Over 64 ceremonies, the prime-time Emmy Awards have had 109 hosts -- yes, multiple hosts many years -- but never anyone quite like the person who will walk out on to the stage of the Nokia Theatre Sunday night.
Jimmy Kimmel is slightly dangerous -- like Ricky Gervais, a gleeful mauler of the TV hand that feeds him -- but no more so than a few others who have come before (Conan O'Brien, Garry Shandling, David Letterman or even Johnny Carson). And as far as ABC is aware, he can't dance (Neil Patrick Harris) or sing (like long-ago hosts John Denver and Sammy Davis Jr.). He's certainly funny, sharp and knows how to hit his marks. But then Jane Lynch managed all that and more last year.
What makes him so unique? Almost certainly this: Kimmel may know more about television than any Emmy host in history. He is a quintessential television polymath or, less charitably, TV nerd -- a human encyclopedia obsessed with TV personalities, shows and trends. Kimmel not only watches TLC series, but can actually quote from them -- and does, to considerable comic effect, on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which most nights is a running commentary on his various television obsessions. Those include bad reality series, anything Kardashian, most prime-time dramas, David Letterman and his various ABC in-house obligations, like "Modern Family" and "Dancing With the Stars."
Most Emmy hosts mostly know just about the show they star in. Kimmel knows about every show everyone stars in.
How will this impact Sunday's ceremony? In a few ways -- all potentially good and special, although of course we'll all be the judge of that soon enough. Foremost, Kimmel is a TV insider who should and likely will work the room like he's still the outsider, or -- as he put it recently -- "I'm like the sad kid sitting outside of the house where the party is happening, and [they] finally go: 'All right. Come in and have a drink.' I don't know that the world has come closer to my humor, but I think it's just attrition more than anything. If you hang in there long enough, eventually you're part of the group."
Kimmel recently told TV writers -- whom he actually reads because they write about TV -- that the plan Sunday is to integrate himself throughout the show. Typically, hosts launch this ship with a monologue, then dip in and out, as presenters -- mini-hosts, if you will -- do the actual work of handing out the statues. Says he: "I don't have a ton of control over how things go [but] what I do know is that I'd like to be a part of the show throughout. Sometimes in award shows, the host is there in the beginning and then he or she disappears until about 45 minutes later, and it's nice to be able to comment on things as they're happening, and] hopefully I will be able to insert myself in the entirety of the ceremony."
Beyond the host, though, there's certainly much else of interest. Several years ago, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided to structure the night by categories -- by dramas, miniseries and so forth. That's good for viewers -- and nominees -- who find out some of the big winners early on and throughout the evening. There's also talk of restructuring the popular "In Memoriam" segment, possibly to expand tributes to major stars like Andy Griffith, who died this year.
Meanwhile, there are always those dramas and battles that seem so monumental -- and certainly are to those in the middle of them. Will "Mad Men" score a record fifth drama win in a row -- or will "Breaking Bad" or "Homeland" emerge a spoiler? Will "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm ever win a best actor award -- or it is "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston's year again? And -- show of hands -- Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey") or Claire Danes ("Homeland")?
You can be assured Kimmel will have something to say about all of this -- something funny.