Thursday, March 22, 2012

2009 Daytime Emmys: Sesame Street and a Huge Rant on One Life to Live [From the Archives: 3-27-09]

[The below article was posted on the original Muppet Freak on March 27, 2009]

Pretty stereotypical of a gay male probably, but i've never been a sports fan. When i was a kid, i just could never understand how my father and older brothers could sit in front of a television for hours and get mad at watching a game. Watching an "exciting" sport like football or baseball for hours has zero appeal to me, and you can imagine what watching something like golf would do to my patience level!

The only sports i could ever really stand to watch are figure skating (because there's artistic merit mixed in with athleticism) and diving (HELLO! Hunks getting wet!) The only sporting event i ever set my dvr for is the Super Bowl only so i can check out the commercials (and Muppet related ones have made their super bowl debuts quite a few times this last decade!)

So since i can't stand sports, what then would be "MY Super Bowl" television event? The Daytime Emmy Awards.

Every year it's a chance to see what kind of coverage and recognition two of my biggest areas of fandom will receive: The Jim Henson Company (often in the form of Sesame Street but also its other various daytime endeavors like Bear in the Big Blue House, Wubbulous World of Dr Suess and Sid the Science Kid) and One Life to Live. This is my turn to get mad at the television set and play armchair judge!

Under normal circumstances, i should really be excited about this year. Sesame Street is entering its 40th season which would hopefully mean some kind of tribute. And 2008 is probably One Life to Live's greatest chance for an Emmy sweep since 1994 and their classic college date rape story. 2008 was the year OLTL finally got rid of its worst-ever headwriter Dena Higley, and replaced her with 11-year OLTL staff writer Ron Carlivati who is as big a fan of the soap and its (also 40 years!) history as the viewers. If nothing else, RC should be given a Lifetime Achievement Soap Gods Award for cleaning up the mess left by Higley and then having to clean up ANOTHER train wreck leftover from the writer's strike! OLTL did win the directing and writing awards last year, but now this year was all Carlivati's vision (except for the writers strike but at least all the soaps had that same handicap), and in between his stories, and the always-stellar direction, production values and acting, One Life to Live in 2008 really was even better than most primetime drama series.

Now even then i set up this blog to discuss my various areas of fandom, i know most of the readers are Muppet Freaks so i'll save the rest of my OLTL gushing for the end of this post so those who care less can stop reading once i get to that point.

So with much for a Sesame/Henson fan and an OLTL addict to celebrate, i should really be excited about the 2009 Daytime Emmys. Only problem is for a long time it's been looking more like there may not even BE a 2009 telecast.

The Daytime Emmys, while honoring the best in daytime news, talk shows, childrens' shows and the like, has largely been focused on and revolved around the daytime dramas. Not only has ratings for all the network soaps been on a steady decline (ever since the OJ Simpson trial pre-emptions), but the amount of soaps still on the air vying for these awards continues to diminish. There's also been a lot of controversy and backlash over the nomination and judging processes with various attempts at adjusting the rules over the years to help "fix" some of the problems which often seem to instead make those problems bigger. As a result, it's largely felt that the Daytime Emmys are losing their relevance - so much so that all the major networks were not even wanting to be the ones airing this year's ceremonies.

That's bad. Award shows are usually something networks fight for the airing rights over. But the Daytime Emmys have become the holiday fruitcake - "YOU take it!" "I don't want it - YOU have it!" "Let's give it to Mikey - he'll eat ANYTHING!" "Mikey says NOOOOO!"

How bad is the situation? The cable channel SOAPnet even passed on being the ceremony's savior!

Even though the official announcement still hasn't been made, news has broken that CW will go ahead and air the awards this year.

So at least it looks like there'll still be a broadcast this year. But the Daytime Emmys are still on the Endangered Species List and may very well be no more sometime within the next five to ten years.

Which brings us to the question most readers of this blog will have: how will this affect the Daytime Emmys' focus on Sesame Street and other kid shows? Sesame DOES have its 40th anniversary coming up which ordinarily would warrant a special tribute. How much attention and air time will be given to announcing the winners of the various kids shows categories and will any Sesame cast members be presenting awards or making appearances?

It could go either way.

If the Daytime Emmys are to remain relevant while soaps are becoming less so, then the most obvious answer is for the ceremony to divert less attention to the soaps and more towards the other areas - like talk, news, and of course childrens shows. Will they do this though?

