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Daytime Emmy Dreams

If you were looking for real daytime drama in 2006, you’d be hard pressed to find a more expansive landscape than the world behind the scenes of popular shows. The bickering and backbiting on The View and sudden death of Passions alone left viewers at times wondering if they were watching something Another Worldly.

You might say the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will also up the intrigue in their road to the 34th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards. Moving the show back two months (the show airs in primetime June 15 on CBS and originates again from Los Angeles) and adding categories, including the first-time competition for best morning program, guarantees greater cachet. Ratings rivals Today and Good Morning America could find themselves finally squaring off for the industry’s top plaudit. Nominations for most major categories will be announced March 14.

Keeping tabs on some daytime goings-on required a scorecard this past year. Last month, NBC put the dagger into Passions at the television critics press tour, ending the once-hot serial after eight seasons. Meredith Vieira bolted from ABC’s The View for NBC’s Today, and before she could depart, Star Jones quit/was shown the door at The View. But CBS celebrated the other hallmark of daytime TV—consistency—on Jan. 25, with a 70th anniversary fete for The Guiding Light, which premiered on radio in 1937. Guiding Light and As the World Turns are the last soap operas still owned by Procter & Gamble.

The View became a bigger daytime stomping ground in October when Rosie O’Donnell joined as co-host. A series of direct hits highlighted her tit-for-tat spat with Donald Trump, who called her “despicable” in the wake of her complaints about his handling of Miss USA Pageant producer duties. O’Donnell herself called Trump a “snake-oil salesman.” Matters escalated and View host/Executive Producer Barbara Walters became embroiled, before a truce was arranged finally. Thankfully, “O’Donnell-The Donald” doesn’t fall into any Emmy category.

Not lost amid the backstage drama was the continued praise-worthy work of soaps to pave new ground in breaking social issues on TV. In November, All My Children introduced a rock star named Zarf, played by Jeffrey Carlson, considered the first TV character to be shown making the transformation from a man to a woman.

It was a mixed year for daytime drama, which continues to drop on the networks, but ABC’s cable network SoapNet was up 48% over last year in primetime ratings during January to an average 363,000 total viewers. The network has also captured new viewers online with SOAPnetic, a broadband site for Verizon customers that shows same-day episodes of its daytime dramas.

In a nod to the growing importance of broadband to soaps, Emmys will be given out this year in four “non-traditional delivery platform” categories. And for the first time, the Academy will partner with social-networking Website MySpace, allowing users to nominate programming for these categories.

As much as the Emmys, and daytime, celebrate innovation, they’ve always been proof that familiarity breeds contentment, which translates to viewer loyalty. Oprah Winfrey’s brand power, for instance, dwarfs that of any other star. Bob Barker, at 83, is retiring this June after 35 years as host of The Price Is Right.

The host of Rachael Ray has this same throw-back appeal and taps into what she calls a daytime “community.” Ray’s everywoman, anti-Martha Stewart approach helps explain daytime TV’s great appeal.

“Our viewers are a part of our content,” Ray says, and some have become regular guests on the show. “Viewers don’t just see celebrities. They see themselves. They see their kids’ refrigerator art.

“That’s what I’m most proud of about this show,” she continues. “We built a forum more than a talk show.”

Ray could very likely be up for some prime Emmy gold come June, and her presence won’t hurt. Last year’s Emmy telecast attracted just 9.71 million viewers, a drop of 20% from the year before. But moving the show removes it from an increasingly glutted awards season.

And the show has its fans. Says Brian Frons, president of Disney-ABC Daytime, “We’ve stayed in the Emmy business and we hope to continue to stay in the Emmy business. The Emmys are very important in terms of recognition.”

Given the past year in daytime, business at the Emmys will be captivating—and, as always, worthy of celebration.