One of the more ironic nominations to come out this year’s Emmy race was the nod to Conan O’Brien and his eight-month stint on The Tonight Show, an abbreviated tenure that made more headlines for how it ended than for its content. O’Brien’s Tonight Show made the cut for the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series category this year, an already highly-competitive match-up because of perennial favorites like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (last year’s winner) The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live (Real Time with Bill Maher also earned a nod). O’Brien and his Tonight Show writing team also earned a nomination in the scribe category.
A clever print campaign (pictured) may have helped O’Brien earn the surprise nomination, though it wasn’t executed by NBC: TBS stepped up and bought ads in publications like Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times in hopes that a win would help promote O’Brien’s new talk (debuting in November). Or maybe it was a few stand-out episodes from the time he hosted The Tonight Show that propelled TV Academy members to suggest his name for the ballot (though, I for one, think his funniest monologues and skits came during those final days before he left the show). But it seems more likely that O’Brien earned the nod because of the way he was treated by NBC in those final days. Even today, a rumor continues to swirl that O’Brien learned that the Peacock wanted to relegate him to 12:30 p.m. by reading it first on Deadline.com.
Would it be fair to reward O’Brien with an Emmy based on payback rather than his performance? The public has certainly been on his side (witness the I’m With Coco campaign that surfaced on the internet earlier this year). That’s why it seems unlikely that anyone at the Aug. 29 ceremony would begrudge O’Brien if he wins the statuette. We already know his comedy is worth its weight in gold; his team, after all, won the Emmy in 2007 for writing Late Night with Conan O’Brien. And voters will probably want to give O’Brien the final word on the whole sordid affair — and on NBC, no less, which is broadcasting the ceremony this year.