When it comes to Reality Competition programs and the Emmy Awards, it has been a clean sweep: The Amazing Race just refuses to lose the award. Whether it is its sweeping vistas, its willingness to let people fall apart without contrivances or twists, or the killer fatigue that the race’s events and pace take on the racers, the show just seems to click with Emmy voters on a variety of levels. However, now we get to answer a bigger question: does it also have the best host?
Much loved by fans of the series, TAR’s host Phil Keoghan is certainly not a household name and outside of providing voiceover narration and end of leg banter he really doesn’t do so much in terms of traditional hosting. While I am a fan of his work (No host’s eyebrows work as well as his in conveying surprise or emotion), he in no way drives the show forward. This is a category built for the people who are in command of a series, whose work makes or breaks the structure of an episode. On this parameter, it is a host like Ryan Seacrest that has the most to gain.
Regardless of one’s opinion of Idol, you have to admit that Seacrest is good at his job: while he was an absolute bomb of an Emmy host largely thanks to downright awful material (He’s not a comedian), the much more spontaneous format of American Idol suits him. Whether it’s arguing with Simon or speaking to the contestants, there is an ease about him that helps Idol flow – I’m not sure if he deserves all of the hype, per se, but below that hype I know there’s a good host there.
Seacrest’s competition for the award is limited, although fairly diverse considering. I don’t know if Keoghan’s understated performances will be capable of getting him into the fold, but the show’s success could carry him there amongst more showy MCs of sorts such as Ty Pennington for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or Tom Bergeron, who is really quite good when it comes to the improvisational nature of his job on Dancing with the Stars. Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum each have a particularly limited yet vital role to their shows, but I don’t know if they can lay claim to it the same way that someone like Jeff Probst does, who has done great work leading tribal councils and torturing people during challenges for 16 seasons now. I’d say he’s Seacrest’s biggest competition, no question.
However, this all begs a rather important question that Seacrest needs to think about: will his own potential success not absolutely without question guarantee that his show will never win the Emmy?
I think it does.
The reason is simple: right now, the only thing that could make The Amazing Race lose is one of two things: either Bravo’s Project Runway is able to ride its Peabody Award (I wouldn’t object in the least) into the winner’s circle, or the voters start to feel bad about never giving Mark Burnett or Simon Fuller Emmys. Now, however, they can have their cake and eat it too: they can reward the work of the hosts of Survivor or American Idol with shiny trophies, thus also awarding the show they run, while continuing to recognize the qualities of The Amazing Race that they love so very much.
It’s kind of the equivalent of the Animated Film Oscar: great that the films (hosts) are being represented, but rather unfortunate that those elements of filmmaking (reality television) won’t be considered as part of the larger award. An Animated Film will never win Best Picture as long as the Academy can shuffle them aside into their own category, and by the same token any host-driven reality show will now essentially be competing only in this category.
The Amazing Race’s Emmy streak has come to a point even amongst TV critics, who like the show, where people are starting to wonder whether it isn’t finally time for a changing of the guard. And, while my belief that TAR represents by far the strongest example of blending personality with competition in the proper fashion has not changed, I kind of agree; Project Runway is strong enough and distinctive enough that it probably deserves a chance to breakthrough.
But for shows like Survivor and American Idol, their Emmy chances are now relegated to a new side category, and I would expect that the Series award will certainly be sticking around with the more ratings-deprived but quality-infused series. We’ll find out over the summer, and like last year tune into Cultural Learnings for excessively detailed Emmy Analysis.