Deep Soap: A Tale of Two Daytime Emmys

Host Regis Philbin, Susan Lucci, Ashley Jones and Guest at the 37th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ATI)

Host Regis Philbin, Susan Lucci, Ashley Jones and Guest at the 37th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ATI)

There were two Daytime Emmys this year.  There were the Emmys that the people who attended the ceremony in Las Vegas experienced.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had a blast.  Then there were the Daytime Emmys that everyone watched on TV.  The infomerical for Las Vegas interspersed with the occasional awards  for soap operas or talk shows was an embarrassment not just to daytime,but to awards shows and television in general.

Before I rip the Daytime Emmy telecast to shreds, I want to acknowledge that awards shows, in general, are lousy television.  The Oscars are usually lame. So are the prime-time Emmys.  Awards shows are problematic because they have two contradictory goals: honoring the winners and entertaining viewers at home who may not be that interested in the inner workings of the entertainment industry.

The last time I can remember enjoying an awards show for production reasons was this year’s Grammys because they featured a lot of interesting, unique, relevant musical performances that I could not see anywhere else.  When awards shows are successful, it’s usually because of the unscripted reactions of the winners: think Sally Field exclaiming “You like me! You really like me!”  So forcing the winners to limit their acceptance speeches to thirty seconds strikes me as the worst possible idea. As convenient as it is to blame the decline of the Daytime Emmys solely on the decline of the soap opera, the truth is that once upon a time the Daytime Emmys were the only awards show with a continuing storyline: would Susan Lucci finally win an Emmy? It was a saga that could have been scripted by Agnes Nixon and captivated millions. Once she won it in 1999 — one of the greatest awards show moments ever — the Daytime Emmys lost their mojo.

Ever since, daytime fans have been subjected to one Emmy “innovation” after another: making the fans a part of the show, expanding it to three hours, dropping it down to two, moving the show to Los Angeles.  None of it worked.  So this year production company ATI made a Faustian bargain with CBS and the Las Vegas Hilton.  Essentially, the network paid nothing for the show and ATI and CBS split the proceeds from the advertisements that the production company managed to sell.  In order to get the Daytime Emmys on the air, they would be about Las Vegas, not daytime.

That’s how it came to pass that everyone who worked in daytime enjoyed a fabulous weekend in Vegas, blissfully unaware of how badly it would play at home.  So, here is a tale of two Daytime Emmys.

The Red Carpet

What Happened in Vegas: In past years, actors and journalists battled heat stroke on what always turned out to be a very hot day.  Actors who did not want to look sweaty on camera understandably skipped it. The Hilton made a great move: it put the red carpet inside the lobby of the hotel.  Everyone was comfortable.  Fans lined the roped off area, screaming when they got a glimpse of their favorite stars.  It was weird that a few feet away, people were playing slots and blackjack in the casino, and certainly made for some difficult-to-transcribe interviews, but on the whole, it was a good effort.  My one wish is that more time had been allotted for the red carpet so that the press could talk to all of the stars.

What You Saw: Nothing.  There was no pre-show this year.  Let’s be honest.  Half the reason to watch an awards show is to check out what everybody is wearing. This was truly lame.

The Ceremony

What Happened in Vegas: Last year the press room was packed as tight as an overcrowded prison. Reporters battled photographers in a Darwinian struggle for a limited supply of sandwiches.  This year, there is plenty of room. Not only is the press room larger, fewer media outlets have ventured to Vegas.  I feel bad for all of the non-soap winners. Nobody knows much about them.  There is even a buffet — how very Vegas.  Everyone begins watching the ceremony on the press room TVs.  Regis Philbin’s monologue is lame, but he’s Regis. What else would you expect?  There is widespread approval when ‘As The World TurnsJulie Pinson wins the first award of the night.  Then the Dick Clark tribute begins.  It seems a little long, but once Pinson arrives I forget about it.  The rest of the ceremony passes in a blur as I am focused on coming up with interesting questions to ask the winners.  Because the sound is turned down when the winners arrive, I miss the Agnes Nixon tribute as well as Michael Park and Maura West’s emotional acceptance speeches.

What You Saw: When I got back to L.A., I watched the show.  I was appalled.  While Dick Clark is certainly deserving of a lifetime achievement award, it was ridiculous that he got twenty minutes of a two-hour award show. All of the acts that appeared with him were, frankly, well past their prime, and were clearly only selected because they are currently performing in Vegas.  Daytime soaps would never book Tony Orlando or the Spinners. I would have said that nobody would have tuned in to see such a dated segment, but my Baby Boomer, non-soap watching Aunt liked it — though she admitted she channel surfed once it was over.

Having the casts of ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Blue Man Group’ perform lengthy segments as part of the awards presentations, while the announcer plugged the casinos where they were appearing, was embarrassing.  Allowing time for that, but not clips of the nominated actors work, was insulting. The tackiest Vegas moment was the plug for the Vegas Hilton itself, featuring a tour of the hotel’s biggest suite and most expensive restaurants. That would be like the Oscars featuring a tour of the mall that’s adjacent to the Kodak theater.  Based on my experience, the Vegas Hilton is a great place to stay if you want to be able to hear the room next door’s TV blasting 24 hours a day and deal with a surly, unpleasant staff. I suspect that if ATI were producing the ESPYs they would have put together the exact same telecast.  The awards themselves truly seemed irrelevant to the show.

Meanwhile Agnes Nixon’s lifetime tribute only got a couple minutes and ‘As The World Turns’ got a paltry minute to sum up 54 years.  I did find it hilarious that the ‘ATWT’ montage cut away from Luke and Noah kissing. Nuke is too hot for prime-time.  I felt terrible for Agnes Nixon when a hot mic caught her saying, “I only have 30 seconds!” when the audience’s standing ovation cut into her speech.  The same hot mic caught Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo asking if she was standing in the right place and Regis hoping that the staff of ‘The Bold & The Beautiful‘ knew which way to exit the stage.  Those gaffes are inexcusable for a network telecast. Not including a memorial for the numerous daytime stars who passed away in the past year was also insulting. Leaving all of the children’s television categories out of the telecast was unfair to all of the hardworking people who put their all into those shows.

According to Jim Romanovich of ATI’s blog, the company has no plans to produce the Daytime Emmys next year.  If the show survives, my suggestion is that the Academy gives the show to two creative, famous outside-of-daytime people with producing credits who have appeared on soaps in the past year: Snoop Dogg and James Franco.  They are both crazy, rich and creative enough to come up with something that would undoubtedly, in its own weird way, treat the genre with respect.

This Week in James Franco

Speaking of James Franco, Franco the Actor returns as Franco the Character on today’s ‘General Hospital.’  I was not a fan of his last arc, but he seems to have gained some respect for the genre now. Last week, I visited the set of the show’s location shoot at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It looked impressive, ambitious and deeply weird.  I cannot wait to see how it turns out.  I will be posting all about it, and my conversation with the man himself, in a couple weeks as the special episode approaches.  In the meantime, check out this interview in which Franco the Actor scores major points with me by talking about how working on a soap improved his memorization and auditioning skills.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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