James Cannon, president of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), says that the people who work in daytime drama at first resisted the idea of having their own Emmy awards.

“There was a rather strong vocal group who felt that daytime drama was an ensemble effort and it would be virtually impossible to award people,” Cannon says. “I said you don’t know until you try. Now, after 20 years, people will kill for it.”

Not quite, but despite qualms over voting procedures most of those working in daytime television today are delighted to win an Emmy, although it means different things to different people.

When Joan Rivers won her firstEmmy in 1990 shortly after the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, she broke down and cried.

“This is really for him because he was with me from the beginning,” she said, “and I’m so sorry he’s not here.”

This year, Rivers is nominated again, and her mood is lighter. “It’s a reaffirmation of the high quality of production of our show,” she says. “To win would mean that at last I’d have those Emmy bookends.”

It took game-show host Bob Barker 22 years to be nominated for an Emmy. He never won for “Truth or Consequences,” which was on NBC for nine years. He finally won in 1982 for “The Price is Right” and now he has seven Emmys. With “Price is Right” winding up its 21st year, Barker, who will be 70 in December, is nominated again this year.

“For years, I’d been saying that my two claims to fame were that I had not been to Catalina and I’d never won an Emmy,” Barker says. “I still haven’t been to Catalina. But I’ve been very grateful to receive each and every Emmy. I think all of us enjoy awards, particularly when they’re bestowed by our peers.”

Recognition by their peers is most often cited as the true reward by Emmy winners. William Bell, a veteran producer whose shows include “The Young and the Restless,””Days of Our Lives,””Another World” and “Guiding Light,” has won seven Emmy awards.

“If you win for best show, it’s recognition for everyone who works on that show,” Bell says. “It’s not just the stars or the writers or the producers, it’s a shot in the arm for everyone.”

Twyla Liggett, executive producer of the PBS book show for kids, “Reading Rainbow,” has seen her program collect several nominations and wins, and theshow is nominated again this year. “It’s recognition by your peers of quality and in terms of a purpose and a sense of making a contribution,” Liggett says.

Vanessa Coffey, executive producer of Nickelodeon’s animated shows “Doug,” which lost last year and is nominated again, and “Rugrats,” which won last year and is nominated again, is thrilled t hat Nickelodeon’s fledgling animation unit is in league with the big boys.

“Being in the cable industry, and in our second year of original animation, it’s amazing to be nominated alongside Steven Spielberg and Disney, the top-notch animation studios,” Coffey says. “That’s really something.”

First-time nominee Ellen Dolan, up for best actress for “As the World Turns,” which she has left to pursue prime time and feature opportunities, is pleased that her hard work in a tough storyline has been honored.

“I feel I was given a great big task–my character was a detective who was raped by a man who tested HIV positive,” says Dolan. “I worked really hard and I’m happy with what I did, so I can safely say I’m very proud to be nominated.”

Tonja Walker, up for best supporting actress for her sexy role in “One Life to Live,” says her nomination is the best compliment she could be paid.

“There were 84 possible choices in my category,” Walker says, “so to be chosen in the top five out of all of them is an extraordinary honor. I feel so good to be included with the other people. Winning is really kind of a matter of opinion.”

Few see a Daytime Emmy as making significant changes in their careers, although Robert Woods, who won the best actor award in 1983 for “All My Children ,” and is nominated again this year, says: “Financially, it’s not like winning an Academy Award, but hopefully it’ll give you some longevity as far as staying with the show. Maybe it’ll give your character new life. I landed a real nice commercial one time and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I won an Emmy.”

Emmy-winner Marcy Walker (“Santa Barbara”) says, “I havewatched a lot of people who’ve won Emmys and have received no recognition outside the daytime industry.”

Walker says that when she won she didn’t assume it would do anything for her. “And yet it was the Emmy that perked the ears of CBS, who put me under contract in a development deal,” she acknowledges. “I think the Emmy was the first step to them recognizing that maybe I was someone to be in business with.”

That seems to be the exception rather than the rule. “I don’t think winning a Daytime Emmy means a lot,” says Mimi Torchin, editor-in-chief of Soap Opera Weekly. “It may be a bargaining chip at contract time but many an Emmy-winner has slipped into obscurity the next year. For actors, it’s nice to have, but economically, I don’t think it carries a lot of weight.”

Torchin says that “Santa Barbara” may have lasted nine years on NBC–notorious for fast cancellations of new soaps–because of its many Emmy wins. “But they couldn’t save it in the end,” says Torchin.

“As the World Turns” executive producer Laurence Caso sees an Emmy as an emotional lift for everyone in the company. “It’s a feeling of pride that excites everyone,” Caso says. “But I don’t think it means a darned thing in terms of increased ratings or revenue. Which is kind of nice. I don’t like everything to be equated with dollars and cents.”

Ken Corday, veteran executive producer of “Days of Our Lives,” which won the Emmy for best daytime drama series in 1976, believes there is little practical benefit from an award. “There’s no correlation between an Emmy on your shelf and extra naughts on your paycheck,” Corday says.

Corday won an Emmy of his own in 1990 for writing the original score for his series, a chore he happily continues to this day. “That one gave me great satisfaction,” he admits.

Twyla Liggett of “Reading Rainbow,” which relies on funding for its existence , agrees that anEmmy does not help financially. “I don’t know that it brings new funders to us or necessarily renews funding,” says Liggett. “If that were the case, we’d be a lot more anxious about winning.”

Mary Alice Dwyer-Dobbin, senior VP, daytime programs, ABC Entertainment, sees an Emmy win as a nice pat on the back with some financial and advertiser benefit.

“It’s all of the above,” says Dwyer-Dobbin. “It’s a wonderful recognition in terms of the audience and the advertisers, that a show is doing it right.”

Mimi Torchin doubts that a Daytime Emmy win has very often helped a daytime performer to make the leap to prime time or movies. “I’ll tell you a story about Judith Light, who was a two-time Emmy winner, one of the best actresses we’ve ever had in daytime,” Torchin says.

“When she got ready to leave, her agent told her, ‘Don’t tell anybody that you’ve been on the soaps.’ She said, ‘What am I supposed to tell them I’ve been doing for the last five years?’ He said, ‘I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t mention the soaps.’

“Now, that was several years ago and, of course, Judith is a huge success in prime time (‘Who’s the Boss?’). Daytime may have lost its stigma, but winning an Emmy, as far as helping somebody, unless you’re a big star on your soap, it doesn’t do you much good.”

That doesn’t matter to Robert Woods. “I still feel pretty good about it,” he says. And Curt Gowdy Jr., the 13-time Emmy Award-win-ning sports producer, who’s handling this year’s Daytime Awards show, says: “Let’s put it this way, it’s not going to hurt your career to win an Emmy. I think it’s a little different in daytime because for the individual actors it’s a crowning pinnacle moment.

” There’s a tremendous amount of competition. It’s rare that someone gets nominated on a consistent basis, so if they do win it’s a high-level achievement.”

Of course, some performers are matter-of-fact about it. Walt Willey, of “All My Children,” who has a burgeoning career as a standup comic, has never been nominated in seven years. He’s co-hosting the awards show on May 26 with Susan Lucci.

“No, never nominated,” says Willey. “I decidedjust to take the damn paying job. Why should I sit on my butt all night for free? I know I’m getting a check when it’s all over. I guess if I want a gold statue that bad, I’ll go out and buy one.”

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