By Alan Carter
Special to TelevisionWeek
Nominations for “The 32nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards” (airing on CBS Friday, May 20, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT) were announced last month, and as is often the case, behind-the-scenes intrigue over the choices of honorees rivaled anything that happens on the sudsy afternoon programming itself.
NBC’s subpar showing resulted in head scratching by industry observers. Many considered the network to be on the rebound in daytime because its “Days of Our Lives” had a strong creative season. “Days” was virtually shut out of the major categories, garnering just two nods in the technical areas, and NBC daytime scored just 10 nominations across the board, compared with ABC’s 53, CBS’s 47, PBS’s 32 and the 49 that went to syndicated programming in the talk and game show genres.
NBCU Television’s senior VP of daytime, Sheraton Kalouria, said he found the Emmy process “very frustrating” this year. “I think if you look at ‘Days” Salem Stalker story line, for example, that is something the fans and soap critics alike all were enthusiastic about. It gave us our best numbers in three years.
“For the people who win Emmys, I think that is great. But for the people who aren’t nominated or the ones who don’t win,” Mr. Kalouria said, “You know what? Tomorrow is another day. Life goes on.”
In addition to the NBC snubbing, the glitzy Los Angeles-based shows, considered by many observers to be more glamorous than their mostly older East Coast counterparts, were all shut out of the so-called “glam” categories, such as lighting, makeup and hairdressing.
While it is traditional for there to be four or five contenders in each category, some categories have only two contenders this year, while the best actress grouping has eight.
“Why not nominate every actress?” said one soap insider who asked to remain nameless. “It would be easier to list who wasn’t nominated.”
This sort of second-guessing is nothing new to the world of daytime Emmys. Over the years, there have been network boycotts, accounting errors that caused the wrong group of writers to go home with awards, and charges of block voting.
One year, the New York Post even scooped the National Television Academy, printing the names of all the winners before the ceremony began.
“All My Children” led the soap pack this year with 18 nods, including one for Outstanding Daytime Drama, where it will compete against daytime’s highest-rated soap, CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” (12 nominations), ABC’s “General Hospital” (13) and CBS’s “As the World Turns” (11).
Ratings for the awards telecast have slumped in recent years, as have afternoon numbers across the board. While talk shows have held their own with modest dips, the soaps have hemorrhaged viewers from their heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially among young women, minorities and teens.
“The Young and the Restless,” for example, was the No. 1 daytime show six years ago, with a rating of about 7.2, according to Nielsen Media Research. It is still the top-rated drama, but its rating hovers in the low 4s.
John F. Smith, co-executive producer and head writer of “Y&R,” said he advocates a symposium for soapdom’s top writers and producers to put their heads together and strategize how to get those viewers back. “It’s not just about putting more ads on buses,” he said.
But “Days of Our Lives” executive producer Ken Corday said a symposium is not the way to go. “Coming up with better stories and stories that will get people talking is what we need,” he said.
To that end, while actress Ali Sweeney is on maternity leave, “Days” has hired a man-yes, a man-to play her role. “And we have more ideas like that up our sleeve,” Mr. Corday said.
Jill Farren Phelps, “General Hospital” executive producer, said her show has struggled along with the rest of the industry in an effort to keep its core daytime audience happy while bringing in new viewers-a quest she characterized as “a complete bitch.”
“We are all under the same pressure to [improve] our demographics and to make our audiences younger,” she said. “But young people now have so many choices-cable, video games, the Internet, 150 other channels. And a large group of women are out and about. It’s not an audience of people sitting at home ironing anymore. Those days are gone.”
Making the shows younger could help. But “General Hospital” raised eyebrows last year by hiring actor Jed Allan to play patriarch Edward Quartermaine: The man who plays his on-screen son, Stuart Damon, is actually a month older than Mr. Allan.
NBC’s Mr. Kalouria concurred with Mr. Corday that an industry symposium is not necessary. “I think what we need is to stop talking, once and for all, about how our daypart is not doing well,” he said. “My numbers, the demographics we get at NBC for ‘Days’ and ‘Passions'” are where they were 10 years ago. How many dayparts can say that? The overall audience is changing, but the group that advertisers want is still there in very big numbers.
“When you and other publications write the ‘daytime-is-dead’ story, I’m afraid all that happens is perception in some ways becomes reality. It’s a great story,” he said, “but not a real one.”