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Daytime Emmys go glam

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Were it not for cooler heads prevailing, the 37th annual Daytime Emmy Awards on Sunday might have opened with host Regis Philbin strutting onto the Las Vegas Hilton stage, dressed in a gold lame outfit and belting out "Viva Las Daytime." Philbin nixed the idea.

"He said, 'I talked to a lot of people and they (don't) want to see me in an Elvis outfit,' " says the telecast's executive producer, Al Schwartz.

 

The decision was probably a wise dodge of camp on Philbin's part, but this year's Daytime Emmys will still be a gold-lame version of its former self.

After a year in exile from broadcast network TV -- last year's CW installment brought in a scant 2.0 rating/3 share -- this year's telecast airs on CBS and producers have slated a lineup that reflects a craving for new viewers and primetime respect. At press time, such Vegas staples as the Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil, Wayne Newton, "The Lion King" and "Jersey Boys" were all on tap to perform.

But the highlight of the night will likely be a special salute to Dick Clark in honor of his iconic "American Bandstand." Hosted by Clark's heir apparent, Ryan Seacrest, the tribute will feature appearances by Barry Manilow, Cher, Simon Cowell, Frankie Avalon, Marie Osmond, the Spinners and Garth Brooks, among others -- that's when the show is not handing out baubles to soap operas, cooking series, daytime talk shows and children's animated programming.
Glam factor aside, the show's historic shift to Vegas -- no Emmy Awards telecast has ever taken place outside Los Angeles or New York -- actually makes good financial sense for the franchise, says Lynn Leahey, editorial director of Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly.

"You can do it economically and reach a different, more mainstream audience," she notes. "Because of union fees, it's very difficult to lower the costs (elsewhere). In Vegas, you can. It really is a very good marriage between the market and the city."

The move is also an obvious ploy to breathe new life into a franchise which, depending on whom you ask, is either on life support or simply facing a challenging evolution.

For many years, the Daytime Emmys relied on soap operas for eyeballs and star power, a focus that made it seem more like a sister show of the Primetime Emmys. But as soaps continue to slip off the air (CBS recently canceled the long-running "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns") and more daytime hours are handed back to affiliates, the Emmys are left with not just a softening focal point, but a hodgepodge of TV shows that have little in common besides time slots.

"CBS canceled two long-running shows but didn't replace them with more soaps, and newer broadcasters like Fox and the CW never even bothered to program their daytime hours," says Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media. "Knowing this, you have to wonder what the future holds for the Daytime Emmys."

Dave McKenzie, executive producer of the awards telecast and president of Associated Television International, says that while they no longer represent the majority of daytime programming, soaps are still an integral part of the Daytime Emmys.

"Daytime is evolving constantly, and just because some soaps have gone away doesn't mean daytime is going away," McKenzie says.

The National Association of Television Arts and Sciences chief administrative officer Paul Pillitteri says that while soaps fade, "other genres will come to the forefront: talk shows, the culinary category and judge shows," he says. "I don't see daytime television disappearing; I see it changing."

Bringing in ATI last year to produce the show was the first major step in trying to work with that evolution. And ATI doesn't just produce the show, it packages it from start to finish, purchasing the block of time from the network, securing advertisers, and in return CBS does not get a licensing fee.

Whether this change is enough to fuel two hours of can't-miss primetime television remains to be seen. For now, there probably is enough traditional content in the Daytime Emmys (soaps, talk shows) to make it feel like old times. Throw in Cher, Manilow and Blue Man Group, and it's possible that many viewers won't notice that, in terms of actual awards buzz, this year's Daytime Emmys feels a little thin on the ground.

All said, the show's relocation to primetime, to a major broadcast network and to Sunday night is a "big improvement," Pillitteri says.

Schwartz agrees and hopes that decent ratings on Sunday night will propel the Daytime Emmys' continued rebranding. "Then, instead of this being a show that cycles from NBC to ABC to CBS, it'll find a home like the Oscars have at ABC or the Golden Globes at NBC," he says.