By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
When the nominations for the 34th annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards are announced March 14, chances are the drama categories will hold a few surprises. Will “Guiding Light” repeat its strong showing from 2006, winning four major acting awards? Will defending outstanding drama winner “General Hospital” snag another top prize on the strength of the powerful 25th anniversary Luke and Laura reunion episodes this past October?
“`General Hospital’ has just been fantastic, from the virus outbreak and the return of Luke and Laura,” said ABC Daytime President Brian Frons. “They do big stories of scope and excitement and action. The awakening of Laura was really spectacular, emotional storytelling. `General Hospital’ is definitely the show to beat.”
Mr. Frons isn’t alone in naming “General Hospital” as the favorite. “`General Hospital’ is very smart about submitting exciting sweeps story lines,” said TV Guide soap columnist Daniel Coleridge. “General Hospital’ and `The Young & the Restless’ will definitely be in the running. As for the others, I’m not so sure. `As the World Turns’ was very interesting with their summer slasher story line. They really did a good job with that.”
“All of last year’s nominees could be nominated again, and also `Days of Our Lives,”‘ said Deborah Blackwell, executive VP and general manager of SoapNet. The last time “Days of Our Lives” won the outstanding show Emmy was 1978, and its last nomination in that category was in 1996. Could this be the year NBC’s long-running, fan-favorite soap returns to the winners’ circle? “I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it get more attention,” said Ms. Blackwell. “It’s very, very popular with our viewers.”
“If `Days of Our Lives’ garners any major nominations, it’ll be in the writing category,” said Mary Ann Cooper, syndicated columnist for Speaking of Soaps. “Now that Hogan Sheffer is in charge of the writing, `Days’ has gotten back to being a compelling soap hour.”
Mr. Sheffer has a reputation as one of the best daytime head writers. In his tenure with “As the World Turns,” his writing teams won four Daytime Emmys in six years. This is his first year with “Days of Our Lives.
“`Days of Our Lives’ was in a creative slump when James Reilly was writing the show. Overseeing `Days’ and `Passions’ I think was too much for him,” said Mr. Coleridge. “It would be nice to see `Days’ get some recognition for the incredible improvement under Hogan Sheffer. He did what he said he was going to do for that show: he’d give the men their balls back, and he would restore Deidre Hall’s brain. The show is one hundred percent better under him.”
Another strong contender in writing could be “The Young & the Restless.” “This was the first year a non-Bell writer, Lynn Marie Latham, was in charge of `Y&R.’ She has many, many great credits, including `Knots Landing,’ `Homefront’ and the daytime drama `Port Charles’-a lot of really good stuff,” said Mr. Coleridge. “She’s brought a very different flavor to the show. Stories are moving a lot more quickly, and she’s certainly introduced some fresh takes on tried-and-true characters-like giving Victor, Eric Braeden’s character, epilepsy, and then he began to display these strange personality changes as a result of that.”
As interesting as Mr. Braeden’s performance was in 2006, he is not one of the outstanding lead actors found in the prenomination list. His co-stars, Peter Bergman and Christian LeBlanc, are “Y&R’s” prenoms. “Peter Bergman was wonderful in scenes from his father’s death, the courtroom scenes where he fights Gloria for the company. It’s always a joy to watch him,” said Ms. Blackwell. “There are also a couple of great guys on `One Life to Live,’ Michael Easton (John), who is such a quiet, powerful actor, and Trevor St. John (Todd), who’s absolutely wonderful.”
Many soap experts say the actor to beat is last year’s winner, “General Hospital’s” Luke, Anthony Geary. “His work this year was so incredible, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him win again,” said Ms. Blackwell. “I can’t begin to tell you the excitement that 25th anniversary of Luke and Laura’s wedding generated amongst our SoapNet viewers.”
“There’s a reason why Tony Geary has won five Daytime Emmys as Luke Spencer. He’s perfect in that role and they usually give him terrific material to play,” said Ms. Cooper. “You just know that his Emmy reel this year will be all the business with Laura, and those scenes are dynamic.”
“Do you really want to bet against Tony Geary and the reawakening of Laura?” said Mr. Frons.
“Guiding Light’s” Kim Zimmer is a sure bet to win another nomination as outstanding lead actress. She was last year’s winner in the category and her alter ego, Reva Shayne, fought breast cancer this year. “Kim is always wonderful and you can never count her out. Her character nearly died and had to act the pain of leaving her loved ones behind. That was very strong,” said Ms. Blackwell.
Nancy Lee Grahn had a similar acting challenge on “General Hospital,” when her character learned she had lung cancer. “Nancy Lee Grahn had an amazing story of surviving cancer. She was brilliant,” said Mr. Frons.
“The competing cancer stories could cancel each other out,” said Mr. Coleridge. “But I give credit to the people voting on these panels; they’re judging their peers and they’re not just judging the material but the performances. They’re judging the quality of the acting.”
“Both actresses were very good,” said Ms. Cooper. “But what could tip the scales in Nancy Lee Grahn’s favor, I think, is that she really let herself look sick. You saw her wearing a horrible wig when her character’s hair started falling out from the chemo. Academy members love to see a beautiful actress let herself look like hell for a role.”
Laura Wright, Ms. Grahn’s co-star on “General Hospital,” is also a possible outstanding lead actress nominee. “Taking over the role of Carly, Laura Wright has been awesome in a role that was owned by her predecessors. She’s made Carly funnier, stronger, more relatable than ever,” said Ms. Blackwell.
There are other strong lead actress possibilities among the prenominations. “Jeanne Cooper as Katherine on `The Young & the Restless’ was just brilliant this year, and Alison Sweeney as Sami on `Days of Our Lives’ has been unbelievable with her highs and lows. She’s heartbreaking as she scrambles to try and regain her family,” said Ms. Blackwell.
“The Bold & the Beautiful’s” Katherine Kelly Lang is Mr. Coleridge’s dark horse candidate for outstanding lead actress. “Her character, Brook, has been the centerpiece of that show. She’s had a good year, and she’s never even been nominated in 20 years,” he said. “I think she’s very special in daytime because she’s grown from a baby-face girl into this mature, sophisticated woman. You have to give her credit because the character could be morally reprehensible, yet Brook is viewed as a heroine, not a perverted villainess. On the other hand, I think Victoria Rowell [Dru, `Y&R’] had an amazing year and she’s not even on the prenominee list. She was robbed.”
The name Genie Francis is among the prenominees for her brief return to “General Hospital” as Laura. “How can you not look at Genie Francis and think that she’s got a terrific chance?” said Mr. Frons. “At the same time, you have to realize that everybody has some amazing stuff. Rebecca Herbst’s character Elizabeth on `GH,’ finding out that her husband was having an affair, followed by her one-night affair with Jason-that was sizzling emotional work as well. Renee Elise Goldsberry had terrific material on `OLTL’ as the lawyer trying to save Todd from a lethal ejection. And Cady McClain as Dixie coming back from the dead on `AMC,’ trying to explain what happened.”