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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eyes on the Prize: A Critical Look at the Daytime Emmys

It’s that time of year again.  Daytime Emmy nominations have been submitted and the process of picking winners has begun.  While I love that daytime has it’s own awards that give honor to all the talented folks that work so hard to bring my favorite characters alive, it feels like the Daytime Emmys have become less about talent and more about behind the scenes politics.  Nowadays the Daytime Emmys are less about the actual shows while the shows themselves have become more about carefully navigating how they could best win an award.

I’m not sure specifically when it started to happen but somewhere along the line executive producers, head writers, etc. decided that it was more important to win a Daytime Emmy than to produce a good soap.  Instead of focusing on creating programming that was consistently engaging for fans and viewers, energy was used on producing a few episodes that were designed specifically for Emmy nomination.  In my opinion, Jill Farren Phelps is a very good example of one of these type of  producers.  With a whopping seven Emmy wins under her belt, she has got the strategy of this game down.

Phelps’s last win in 2012 for General Hospital is actually a great example of the disconnect between the Emmy’s and the shows.  In order to win an Emmy, one only really needs one great episode to submit.  General Hospital had this so it won.  But for shows that are on five days a week for an entire year, one episode can be a very poor example of the quality of a show.  I’m certainly not suggesting that all of General Hospital was bad during the 2011 year but a critical darling it was not.  Months before General Hospital’s Emmy win, Phelps (along with writers Bob Guza and then Garin Wolf) had been replaced with One Life to Live’s creative team.  It’s important to note that One Life to Live had high ratings, critical acclaim, and yet lacked an Emmy.

While “Emmy Episode" strategy works in terms of winning, what does it do for the shows themselves?  Nothing as far as I can tell.  Soaps need to focus on putting out great material year round to keep fans engaged and viewership high.  Focusing talent on only a handful of episodes does not create ratings or bring in new viewers.  If a new viewer pops in to watch a show, it needs to be good for them to invest their viewership hours into it.  Not having consistently good programing makes gaining viewership into a game of Russian Roulette. Winning an Emmy should never have been more important than keeping a show on the air.

Another issue that the Daytime Emmys has is which actors are nominated and more importantly in which category they are nominated.  Michael Mulhony got himself in the outs with some fans last year with comments he made regarding the leading actor category.  After Anthony Geary won for leading actor, he tweeted the following:

"Some old guy who has won a bunch of Emmys wins again? Is that really what soaps need to grow a NEW audience? We need new judges’ panels."

The general fan response to his tweet was not positive.  I wasn’t really impressed with what he said and when he said it myself.  I don’t know Mulhony so I can’t speak to what kind of person he is outside of twitter universe and tv screens.  He could be a total you-know-what or he could be nice guy who made some poor choices in wording.  I really don’t know but I do believe that within the negativity of his comment, he may have had a point.

Not only have the list of nominees become somewhat predictable but lead categories seem to be reserved for the baby-boomers only.  A sort of generational divide has taken place between leading and supporting role nominations.  Actors in the 50 plus age group tend to submit for the leading roles while the actors below that age group are resigned to the supporting category.  In the end actors who are clearly supporting get nominated in the leading role and vice versa.

To everyone’s credit, sometimes roles are both leading and supporting depending on what storyline you are looking at and on what particular day.  This can also change through out a characters time on a show.  For example the character of Todd Manning started out as a day-player, then supporting, and then lead.  For others, roles may start out as leading then over time move to supporting or even recurring.  This is not uncommon although there seems to be a reluctance for some to accept it.  For some reason, “supporting” seems insulting to them when it shouldn’t be.

While soaps have great veteran actors, fresh talents should be rewarded for hardwork and creativity as well.  Why should eager go-getters who pour their souls into their scenes be told they are not as good of a soap star because they didn’t work in soaps during the ‘80s hay days?  It seems petty and insulting.  I could see where this could be a sore subject for some actors that are newer to the genre.  I could also see where it could make the genre seem unattractive to new talent as well.  People want to be rewarded for doing a good job when they do it not 20 years after the fact.

This is also unattractive to viewers.  We know the difference.  Seeing our favorite new soap crush in the supporting category when they are on four to five days a week and the center of their own story is irritating.

I do think some fault lies on the soap stars who resolve themselves to submitting in the incorrect category.   For example, The Bold and The Beautiful has been focusing on the love triangle between Steffy, Liam, and Hope.  Yet Scott Clifton, the leading man of this story line, has submitted himself for supporting (and the supporting actors in this tale have submitted for lead).  I suspect some of this is the actors' attempt to submit in a way which will best improve odds of winning.  But that means that they are just playing the Emmy’s game like everyone else.  While I don’t blame the actors for wanting to win, this just further enforces a broken system.

It feels as though the end result of all this game playing is that Daytime Emmys are just a little less special than they used to be.  Many actors and creative teams as well as fans just simply don’t care as much as they used to.  As a viewer there is no longer the thrill of sitting on the edge of your couch with fingers crossed that your favorites will win.  You already know who is going to win.  All the soap reporters and bloggers have the exact same predictions because it’s so obvious.  The camera no longer pans out to a crowd of actors nervously biting at their lower lips in hopes that their names will be called out.  Many of the truly deserving don’t even submit anymore.  This is a far and sad cry from what a honor these awards use to be.  It’s no wonder that for the last few years The Daytime Emmys have had to struggle just to even be aired.

This last year soaps had to take a look at what was working and what was not and do some reinventing.  As bleak as things have been for the genre, one of the positive things is that it has started to re-exam itself and work to gain viewers.  I think now is a perfect time for The Daytime Emmys to be reinvented as well.  Most of this really needs to start with the shows themselves.  Creative teams need to start focusing on having consistently good episodes so that the one episode they submit for consideration will be an accurate representation of the quality of the show.  Actors need to start submitting for categories that correctly represent the work they do.  The Daytime Emmys may have turned into merely a game of wits but the shows allowed it to happen as well.

Do I think The Daytimes Emmys will ever go back to there glory days?  Probably not.  I would like to see them try though.

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