In a truly startling development, the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, which did not even have a television outlet as recently as last month, were presented in a live telecast Saturday that actually honored and respected the day-part they are intended to celebrate. Low-budget, stripped-down and straightforward, it wasn't exactly the most entertaining awards show in recent memory, but it did much to remind recently abused fans of daytime television why they embraced it in the first place and why they continue to feel the cumulative impact of the multiple losses of the last twelve months, which have included the cancellations of ABC's All My Children and One Life to Live and the departures of Regis Philbin and Oprah Winfrey.
Adding to the surprise factor is the fact that the Daytime Emmys were telecast on HLN, a news-driven network not exactly known for presenting awards shows or entertainment programming (aside from its daily entertainment news series Showbiz Today). True, it was a shadow of the show that the Daytime Emmys were in the late Nineties and early in the last decade – when they rotated among the Big Three networks and no less a venue than Radio City Music Hall could barely contain the glamour and excitement of daytime's big night. But it was a big step up from the last two years, when the show was telecast on CBS from Las Vegas and was awkwardly packaged more as an infomercial for that city than a proper acknowledgment of the best in daytime talk, drama and children's programming.
This time around the Daytime Emmys were handed out in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel – the annual home of the Golden Globe Awards and on occasion the Television Critics Association Awards. At times they felt more like the Teddy Awards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show than something with the word Emmy in the title – the music sounded canned (and strangely tropical), the graphics looked cheap and, most egregiously, there were no clips of any substance from daytime dramas – not even in the farewell tribute to All My Children and One Life to Live. But the Hilton ballroom is always a fun party place, and even if the presentation wasn't on a par with that of the glittery Globes, it was clear that the stars in attendance were having a grand time.
There was in this telecast more simple dexterity, inspired ingenuity and fresh thinking than I've seen in a Primetime Emmy telecast (or most other awards shows) in years. Perhaps the best of the many positive changes made by the 2012 Daytime Emmy production team was the decision to start the show with one of the major awards that usually comes at the end, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. When Anthony Geary of General Hospital accepted the award (his seventh, a new record for the number of Daytime Emmys won by a single performer) he was moved to note, "This is amazing, to start the evening. We usually end it and the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is flashing in my face."
Other major awards were scattered throughout the telecast rather than bunched up at the end, and as a result the engagement level remained high and many of the biggest stars of the night actually got to talk without being rushed. In another very nice touch, all of the nominees for Outstanding Younger Actor and Actress presented the awards for Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress, respectively.
As for the awards themselves, what a shame that Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa weren't on hand for their show's biggest Emmy night ever. (They won for Outstanding Talk Show – Entertainment and Outstanding Talk Show Host.) It would have been a fitting farewell for Philbin … and is Ripa doing so well with all those guest hosts that she no longer needs to support the daypart? Also conspicuously absent was Ellen DeGeneres. After Winfrey's departure she's now the biggest star in a daypart that needs all the help it can get. Couldn't she spare two hours? Meantime, it fell the ladies of The Talk to take the stage and humorously introduce themselves as the absent stars of The View. Why wasn't the full View team in place when Barbara Walters bestowed a special and much deserved honor on their executive producer Bill Geddie? Even if the awards weren't telecast at all, these people should have been there!
I was uniformly pleased for the first time since 1995 with the winners in the Drama Series categories. You'd have to be headless to have not been blown away by the Emmy-honored performances of Anthony Geary and Jonathan Jackson in the powerful if ultimately dreadful story of little Jake Webber's unnecessary death on General Hospital. I'm a little surprised that the under-rated Rebecca Herbst wasn't similarly recognized for her portrayal of Jake's grief-shattered mother, but the award in her category went to another fine GH star, Nancy Lee Grahn, who received her second Emmy after 23 years. (Her first was in 1989 for Santa Barbara.)
As a reminder of the relentless determination of the people in charge to kill off soap operas once and for all, the writers who have excitingly revived Days of Our Lives during the last year – only to be recently relieved of their responsibilities -- were honored as Outstanding Drama Series Writing Team. Their award marked that show's first in this category since 1976, and yet someone in power thinks they aren't qualified to continue writing the show!
Happily, Chandler Massey – the actor at the center of their biggest story -- was recognized as Outstanding Younger Actor for his sensational portrayal of conflicted gay teenager Will Horton. His was the performance of the year in the storyline of the year. As such, it would have been nice if Days of Our Lives had won as Outstanding Drama Series, since it did more for the genre than any other program during the nomination period. Instead, that honor went to General Hospital, arguably the most problematic and unfulfilling soap opera during that time. Ah, well … there's only so much the Daytime Emmys can do to stop the destruction.