Typically, we write an article every year about some of the biggest surprises of the Emmys — this year, we’re doing something different. We’re honestly not sure whether or not to call this a surprise that Real Time with Bill Maher is nominated for Variety Talk Series. This is a show that’s scored a number of nominations before, and it probably will score more again if it’s nominated in the future.
We’re not questioning whether or not Maher’s show is well-produced, or at times filled with topical, interesting conversations. There are times in which it is daring and pushes the envelope in a good way.
Oh, and there is the time where Maher openly said the n-word in the middle of a broadcast, which led to an apology but also calls for the show to be canceled.
If you ask someone about Real Time with Bill Maher in 2017, the first thing that comes up is the n-word controversy. Maybe that’s fair or unfair — this is a nomination for the show itself rather than the host — but the main narrative remains the same. Casual Emmy fans aren’t going to look at Maher’s nomination and say “oh, it’s recognition for all of the hard-working crew members and artists behind the scenes who bring this show to life.” They’re going to ask “why are the Emmys celebrating someone who was responsible for spreading such hateful dialogue?” — and they have a point. In nominating the show, the Emmys are sending a signal that they are willing to overlook a moment that is universally loathed regardless of political party. They’re saying that this moment doesn’t matter when clearly, it does.
We also know that there is a road that we could go down where the Emmys nominated this while snubbing other great shows celebrating diversity — Dear White People and Insecure, for example, were both worthy of more attention. Yet, those are separate categories. Here, you can make a case that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah deserved this nomination more than Real Time, but it’s far from the only show that would. It would’ve been nice to see this go to Late Night with Seth Meyers, or even a show like @midnight with Chris Hardwick that shakes up the format. The Emmys have long been in a rut when it comes to this Variety Talk Series category, often nominating the same things year after year. We’d love to know when some Emmy voters put in their ballots this year, and why. We want to know if some people just filled this in by default, if they chose to ignore the controversy, or is they thought it was all somehow overblown.
Ultimately, this nomination is an unfortunate mark against the Emmys this year. While the Television Academy deserves some praise for diverse nominations across the board, their voters deserve equal criticism for delivering an endorsement that what Maher said is okay enough to nominate this show in a competitive category with many other worth choices.
The full nominations
If you didn’t see it earlier, you can see the full list over at the link here. (Photo: HBO.)