For Comedy Central's Elizabeth Porter, deciding on what the roast should be comes after the holidays.
"Every Christmas, I know it's just around the corner and we have to decide who to roast this year," she said.
The senior VP of specials and talent is the network executive for "The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner," the network's first special to be nominated for an Emmy.
"These roasts have been going on for over 10 years, but they've evolved into a huge production," she said. "The whole concept probably started years ago with the old Dean Martin roasts [at the Friars Club]. You'd see commercials for them on Saturday afternoons. But those were small, intimate affairs compared to this."
Earlier Comedy Central roastees have included Hugh Hefner, Jeff Foxworthy and Pamela Anderson, with each year's event growing in budget, production value and the number of guest roasters. But Ms. Porter felt it was a real coup to nab Captain Kirk.
"The beauty of Shatner is he's had a career of 40 or 50 years but he's still current, with 'Boston Legal,'" she said. "He generates multigenerational interest and has a good sense of humor about himself. It's a big thing to put yourself on the line like that, but he was game and gracious and funny. Everything he does, he does with a sense of humor. He's always in on the joke."
Although censorship isn't much of an issue at a Comedy Central roast, Ms. Porter admitted one of the concerns about roasting someone is whether a speaker will go too far in poking fun at the guest of honor.
"It's a real talent to roast somebody," she said. "We get all these comedians and you don't know how they'll do. But there were so many moments where you could feel the love right there with the roasting."
In contrast to the roast is the perennial elegance of nominee "The Kennedy Center Honors: A National Celebration of the Performing Arts," a George Stevens Jr. presentation for Kennedy Center TV and CBS. Hosted by Caroline Kennedy, December's 29th annual program feted Zubin Mehta, Smokey Robinson, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dolly Parton and Steven Spielberg.
Other nominees are "A Tribute to James Taylor" ("Great Performances") from PBS, with Warner Music Group in association with Thirteen/WNET New York; HBO's "Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed" (RickMill Productions in association with HBO Entertainment); HBO's "Wanda Sykes: Sick and Tired" (Sykes Entertainment/ Music Link Productions and Image Entertainment in association with HBO Entertainment); and "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," from RPM Productions and NBC.
For individual performance in a variety or music program, the only surprise might be the omission of Jay Leno, whose slot was taken by (pick one) Ellen DeGeneres, a beacon as host of "The 79th Annual Academy Awards" (ABC), or Tony Bennett, celebrating his 81st birthday with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and k.d. lang in "Tony Bennett: An American Classic" (NBC). Other nominees are David Letterman ("Late Show With David Letterman," CBS) and Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert ("The Colbert Report") and Jon Stewart ("The Daily Show With Jon Stewart").
For variety, music or comedy series, it's the usual talk-show suspects: "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (NBC), from Conaco and Broadway Video in association with Universal Media Studios; "Letterman" (CBS), from Worldwide Pants; "Real Time With Bill Maher" (HBO), produced by Kid Love Productions and Brad Grey TV in association with HBO Entertainment; "Colbert," from Central Productions with Busboy Productions and Sparina Productions; and "The Daily Show," produced by Central Productions and Hello Doggie.
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