Already the reaction to the news that CW will air the awards is not being well received by the daytime drama industry as they fear that since CW doesn't have any daytime dramas of its own, that they will probably dramatically tone down the soap coverage. That could be a sign of hope for Sesame/Henson fans, but those same concerns could also be translated to how CW will cover the children's entertainment aspect since like the soaps, CW isn't really a player in this arena. So the whole de-emphasis on soaps could either work out in Sesame's favor or they could also end up being equally snubbed.

So Hensonites and Muppet Freaks may have a lot of waiting-and-seeing to find out how big a part of the Daytime Emmys the Sesame gang will be this year.

That concludes my thoughts on how Sesame will be impacted, so as promised, all those who could care less about soaps may stop reading now...But if you do have any amount of interest, stay tuned because now i'm really gonna let lose in my rantings!

As i said earlier, One Life to Live fans should really be hopeful that 2009 is their year to shine. Yes, some of the summer storylines dragged a bit (which is a rather standard occurrence) but overall, OLTL has been at its best. In its 40 year history, One Life to Live has won the "Best Soap" award only once - in 2001 when it was helmed by Gary Tomlin...who in a rather shrewd move, was brought back to the show's writing staff in late 2007 as a way to prepare for the then-impending writers' strike. And indeed, when the strike did happen, Tomlin head wrote those episodes.

I give OLTL a lot of credit for the various ways they prepared for the strike. Like i said upthread, Headwriter Ron Carlivati had made a lot of progress quickly turning a ruined show back on track and was in a situation where he was looking at having an even bigger mess to clean up if the writer's strike happened. So they made two very smart moves. Putting Tomlin back on the staff so that he could keep the show afloat during the strike and also getting as much scripts written as far in advance as possible. By the time the strike happened, the "scab writers" episodes were only actually onscreen from February to the very beginning of May.

Gary Tomlin certainly couldn't be considered a hack writer since he had been with the show before as a writer and an executive producer. While he didn't ruin things, he did put some major dents in Carlivati's vision that RC would have to deal with upon his return. What was impressive was not only that RC was able to get the show back on track, but that he did so as quickly and as well as he did. RC's writing returned to the air on May 2. The period between late May and early June was one of the best consecutive runs of top-notch all-time-best episodes in the show's history.

As far as writing, directing, and yes, Best Show...OLTL really should be taking those trophies home this year. I will be screaming and throwing things at my television set if it doesn't (much like the rest of my family does with the Super Bowl!)

But then there's the acting awards...

Soap actors have a bad rep in the overall acting industry thanks in large part to casting directors loading their shows with hunks and beauty queens who can't act. This is actually a shame because while these are in no short supply, there are many actors who are called upon to deliver the most gut-wrenching material under the most chaotic processes that come with shooting shows that air daily with no break for reruns. If they're serious about their craft and not looking at a soap role as a stepping stone in their modeling career, a soap actor is one of the hardest working and most professional actors there are.

One Life to Live has long been blessed with its acting talent (though certainly not immune to the gawdawful eye candy non-actors in its cast - the Vega Brothers anyone?) This same cast was SNUBBED big time last year with only Brian Kerwin receiving a final nomination.

So you can imagine, i'm particularly interested in how well OLTL fares in the acting categories especially given some of the bravura performances the show has seen this year.

Under the current system, each show has its own "pre-nomination" ceremony, where the show's staff votes for the top two people to be considered for a final nomination in each category. As far as OLTL's pre-noms went, there wasn't much surprises, though there were some things i really need to rant on.

Chief among them, Robin Strasser ("Dorian Lord")'s non-inclusion. She is exactly the type of actor i was talking about earlier who is at the top of her field. She always brings her A-game to every scene even if she's not a major part of it. And boy did she bring it big time in 2008 - the Emmy was hers if she wanted it!

However, as a past Emmy winner and having served on the board, Robin has often taken her name out of consideration the last several years, only occasionally being talked out of doing so by the higher-ups. This was another year Robin decided she didn't want to be considered for an Emmy nod, and boy do i wish the show would have worked a lot harder to convince her otherwise. There is no question in my mind that she would have won an award this year if she would have allowed herself to be considered. The episode where she went from desperately pouring vodka down Charlie's throat (while praying for forgiveness from her deceased alcoholic husband) to taking over the Buchanan Enterprises' Shareholders Meeting Joan Collins style announcing that the company was now hers (in a dress and hat worthy of their own awards) was one of those great moments in soap history that is what the Awards were made for.

