Handicapping the potential Daytime Emmy nominees

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The Daytime Emmys are cleaning house.

After last year's tumultuous proceedings, the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has implemented a new nominating process that will ensure that the little guys get seen and that nominees are judged by a jury of their peers.

NATAS now requires judges to screen every submission in every category. The move marks the first time programs in categories outside of the drama genre can be assured that their submissions are being viewed before votes are cast.

In other changes, voting members will now be hand-selected by NATAS. Judges will have to apply -- or in some cases, reapply -- for the position to make sure they have experience in the categories on which they'll rule. NATAS will select blue-ribbon panels of peer judges from the applicant pool, and those panels will then whittle down the entries to the final group of nominees. Nominations will be announced on April 30.

The nomination process is also being moved online this year, with all pertinent forms and information for academy members available on the Daytime Emmys Web site. Though judges will mark their choices online, they will still have to print out their completed ballots and mail them in. (NATAS hopes to get e-mail voting going in the near future.)

Brent Stanton, executive director of the Daytime Emmy Awards program, says making viewing submissions mandatory will help to level the playing field, especially for the non-soap opera categories. "There were many shows and crafts that could have been potentially at a disadvantage since their shows or their work may have not been known to voters, who then simply selected a program name or craftsperson listed on the paper ballot," he says.

"The old process allowed all member voters across all genres to vote on all programs," Stanton adds. "This year it is a rigorous process of peer judge panel placement from the very beginning."

The retooling comes after the process came under scrutiny last year when it was marred by several snafus. Most notably, NATAS mistakenly left off the talk show category on paper ballots. As a result, shows like "The Ellen Degeneres Show" were absent from the list, and the omissions affected the rest of the ballot, jumbling the lists of shows in the remaining categories.

In more good news for daytime denizens, audiences seem to be taking a keener interest in who wins what. Last year's televised ceremony on CBS averaged 8.3 million viewers overall, an increase from the previous year's 6.1 million. This year's show will take place on June 20, once more at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, and will be televised on ABC.

Soap

In a category that hasn't been dominated by any one soap for the past several years, this season's competition might very well be a measure of which show made the most noise in 2007. Seventy-one-year-old CBS soap opera "Guiding Light," last season's outstanding drama series winner (tied with CBS' "The Young and the Restless"), recently made headlines when the show announced it would deploy handheld cameras in a bid to attract a younger audience. But several soaps have been making overtures toward the CW demo -- with varying degrees of success -- for the better part of last year. ABC's "All My Children" has used handheld cameras for some time, and has experimented with characters directly addressing the camera and pop-song-laden montages to close out episodes. "I can't really tell whose got the momentum this time," Stanton says. "A couple of shows that do just OK in the ratings have told me they've got some really strong material to submit this year. It's anyone's guess who'll make the cut." ABC's "General Hospital" hit ratings highs last February with its multiweek hostage-crisis story line. The show also spun off into the weekly primetime series "General Hospital: Night Shift" on SoapNet. And having seen the monster draw of Disney's breakthrough made-for-TV "High School Musical," ABC's "One Life to Live" staged the four-day event "Prom Night: The Musical," giving the soap its best female teen demos in months.

Talk Show

Morning Show

What will be the tiebreaker? Last year, NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" both received top honors for outstanding morning show. But 2007 was the honeymoon for new anchors on both programs. Matt Lauer and "The View" transplant Meredith Vieira rung in their first anniversary together, as did Diane Sawyer and veteran "GMA" team member Robin Roberts. CNN's 6-year-old a.m. franchise "American Morning" could make an impact with its heavy focus on hard-hitting news. Univision's "Despierta America" might finally get voters' attention after having been the country's No. 1 rated Spanish-language morning show for several years. And don't count out CBS' "The Early Show," either. While "Today" and "GMA" still win the ratings race by a significant margin, both shows in the past year have experienced audience erosion among the genre's target 25-54 demo. Nonetheless, the forecast still seems to indicate another showdown between wake-up giants "Today" and "GMA."



Entertainment

With "Dr. Phil" and "The Tyra Banks Show" out of contention -- instead vying for the new "Talk Show (Informative)" title -- defending entertainment talk show champ Ellen Degeneres will have to tango with some powerful new contenders. "Rachael Ray" is still a ratings juggernaut, and it is anchored in its second year by the confidence of an experienced hostess finally settled into her weekday routine. Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd haven't lost any of Rosie O'Donnell's ratings or rantings steam on ABC's "The View" -- nor her habit of getting into political debates with Elisabeth Hasselbeck. "Regis and Kelly" might also prove strong competition, as the duo has been nominated five times for outstanding talk show host.

