One could find worse ways to spend a lazy summer evening than watching a live awards show from Las Vegas featuring many current top acts from shows along the strip.
But when I sat down to watch CBS’ presentation of the 37th annual Daytime Emmy Awards on Sunday I was looking for a celebration of daytime programming – and I didn’t get what I wanted. Nor, I suspect, did millions of soap opera and talk show enthusiasts.
Much of the first half-hour was taken up with a lengthy tribute to Dick Clark, whose iconic music series American Bandstand ran on daytime television for almost 40 years, ending its run in 1989. Frankly, I think Clark deserves an even bigger, better and longer primetime special – one loaded with dozens of big stars who got their start on his show. But the tribute on Sunday felt very out of place in an annual event that traditionally highlights the best work currently done in soap operas, daytime talk and information series and children’s programming. Many of the talented entertainers who were on hand to honor Clark and perform – The Spinners, Marie Osmond, the cast of Jersey Boys, Tony Orlando – are Vegas headliners, and I’m sure their appearances on CBS were of great promotional value. The same holds for some of the presenters throughout the evening, including The Blue Man Group and most of the cast of The Lion King.
All of this Viva Las Vegas hoopla – including an extended promotional tour of the Las Vegas Hilton, home of the Awards this year, presented as program content rather than an infomercial – did absolutely nothing to generate any interest in daytime shows, especially the soaps, which need all the help they can get. In a move that revealed how little the producers of the Awards understand their potential audience, there were no clips at all for any of the nominated lead and supporting performers! It was as if these talented and hard-working folks were marginalized during the two hours of the year when they are supposed to be enjoying the spotlight.
The disappointment level continued to build as the show went on. A sorry excuse for a farewell tribute to As the World Turns, which will end in September after a historic 53 year run, was nothing more than a few quick clips set to music and was just as crappy as last year’s kick out the door for the departing Guiding Light, another pop-culture treasure that spanned six decades on television (and three on radio before that). Shockingly, the tribute made no mention of Helen Wagner, the remarkable actress who appeared on the show throughout its entire run and died only a few weeks ago. Wagner was in the first scene of the first episode of ATWT and continued playing the same role until earlier this year, when she took ill, setting a world record for the longest continuous performance by any actor in any medium. But on CBS Sunday night she was just another face in the crowd. (The recent deaths of two other beloved soap veterans, Frances Reid of Days of Our Lives and James Mitchell of All My Children, were also ignored during the telecast.)
Ellen DeGeneres – soon to be daytime’s biggest star once Oprah Winfrey ends her iconic talk program – wasn’t even on hand for her show’s first ever win as Outstanding Talk Show/Entertainment. The ladies of The View didn’t participate either, even though they were collectively nominated for Outstanding Talk Show Host. (They didn’t bother to show up last year and missed their first win in that category!) Dr. Mehmet Oz wasn’t on hand for his big win as Outstanding Talk Show Host. Regis Philbin was a lively host, but the telecast’s directors must have been distracted by all the Vegas star-shine, as they occasionally left his microphone on while Philbin was off-stage asking what to do next. (How I wish Philbin had been joined by his colleague Kelly Ripa, the one star on daytime who has enjoyed success on a soap opera and a talk show, or by his former co-star Kathie Lee Gifford, now the talk of daytime on the fourth hour of Today.) The Martha Stewart Show won for Outstanding Lifestyle Program – a category not included in the telecast. Last I heard Stewart was still a significant multi-media personality.
Despite all of this nonsense there were some wonderful moments during the show. It was gratifying to see so many deserving performers who had not been expected to win take home awards, especially three from As the World Turns – Julie Pinson for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Michael Park for Outstanding Lead Actor and Maura West for Outstanding Lead Actress. Park and West were both thrilled to have the chance to say proper goodbyes, and it was clear they were both pissed that their still-vital show had been put to death. (ATWT wrapped production last week. Original episodes will be telecast through September 17.) The Bold and the Beautiful was named Outstanding Drama Series for the second consecutive year and this time executive producer and head writer Bradley Bell actually got to speak. (Last year he was rudely cut off because the show threatened to run overtime by an entire minute or two.) Happily in this year of all things Betty White, B&B was honored off the strength of a storyline involving her recurring character. Unhappily, the very busy White was not on hand to take part in the celebration.
It was also a big night for Discovery Channel’s entertaining and innovative Cash Cab, which won for Outstanding Game Show (its third win) and Outstanding Game Show Host (a first for Ben Bailey). And the legendary Agnes Nixon finally received a long-overdue Lifetime Achievement Award.
The only positive in this sad situation is that the ratings for the 37th annual Awards telecast were considerably higher than those of last year’s show, but how could they not be, moving from The CW in the dog days of August to CBS in late June? That little bit of good news will have to do, because these days those of us who appreciate what daytime programming used to be and understand that it could indeed thrive once again if properly nurtured have to draw strength from even the tiniest glimmer of hope.