Conan O'Brien, 2002-03, 2006
Hosting Highlight: In his 2006 opener, O’Brien dropped by that year’s buzziest shows. His flirtation with Pam (Jenna Fischer) at Dunder Mifflin? Perfection.
Hosting Lowlight: After hosting the show in 2002, he co-hosted with Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Garrett, Darrell Hammond, George Lopez, Bernie Mac, Dennis Miller, Garry Shandling, Martin Short, Jon Stewart, and Wanda Sykes in 2003. We don’t know why the Emmys couldn’t learn this lesson earlier and spared us the 2008 reality TV multiple-host debacle, but there’s perhaps a lesson in this for all of us: Just say no to more than one emcee.
Lessons Learned: As evidenced by his earlier appearances, as well as his critically successful 2006 stint, hosting is a gig where the late night comedian thrives. Based on O’Brien’s example, Kimmel should plan to let his real enthusiasm for television come across and not be afraid to be a fan as well as an insider. —Erin Strecker
Garry Shandling, 2004
Hosting Highlight: To prepare for hosting the ”ultimate reality show,” Shandling got a full-body makeover — including a sex change — in this pre-taped prologue.
Hosting Lowlight: Shandling brought out two blindfolded unknowns to present an award, then quipped that they would be hosting the Emmys next year. Unfortunately, the reality TV gag was starting to feel old by this point.
Lesson Learned: Following the lowest-rated Emmy broadcast in a decade, Shandling brilliantly skewered reality. Over the course of three hours, though, the jokes started feeling stale. Kimmel’s takeaway? Be careful not to rely too much on a single punch line. —Tara Fowler
Ellen DeGeneres, 2005
Hosting Highlight: No awards ceremony is complete without a swan dress.
Hosting Lowlight: Emmy Idol, a lead balloon of a segment with current TV ”favorites” singing classic TV themes. Who could have realized Donald Trump and Megan Mullally dueting on ”Green Acres” would be an uncomfortable waste of time? Oh yeah, everybody.
Lessons Learned: In the early 2000s, DeGeneres was the Emmys go-to tightrope walker, hosting not only in the wake of 9/11 in 2001 but also just weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck her hometown of New Orleans in 2005. Based on her example, Kimmel will do best when to skip the gimmicks, have fun with his own image, and remain mostly inconspicuous after the monologue. —Lanford Beard
Ryan Seacrest, 2007-2008
Hosting Highlight: Before delivering an inoffensive, self-deprecating monologue, Seacrest smartly stepped aside so Family Guy‘s Stewie and Brian could sing a positively blistering indictment of the state of contemporary TV. Let the cartoons take the heat? Well-played, Seacrest.
Hosting Lowlight: Reality Hostgate 2008
Lessons Learned: No one will argue that five-time hosting nominee Seacrest is a total pro, but he and Kimmel simply aren’t bringing the same things to the table. While Seacrest has to make light of his mega-power — lest we realize exactly how rich and connected he is — Kimmel’s always thrived as an outsider who just happens to f— Ben Affleck and kibbutz with Clooney occasionally. And where Seacrest is bound by his 700 jobs and countless professional entanglements, Kimmel can push the envelope and pull strings freely. Simply put, we welcome the chance to be simultaneously offended and amused this year. Let it rip, Jimmy! —Lanford Beard
Neil Patrick Harris, 2009
Hosting Highlight: How can you pick just one? Between his Marc Shaiman-penned opening number (”Put Down the Remote”), his faux-bitter interview with Jon Cryer — who beat Harris for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy that night — and his pre-taped Dr. Horrible bit (”buffering”), NPH presided over an Emmys that channeled Sum 41’s debut album: All killer, no filler. No wonder a million more people watched the show that year than in ’07.
Hosting Lowlight: Then again, even Harris struggled to keep momentum during the Awards’ sagging middle, which featured all the prizes for reality shows, TV movies, and miniseries lumped together. Unless you loved Little Dorrit, the effect was pretty soporific.
Lessons Learned: To be as great as Harris, all Kimmel needs to do is follow the patented NPH four-prong attack. First, log plenty of practice hours hosting everything from the TV Land Awards to the Tonys, preferably the same year as his Emmys gig. Next, have a Broadway-caliber voice. Third, exude charisma from every pore, and, fourth, trade on the public’s nostalgia for his days as a child star. Piece of cake. —Hillary Busis
Jimmy Fallon, 2010
Hosting Highlight: That star-studded ”Born to Run” opener, one of the greatest Emmy moments ever.
Hosting Lowlight: Reading unfunny viewer tweets on the air is thrilling for the people who wrote those tweets…not so great for everyone else.
Lessons Learned: Kimmel’s sense of humor has always been drier than that of his fellow late-night Jimmy, but aping Fallon’s unbridled enthusiasm — and his not-too-mean approach to the celebs in attendance — might give his Emmys stint an extra boost. Fallon’s skills as a facilitator are also worth emulating; he managed to keep the show moving quickly and seamlessly, leading to a telecast that actually clocked in at three hours on the dot. —Hillary Busis
Jane Lynch, 2011
Hosting Highlight: In her opening number, Lynch encountered the cast of Mad Men and taught them about gay marriage, smartphones, and the perils of DVR.
Hosting Lowlight: A Jersey Shore spoof starring Lynch as Donatella Alberghetti Mangiana D’Borgia, the executive responsible for taking ”eight at risk youths” and making them stars. Even Anderson Cooper couldn’t salvage this overlong, irrelevant skit.
Lesson Learned: Pre-taped pieces can be amusing, but a good host can’t rely on them for laughs. Lynch was funniest when she was throwing out one-liners between segments (examples: explaining her gay agenda, poking fun at the cast of Entourage, embracing her inner sex goddess). Likewise, Kimmel should make the most of small moments. —Tara Fowler