You can always count on the Daytime Emmy Awards to make some deliciously weird choices with their nominees, whether it's Gloria Estefan getting tapped for her spin-off of Red Table Talk or Oscar winner Eileen Heckart getting recognized for appearing in about 10 minutes of One Life to Live. But no category is more reliably strange than Outstanding Game Show Host. There's almost always at least one nominee that boggles the mind, and this year's slate is no exception. No matter who wins on June 24, when the Daytime Emmys are presented, we can all celebrate the fact that a crusading former Scientologist is being recognized for helping people remember the names of movies they saw 20 years ago. (More on that in a moment.)
Here are the seven oddest nominees for Outstanding Game Show Host. Even in this wackadoo category, they stand out.
It was surprising enough when Betty White got nominated at the 1983 ceremony for hosting Just Men! Yes, she was already a beloved Emmy winner and a game show giant, but the series itself got terrible reviews and only ran four months. That might be because the premise was so weak: In a twist on the Match Game format, two female contestants were asked to guess how a panel of male celebrities answered survey questions, while Betty White sauntered up to each of the fellas and made small talk. Watching old episodes on YouTube, you can practically feel the flop sweat as participants try to turn everything into a joke about the battle of the sexes.
Nevertheless, White actually won the award, making her the first female Emmy recipient in this category. (She was only the second female nominee after Susan Stafford's 1978 nod for co-hosting the original Wheel of Fortune). Even stranger, thanks to a quirk in eligibility rules, White was nominated in 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 bested her the second time around.)
An obvious inspiration for the more recent Celebrity Game Night, Win, Lose or Draw had celebrities and civilians team up to essentially play Pictionary. They got a phrase, they tried to draw it, and then they hoped their teammates could figure out what their squiggles represented. Execs 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 that ran on NBC, while Bert Convy hosted another version that aired in syndication. While Convy was a previous 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 was, that nomination made Lawrence the third woman to be recognized in this category. (Meredith Vieira is the all-time female champ; she's earned eight nominations and two wins for hosting the syndicated version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.)
Yes, Al Roker, noted TV weatherman, once hosted a game show that showed news clips and then asked uptight 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 got on the Emmy ballot for his stilted work on the show, but here we are.
The entire existence of Win Ben Stein's Money is bizarre. Stein, a former Nixon speechwriter who memorably appeared in Ferris Bueller's Day Off was semi-famous for being a nerd with a droning voice. The show, which aired on Comedy Central, played off that persona by getting contestants to compete with him directly in trivia challenges. If they knew more than he did, they won cash. The gimmick was that at the end of the season Stein himself got to keep any money in the prize budget that wasn't won by the contestants.
Stein's sidekick for the show's first few years was Jimmy Kimmel, who was around to read questions and generally run the game while Stein competed. He was supposed to be the doofus to Stein's genius, and soon enough, he doubled down on that persona by co-hosting The Man Show, the legendarily odious Comedy Central show that catered to things dudes 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 left, Stein was co-nominated twice more, once with Nancy Pimintal and once with Sal Iacono.
And look... Win Ben Stein's Money was fine. But even at the time, it was hard to understand why Stein's mugging and Kimmel's smarm were deemed award worthy. Given the 19-year run of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Kimmel's transformation into something of a liberal crusader, his old persona is even more baffling now. (Stein, meanwhile, predictably makes provocative right wing pronouncements every few years.)
As one 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 hosted a talk show, posed for Playboy, opened a bakery, and appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap. She reached her post-music apex in 2010, when she hosted the Game Show Network's revival of The Newlywed Game and simulatneously starred in a reality series about her weight loss journey. Inexplicably, the reality series also aired on GSN, and by the end of its run, Wilson was publicly criticizing the network while she herself got barraged with bad reviews. In the middle of all this, she received an Emmy nomination for hosting The Newlywed Game. Shortly thereafter, GSN replaced her with Sherri Shepherd.
By 2014, hosts of primetime game shows were competing for Primetime Emmy Awards in the category of Outstanding Host of a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. It wasn't always this way — Regis Philbin won Daytime Emmys for hosting the primetime version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire — but that rule change is the reason we now get apples-and-oranges spectacles like Jane Lynch's turn on Celebrity Game Night beating Heidi Klum's hosting on Project Runway.
It's also the reason the Daytime Emmys, robbed of their ability to honor, say, Jane Krakowski for hosting Name That Tune, must dig deep to fill out their ballot. Hence Jeff Foxworthy's nomination for hosting The American Bible Challenge, which had people compete in a season-long Bible trivia tournament. Though it was a ratings success for the Game Show Network, its national profile was low, and today there are almost no bootleg clips of it on YouTube. (What better sign that a show missed the zeitgeist?)
Pat Sajak has two nominations for Outstanding Game Show Host at this year's Daytime Emmys — for both the regular and celebrity editions of Wheel of Fortune. He's up against category mainstays Steve Harvey for Family Feud and Wayne Brady for Let's Make a Deal, as well as newcomer Leah Remini. Over on GSN —of course — Remini is presenting People Puzzler, where contestants solve pop-culture themed crosswords inspired by the long-running feature in People magazine. And why not? Remini is charming and she's appeared in People. The weird thing is that once again she's been nominated for something other than acting. Despite appearing on scads of series (including the long-running CBS hit King of Queens), each of her four prior Emmy nominations (and two wins) came for her docuseries Scientology and the Aftermath. Not a bad side hustle!
The 49th Annual Daytime Emmys air on CBS June 24 at 9:00 PM ET.
Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.