As Go the Soaps, So Go the Daytime Emmys
It wasn't so long ago that the Daytime Emmy Awards took place at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and were telecast during May sweeps periods. How can it be that this once-important sweeps event now finds itself banished to the Las Vegas Hilton in June, well away from the excitement of the "official" broadcast season, isolated in a city that has absolutely nothing to do with soap operas?
I realize that this year's Daytime Emmys event (to be telecast Sunday on CBS at 9 p.m. ET) promises to be a significant improvement over last year's uniquely depressing and predictably low-rated affair, which was produced on the cheap at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles at the tail end of August and telecast on The CW -- a network that doesn't even participate in the damn daypart. Talk about demoralizing!
Having attended the Daytime Emmys a number of times during their all-too-brief prime-time golden age, I can't help but feel a growing sense of sadness about where they stand today. Indeed, the way the Daytime Emmys have been treated by CBS and ABC since 2006 -- when ABC yanked them away from their classy digs in New York and produced them instead in Los Angeles at the garish Kodak Theater and its adjacent outdoor shopping mall -- it's a wonder they have survived at all. And let's not forget the role NBC played in all this, peevishly deciding after 2004 to drop out of the Daytime Emmy telecast rotation because its shows were receiving so few nominations. (Whose fault was that?)
Many industry observers insist that the declining popularity of the Daytime Emmys is in direct proportion to waning interest in the broadcasters' soap operas, a once robust genre grievously battered and bloodied in recent years. I think they're probably right, but it should be remembered that these awards honor programs from multiple genres, including talk shows, game shows and children's programs, some of which are bigger audience draws than the soaps.
This is as good a time as any to once again lament the sorry state of soap operas today. What a distressing mess! CBS and Procter & Gamble Productions have seen fit to kill "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns," two genuine American treasures that survived and thrived during multiple wars and economic crises, not to mention multiple network regimes -- but didn't stand a chance against a handful of current executives at both companies who should never have been trusted with such cherished entertainment franchises in the first place.
NBC began killing off its soaps ten years ago with the cancellation of the once-formidable "Another World." It has tried like the dickens in recent years to terminate "Days of Our Lives" -- its one remaining serial -- but ratings for that show continue to defy gravity and increase, leaving NBC no choice but to stick with it, at least for now.
In terms of overall production quality, ABC is working wonders with "General Hospital," "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," but it seems to have come at the expense of storytelling. (For example, the most exciting thing to happen on "General Hospital" in years has been the decision by movie star James Franco to make recurring appearances as a sociopathic artist obsessed with one of the show's macho mobsters. Interesting? Perhaps, but this is hardly the stuff of successful soaps.)
I don't listen to all that noise about competition killing soap operas -- creative issues and flawed audience measurement, maybe, but not the expanding media landscape. The fact is, it has never been easier for anyone interested in soap operas to follow them at his or her leisure in whatever way, place and time he or she chooses. And it has never been easier to interact with other viewers and stay right on top of the genre overall.
Two Web sites in particular -- Daytime Confidential and We Love Soaps -- are doing a fantastic job of connecting with soap fans and championing their shows. With viewers empowered by digital technology, and with so much additional support on so many levels, imagine how strong soaps would be right now if they told stories that captured the imagination of millions -- and if they weren't so afraid to move forward and mix it up (as all soaps did in the fabled late-'70s and '80s) rather than hang on white-knuckled to their dusty pasts!
As for audience measurement issues, that's a challenge currently compromising all of television. I don't believe that ratings for the soaps are as small as we're told they are, but I think that's true of prime time, too, on broadcast and on basic cable.
I give CBS a lot of credit for reclaiming the Daytime Emmys, moving them back to June and running them on a Sunday, a better night than Friday by any measure, flawed or otherwise. But when it comes to all things related to soap operas, I fear that we are way past the beginning of the end. I hope history proves me wrong.