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The Best Emmy Hosts This Century, Ranked

From Conan to NPH, how do they compare?

Joyce Eng

Hosting the Emmys is hard, guys. Well, not as hard as hosting the Oscars. But even if you do a good job, you are not guaranteed to be asked back the following year... But you might get a return invite in four years. That's because the Emmys are rotated between the Big Four networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC -- and since 2000 (after relying on actors like Angela Lansbury -- who, #neverforget, is now 0-18 at the Emmys -- and news folk like Bryant Gumbel in the '90s), the nets have mostly turned to home talent (usually late-night hosts) to emcee the festivities, which has led to a whole lotta singing and dancing. Stephen Colbert has the honor this year -- and he could make history by being the first host to win an Emmy while hosting.

How will he compare? Let's look back at the hosts this century, ranked from worst to best.

13 Things That Happened at the Emmys 10 Years Ago

17. Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest (2008)

If you missed this ceremony, you were one of the lucky ones. Hoping to take advantage of the brand new reality host category, producers tapped the five nominees to emcee the show. "We have absolutely nothing," Probst said after a few minutes of awkward banter and pity laughter. It's funny because it's true. Just because these guys are great hosts of their shows doesn't mean they -- especially as a group -- would make great hosts of award shows, which is a completely different and way bigger beast. Jimmy Kimmel put it charitably during the interminable presentation of their category: "Haven't they been sufficient, everybody?" Everyone involved in this mess later admitted it was a huge mistake.

16. Ryan Seacrest (2007)

Like I said, Seacrest was serviceable. He admitted straight up that he can't tell jokes or sing and dance -- the two hallmarks of an awards show host. He was MIA for a majority of the show, which maybe was for the best.

15. Neil Patrick Harris (2013)

This is what happens when you want too much of a thing. NPH is an excellent host and this was his peak hosting years -- on the tails of a triumphant three-year stint emceeing the Tonys -- but he was just going through the motions here. Maybe it was hosting fatigue, or his well running dry, or we didn't realize how sick of him we were; but Harris was bland and uninspired, and his musical numbers felt like rejects from the Tonys. It definitely didn't help that producers did five individual breakout eulogies -- on top of the usual "In Memoriam" segment -- for certain dearly departed stars, leading to the best quip of the night from Modern Family boss Steve Levitan in his speech after winning comedy series: "This may be the saddest Emmys of all time, but we could not be happier."

14. Ellen DeGeneres (2005)

For the second time, DeGeneres hosted the Emmys after a national tragedy. While her post-9/11 effort was fab (see blow), her post-Katrina stint was missing a certain spark. Plus, she was dillydallying around backstage and in the audience for way too much of the show and had to get people excited for the ceremony-long Emmy Idol contest, which featured Megan Mullally (as Karen Walker) and Donald Trump duetting on the Green Acres theme.

13. None (2003)

Fox eschewed a host for 11 presenters -- Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Garrett, Darrell Hammond, George Lopez, Conan O'Brien, Bernie Mac, Dennis Miller, Garry Shandling, Martin Short, Jon Stewart and Wanda Sykes -- who presided over segments of the show. They were all great, but their brief time on stage didn't let anyone stand out and made for an overstuffed affair.

12. Garry Shandling (2000)

Shandling's first of two solo stints was a witty delight and excelled in the whole "cashing in on the current phenomenon" bit with a Survivor (which had premiered that summer) tribal council involving late-night hosts. Unfortunately, there's no footage of the late star hosting online, but please enjoy some video of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's first Emmys as a married couple and all of Shandling's jokes about it.

11. Jimmy Kimmel (2012)

Kimmel's first stint had its moments, including his opening segment with a naked Lena Dunham eating cake on a toilet, but his mock "In Memoriam" segment and a gigantic prank -- telling viewers to tweet that that Tracy Morgan had passed out onstage -- were huge misses. The latter was especially in poor taste in hindsight, following Morgan's car accident two years later.

10. Jane Lynch (2011)

The Glee star was a game host, with a winning opening number, and particularly shined in the taped segments, namely a Jersey Shore spoof, even as the writing on the show itself was not up to par. But she gets all the points for this zinger: "A lot of people are very curious why I'm a lesbian. Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of Entourage."

9. Garry Shandling (2004)

Shandling's second and final stint was a nostalgia fest with callbacks to The Larry Sanders Show (with David Duchovny, natch) and an onstage reunion with Jeffrey Tambor, whom Shandling had to beg to utter his famous catchphrase.

8. Seth Meyers (2014)

The Saturday Night Live alum stuck to what he did best: telling wry jokes, many of which were about the fact that the Emmys were held on a Monday. The best bit was a Billy on the Street segment that made everyone google "Billy Eichner" afteward. This ceremony was six months after Meyers assumed the Late Night seat and you got the sense that he was trying to find his voice at the Emmys as much as he was at Late Night. Now that he's much more settled in his own show and has found his niche, if he gets the call to host again next year, we can probably expect a far sharper, more confident Meyers.

7. Conan O'Brien (2002)

Coco is one of the best two-time hosts the Emmys has ever had. His first go-around started with a taped bit with the Osbournes (their show won an Emmy that year) and he brought his usual wackadoo, self-deprecating flair to the live proceedings, including flirting with Jennifer Aniston, much to Brad Pitt's chagrin. Luckily, Garry Shandling was nearby.

6. Jimmy Kimmel (2016)

This is an example of learning from past experience. Gone were any poor taste jokes, though Kimmel did get off a good, pointed one about Bill Cosby -- but he still kept his trademark bite. Speaking of bite, the highlights were an MIA Maggie Smith winning after Kimmel taunted her for her chronic award show absences, and Kimmel's nemesis Matt Damon sauntering out onstage, chomping on an apple, to needle him after his loss to John Oliver. We like 'em apples indeed.

5. Andy Samberg (2015)

The perpetually goofy Brooklyn Nine-Nine star's opening number revealed the true secret of Peak TV -- there are a whole lotta Wives -- and his monologue had a now very timely Trump joke ("Sure, Donald Trump seems racist... what else?"), but the piece de resistance was his insta-classic Mad Men series finale spoof. Dammit, Jerry.

4. Neil Patrick Harris (2009)

This was really the thing that started NPH's hosting run. His "Put Down the Remote" opener was exuberant fun and the Dr. Horrible segment was also winning. In fact, the only downside of the night for Harris was losing comedy supporting actor to Jon Cryer when everyone and their mother (no pun intended) expected him to take it home for How I Met Your Mother.

3. Conan O'Brien (2006)

Conan hit it out of the park again, opening with a perfect rendition of the ol' "insert host in various scenes" bit -- the Lost one about not being invited that year, a casualty of the new, short-lived voting system, was sublimely executed. Even his ceremony-long gag of holding Bob Newhart captive in a glass case didn't grate, unlike, say, NPH's ill-advised box routine at the Oscars in 2015.

2. Jimmy Fallon (2010)

Like Dr. Greene on ER, Fallon set the tone with a lively Glee-inspired opening number that included Tina Fey, Jon Hamm and Betty White that instantly put the crowd in a great mood. Many have tried to imitate it, but few have executed it just as well.

1. Ellen DeGeneres (2001)

DeGeneres had the unenviable task of hosting the twice-delayed show (first due to 9/11 and then the war in Afghanistan). It's hard to even say what expectations were, but whatever they were, she more than exceeded them. Ellen found the ideal blend of humor and heart -- choice line: "What would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?" -- and reminded everyone that laughter is always the best medicine.

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS.)