Emmy Nominee Leah Remini Hosts GSNs people puzzle. (Photo: Game Show Network)
You can always count on the Daytime Emmy Awards to make deliciously weird choices with their nominees, whether it’s Gloria Estefan getting tapped for her spinoff of Red table discussion or Oscar winner Eileen Heckart, recognized for her appearance in about 10 minutes of A life to live. But no category is more reliable than Outstanding Game Show Host. There’s almost always at least one nominee that boggles the mind, and this year’s list is no exception. No matter who wins on June 24, when the Daytime Emmys roll around, we can all celebrate that a crusading former Scientologist is credited with helping people remember the names of movies they saw years ago. 20 years. (More on that in a moment.)
Here are the seven weirdest nominees for Outstanding Game Show Host. Even in this wackadoo category, they stand out.
Betty White, Just men! (1983)
It was quite surprising when Betty White was nominated at the 1983 ceremony for hosting Just men! Yes, she was already a beloved Emmy winner and game show giant, but the series itself received poor reviews and only lasted four months. Maybe it’s because the premise was so weak: in a twist on the Matching game format, two contestants were asked to guess how a panel of male celebrities answered the poll questions, while Betty White walked up to each of the guys and made small talk. Watching old episodes on YouTube, you can practically feel the flop sweat as the contestants try to spin it all into a battle of the sexes joke.
Nonetheless, White actually won the award, making her the first female Emmy recipient in that category. (She was only the second woman nominated after Susan Stafford’s 1978 nod for co-hosting the original Wheel of Fortune). Even stranger, thanks to a quirk in the eligibility rules, White was nominated for two consecutive years for hosting the show, even though it only aired for thirteen weeks in a single season. (The price is right‘s Bob Barker beat her the second time.)
Vicky Laurent, Win, lose or draw (1988)
An obvious inspiration for the most recent Celebrity Game Night, Win, Lose or Draw celebrities and civilians have teamed up to essentially play Pictionary. They got a sentence, they tried to draw it, and then they hoped their teammates could figure out what their scribbles represented. The executives apparently couldn’t get enough of this idea, so two different versions of the show premiered on the same day. Vicki Lawrence, already an Emmy winner for The Carol Burnett Show, hosted the daytime iteration which ran on NBC, while Bert Convy hosted another version that aired in syndication. While Convy was a former Emmy winner and co-creator/producer of both versions of Win, lose or draw it was Lawrence who got the nomination for hosting.
As random as it is, this nomination makes Lawrence the third woman to be recognized in this category. (Meredith Vieira is the all-time Women’s Champion; she earned eight nominations and two wins for hosting the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.)
Al Rocker, Remember this (1997)
Yes, Al Roker, the TV weatherman noted, once hosted a game show that showed news clips and then asked tense men from various colleges multiple-choice questions about them. It aired on MSNBC during its first year on the air, when the network was clearly willing to try just about anything. It’s less clear how Roker won the Emmy for his staid work on the show, but here we are.
Ben Stein and Jimmy Kimmel Earn Ben Stein’s Money (1999)
The whole existence of Earn Ben Stein’s Money is aberrant. Stein, a former Nixon speechwriter who memorably appeared in Ferris Bueller’s day off was semi-famous for being a nerd with a buzzing voice. The show, which aired on Comedy Central, showcased this character by having contestants compete against him directly in trivial challenges. If they knew more than him, they made money. The gimmick was that at the end of the season, Stein himself had to keep all the money in the prize budget that had not been won by the contestants.
Stein’s sidekick during the show’s early years was Jimmy Kimmel, who was there to read the questions and generally run the game while Stein participated. He was supposed to be Stein’s genius doofus, and soon enough he dubbed that character by co-hosting The show of man, the legendaryly obnoxious Comedy Central show that was about the things guys are supposed to like.
As for the game show, it was Emmy catnip. As co-nominees, Stein and Kimmel won the Emmy in the show’s first season, and they were nominated again two years later. After Kimmel’s departure, Stein was co-nominated twice more, once with Nancy Pimintal and once with Sal Iacono.
And look… Earn Ben Stein’s Money was good. But even then, it was unclear why Stein’s aggression and Kimmel’s smarm were deemed worthy of reward. Given the 19-year duration of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Kimmel’s transformation into something of a liberal crusader, his old persona is even more bewildering now. (Stein, meanwhile, predictably makes provocative right-wing statements every few years.)
Carnie Wilson, The Newlywed Game (2010)
As a third of Wilson Phillips, Carnie Wilson had a string of hit songs in the early ’90s, including the all-time classic “Hold On.” Since then, she’s become a purveyor of “miscellaneous fame”: she’s hosted a talk show, posed for Playboy, opened a bakery, and appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap. She reached her post-musical peak in 2010, when she hosted Game Show Network’s revival of The Newlywed Game and simultaneously starred in a reality series about her weight loss journey. Inexplicably, the reality series too aired on GSN, and at the end of its broadcast, Wilson was publicly criticizing the network while she herself was bombarded with bad reviews. Amidst it all, she received an Emmy Award nomination for hosting Newlywed game. Shortly after, GSN replaced her with Sherri Shepherd.
Jeff Foxworthy, The American Bible Challenge (2014)
In 2014, primetime game show hosts were competing for the Primetime Emmy Awards in the Outstanding Host of a Reality Program or Reality Competition category. It wasn’t always this way – Regis Philbin won the Daytime Emmys for hosting the prime-time version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – but this rule change is why we now have apple and orange glasses like Jane Lynch’s Celebrity game night beat hosting Heidi Klum on Project track.
It’s also why the Daytime Emmys, deprived of their ability to honor, say, Jane Krakowski for hosting Name this melody, have to dig deep to fill out their ballot. Hence the nomination of Jeff Foxworthy for hosting The American Bible Challenge, which allowed people to participate in a Bible question tournament throughout the season. Although it was a ratings hit for the Game Show Network, its national profile was low, and today there are almost no bootleg clips on YouTube. (What better sign than a show has missed the air of time?)
Lea Remini, people puzzle (2022)
Pat Sajak has two nominations for Outstanding Game Show Host at this year’s Daytime Emmys – for Regular and Celebrity Editions of Wheel of Fortune. He goes up against category stalwarts Steve Harvey for family quarrel and Wayne Brady for Let’s make a deal as well as newcomer Leah Remini. On GSN – of course – Remini presents people puzzle, where contestants solve pop culture-themed crossword puzzles inspired by the long-running feature of People magazine. And why not? Remini is lovely and she appeared in People. What’s odd is that once again she was nominated for something other than acting. Despite appearing on loads of series (including the long-running CBS hit king of queens), each of his four previous Emmy nominations (and two wins) came for his docuseries Scientology and the Consequences. Not a bad scramble!
The 49th Daytime Emmys will air on CBS June 24 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Mark Blankenship is the editor of Primetimer. Tweet it at @IAmBlankenship.