Informative

On her show, Degeneres does not do the same things Tyra Banks does. Degeneres monologues, dances and chats up celebrities. Tyra does some of that, but she's also after Oprah's crowd. Modeled and sold as "Oprah" for the younger generation, Banks' "The Tyra Banks Show" recently explored "the dark side of motherhood," telling the stories of struggling new moms, and took a behind-the-scenes look at what really happens in celebrity rehab clinics. According to Stanton, the thematic differences between shows like "Ellen" and "Tyra" made it necessary to split the talk show category in two. "The shows themselves pleaded for this change," Stanton says. "The focus for 'Tyra' or 'Dr. Phil' is not the same as 'Ellen' or even 'Rachael Ray,'" who, in spite of daily cooking demos and how-to segments, submitted in the entertainment category. "The structure around the shows -- the writers, the graphics, the research teams -- is very different. 'Dr. Phil' has whole networks of psychologists and social workers on his staff. They just do different kinds of work," he adds. The experimental new category is also meant to open the door to other daytime talk shows that don't normally enter the Emmy race at all, like religious-themed shows. His recent Britney Spears-related controversy notwithstanding, Phil McGraw seems like the obvious leader here. His show outperforms "Tyra," his nearest category competition, by a significant margin and is more serious-minded than the "Top Model" host's mix of entertainment and informative tones.

ETC.
Lifestyle


The popular Food Network host and homemaker guru Martha Stewart usually dominates the lifestyle category. Last year, Southern soul mama Paula Deen won for her butter-happy Food Network series "Paula's Home Cooking." Stanton says the category is getting broader as more of the traditional how-to shows become more persona-based reality shows. "It's a fine line, and I imagine it's going to get more blurry as time goes on," he says. "There's always a good chance Martha will be nominated. (Emeril Lagasse) has been nominated multiple times. But it really will depend on what episode series submit." Expect competition to sprout up from Food Network's other chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, who each host several series for the channel, and Ina Garten of "Barefoot Contessa" fame. Elsewhere on the dial: PBS has a fleet of strong contenders, including chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich; A&E got "Sell This House" into last year's running; and TLC's "Take Home Chef" could also make a showing.



Game Show

There are no new entries in this year's game show race, but rather, TV veterans-turned-game show hosts to consider. With Bob Barker of CBS' "The Price Is Right" having handed TV's skinniest of mikes to Drew Carey, this category might already be called. (The show won the award last year, and Barker took home hosting honors). Carey, who could never stop laughing through ABC's former primetime comedy show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" has made the transition smooth and effortless. But there's also John O'Hurley, the new regular emcee for "Family Feud," who soft-shoed his way into the hearts of TV fans on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." Last year's category nominees "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" could make repeat appearances, but so could "Wheel of Fortune" and Discovery Channel's "Cash Cab," both of which were recognized for their respective hosts Pat Sajak and Ben Bailey in 2006.

Courtroom/Legal

"Judge Judy" has been nominated for a Special Class Daytime Emmy nine times, so it only makes sense that this year NATAS has finally recognized courtroom shows in a category of their own. "Courtroom shows were always thrown into the special class series category, and because of that they were lumped in with shows like 'A Baby Story' and a variety of other kinds of programming," Stanton says. With the new programming prize debuting this year, "there's plenty of shows to make a separate category worthwhile." The perennial ratings winner "Judy," which has never won, seems like the sure thing, but watch out for other long-running gavel-wielders. "Judge Joe Brown" has been on the air for 10 years while "Judge Alex" is in its third season. Voters could also make an unconventional choice and pick "Judge Mathis," who enjoys hamming it up for his audience and letting the parties duke it out more than most. There's also the popular "People's Court." Long shots: "Divorce Court," which hasn't quite rebounded since Judge Lynn Toler replaced the popular Mablean Ephriam; and smaller gambits "Cristina's Court" and "Judge Maria Lopez," neither of which have made much of a ratings dent. The same might be said of "Judge Hatchett," which sings its swan song at the end of this season.

Special Class Series

This everyone-in-the-pool category is the most difficult to predict, according to Stanton. "Especially now that the courtroom shows have been taken out, it's hard to even highlight anything because the shows vary so much." Series that stand out so far include PBS' equestrian-themed travel show "Equitrekking"; TLC's documentary series "A Baby Story," which has won twice; and last year's winner, MTV's teen transformation hour "Made." Also in the running could be a bevy of SoapNet programming, including "General Hospital: Night Shift" and the reality competition "I Wanna Be a Soap Star," Travel Channel daytime fare and almost anything from the Discovery suite of networks, including Animal Planet. The common thread: Winners have almost always been stories related to journey and improvement.

Special Class Animation


Here's where style counts over substance, so to speak. Art-centric shows -- i.e., shows for all ages -- get to strut their stuff in this special class category. From Discovery's traditionally animated Egyptian-themed "Tutenstein," which has won twice, to Disney Channel's CG-animated "Rolie Polie Olie," "it's anyone's game," says Stanton. Previous contenders include the CW's "The Batman," which won in 2006, "Legion of Superheroes" and "Shaggy & Scooby-Doo: Get a Clue!," as well as independents like "Growing Up Creepie." Cartoon Network has a strong slate of possibilities from the enduring "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" to newer favorites like "Chowder" and "Class of 3000," featuring Andre Benjamin, one half of Grammy-winning rap group OutKast.   
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