to “late-night show” with a few exceptions) but announces them in the form of a short comedy bit. Some of these bits were phoned-in—most of Letterman’s from the latter 2000s were a bit self-consciously lazy in the Lettermanian mode—but a lot of them, particularly Conan’s, were bursts of absurdism that were refreshing from a show that tends to really put the broad in broadcast.

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Recall, for example, when the team from Da Ali G Show announced its writers’ names using pictures of a variety of men reaching climax.

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Or when Stephen Colbert had each of his Colbert Report writers cause him physical harm.

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Or when Conan inserted himself into a hilariously exaggerated Jolie-Pitt family photo.

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Or when Jon Stewart’s Daily Show zinged the stupidest David Blaine stunt ever.

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As a whole package, these B-rolls also demonstrated a playful competitiveness between the nominated shows and staffs—providing a metanarrative of comedy one-up-manship that we all got to enjoy. Yes, given that they put the writers’ rooms on display, they’re partly sad reminders that so many of these writing staffs were and still are overwhelmingly white and male, but even then, the results were often too good to hate. (Well, actually, most of Bill Maher’s were pretty douchey, but that’s just what you get for nominating Bill Maher, something the Emmys didn’t do this year, at least in the writing category.)

These B-roll mini-sketches have featured pretty consistently for at least the past 15 years, and there’s no real explanation for their absence from last year’s show. Sure, the Best Variety Writing category wasn’t presented at the prime-time Emmys telecast. Instead, it was relegated to the second of the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards shows that aired that same weekend. But even when the Best Variety Writing award was presented at the Primetime Creative Arts show in 2010, the shows submitted B-roll:

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Last year’s ceremony, by contrast, just had the nominees’ names called out over a sad, GIF-like title card.

So what gives, Television Academy? The award for Best Variety Writing will be featured on the Primetime Emmy show this year, so let’s hope that we’re treated to some sweet, sweet B-roll so we can gain some kind of respite between the painfully canned presenter bits and the “In Memoriam” segment’s inevitable reprisal of “Hallelujah.”

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