So with Strasser out of the running, i fully expect to see Susan Haskell ("Marty Saybrooke" - who i am SO GLAD to see back after that horrible recast) and either Bree Williamson ("Jessica Buchanan") or Kathy Brier ("Marcie McBain") (who are up against each other in the same category) walk away with both final nominations and trophies. Robert S Woods ("Bo Buchanan") and Kristen Alderson ("Starr Manning") have good shots at wins as well. As you can tell, i totally eat this kind of stuff up!

One name that was also not in the pre-noms was that of Trevor St. John ("Todd Manning"). I've seen several articles from members of the soap press decrying St. John's lack of even a pre-nomination as the latest example of what's wrong with the current system.

I usually love St. John. He often does stellar work and indeed turned out some incredible stuff during the latter part of the year in regards to the fallout of the Marty Saybrooke amnesia story. He had an excellent shot at an Emmy before (2006 execution story) and will probably be worthy of an award in years to come. However, unlike the soap press who seem to have a collective amnesia of their own, i haven't forgotten the sheer GARBAGE that Trevor subjected us to in the spring before the Marty story.

At a time when One Life to Live was at its peak in nearly all areas, TSJ wasn't even bothering to phone it in...his performances were horrible to watch (especially when one knew he was capable of so much better). It was as if he was unhappy with what the scab writing had done to his character and was sabotaging the show by not even trying. It wasn't that he was making BAD acting choices; he wasn't making ANY acting choices. I'm sorry - but you don't just don't give awards for stuff like that even if he also had moments of greatness during the same year.

If someone is given an award that reads "Best Actor 2008", then they should truly represent the best for ALL of 2008. Let's say TSJ did get a pre-nom. He could easily have put together a reel (after the pre-noms, actors submit two episodes representing their best performances for judging) that could have gotten him a spot on the final nominations and maybe even an eventual win. And had that happened, THAT would have been an example of the problems with the current system much more than his failure to earn a pre-nom.

It's precisely because of this whole issue of "representing the best for the year" that i'm so torn over Bree Williamson's chances at an Emmy. Her work during Nash's death and her grieving was among the best the show had seen since Judith Light's legendary "Karen Wolak on the witness stand" in 1979. When it aired, i said then and there "the Emmy's hers!"

But then she spent the summer delivering some horrendous performances in the "Tess returns" storyline. So i'm a bit conflicted. How can i argue so passionately about how Trevor St John does not deserve an Emmy because his horrible performances cancelled out his stellar ones yet still like to see a win for Williamson?

Probably because at least BW MADE acting choices (even if they were horribly over the top) whereas TSJ just didn't even try. She chewed a huge amount of scenery and grew an honorary mustache after all the twirling she gave it, but her choices were appropriate to the story and its tone. They were bad, but in some ways could be seen as valid. By the same token, TSJ was handed an actor's dream on a silver platter - the complex mix of emotions we should see displayed by a borderline psychopath after he tosses the one person he's always unconditionally loved (his daughter Starr) down a flight of stairs in his blind rage (which wasn't very rageful) was given all the gravity as stepping in a mud puddle in a pair of shoes one doesn't care about.

But in the end, Bree is in the same category as the equally (if not more) deserving Kathy Brier who always acts her heart out even when her character isn't the most likable. Overall Brier is more deserving taking the year as a whole in account, but Williamson will have a stronger reel. If either won, i would not be disappointed.

Rest assured, that even though this "75-85%" Muppet blog is an avenue for discussing my areas of fandom (of which OLTL is a big one), that's probably the most you'll see me go off on a huge rant about OLTL for awhile since for non soap fans, the above sentiments were probably just as exciting as reading sports commentary is to me. It's just that the Daytime Emmys bring out that "Super Bowl sized" fanatic in me so unless it concerns the Emmys, OLTL-focused posts won't be that frequent or as indepth - at least until the Emmys actually air! Then watch out!

So if you're only here for the Muppet stuff, we've got Naked Bert on deck! So stay tuned!

[The Emmy ceremony in question receives a detailed review in a later archive entry so no new comments here at this time.]

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