Maybe It's Better Not To Win a Talk-Show Statue
The most popular shows often don't nab an award
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/13/2005 7:00:00 PM
High ratings don't necessarily impress Emmy. None of today's top talk shows are recent Daytime Emmy winners, including The Oprah Winfrey Show—by choice. The queen of talk is scoring her highest ratings in eight seasons, but Winfrey stopped submitting her show to the Emmy selection committee after winning the award for best talk-show host seven times, the award for best show nine times and a total of 35 Emmys.
The No. 2-rated talker, King World's Dr. Phil, has been upset two years in a row. First, Phil was beaten in its highly rated rookie year by Buena Vista's The Wayne Brady Show. At the time, Brady wasn't even cleared nationally, and it struggled in the ratings both years that it was on the air. But apparently, Emmy voters were drawn to Brady's multi-talented approach to the daypart. In year two, Brady tied with Ellen DeGeneres as Outstanding Talk Show Host, but Buena Vista cancelled his show anyway.
The No. 3-rated show, Buena Vista's Live With Regis and Kelly, is one of daytime's longest-running hits, on the air (first with Kathie Lee Gifford) since 1989. It has been an anchor show on ABC's powerhouse station group, where the show has consistently won its morning time slot for 15 years.
Still, Live has never taken home the Emmy for best talk show, even though it is nominated every year. And host Regis Philbin, who cemented his TV-icon status when he hosted the prime time hit Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, has won the award for Outstanding Talk Show Host only once, and he had to share the honor with Rosie O'Donnell.
Awards can be subjective
“I think Emmy takes our show for granted,” says Michael Gelman, Live's executive producer who became well-known to daytime audiences when Regis began screaming “Gelman!” on the air. “I also think it's the live element. Our show has a very casual—and, when successful, unproduced—look and feel. It should look like Regis and Kelly sauntered out and a couple of their friends came over and they kibitzed and had a good time. As any TV professional knows, it takes a heck of a lot of work to make it look so unrehearsed.”
Other daytime producers agree with that assessment.
“These awards can be very subjective and the voters seem to love the more presentational talk-variety formats,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, executive vice president and general manager, Telepictures Productions.
Last year, that preference among Emmy voters favored Warner Bros./Telepictures' rookie entry, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which took home both Outstanding Talk Show Host and Outstanding Talk Show honors.
McLoughlin compares Ellen with Warner Bros.' The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which won a total of 25 Emmys over the life of the show (1996-2002), including best host all six years the show was on the air and best show five out of six. And while Ellen is considered a modest success in the ratings, averaging a 2.1 national household number season-to-date, Rosie was a smash daytime hit that faltered only near the end.
“Rosie was hot out of the box. Still, when Rosie went up there to collect that first Emmy, she was weeping like a baby. She had gone to Radio City Music Hall as a kid, and she remembered going there with her mom, who had died,” McLoughlin says. “With Ellen, the Emmys were really satisfying because there were a lot of doubts about her coming back to television. It was as much a win for the stations that supported her from the beginning, especially NBC, as it was for the show.”
Real success in ratings
While all daytime producers appreciate the recognition, particularly because it comes from their peers, they know that real success in daytime means ratings. And the fate of some of Emmy's choices makes that clear.
Emmy loved Wayne Brady, but audiences were indifferent. The show lasted only two years, averaging a 1.0 in households. That's a killer.
“Wayne is so enormously talented, but maybe a daytime format is too constricting for him,” says John Redmann, executive producer of both Buena Vista's The Tony Danza Show and The Wayne Brady Show.
Redmann also is a voting member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, so he knows what voters are looking for. “Daytime ultimately may have been the wrong format to display his talents.”
O'Donnell won the Emmy in her final year on the air, even though at the time her ratings were at their lowest, a 2.3 in households.
DeGeneres is the exception. When she won the Emmy, her show was averaging a 1.7 household rating, not a huge national number. This year, Ellen is up 24% in households, 18% among women 18-49 and 17% among women 25-54. While those increases are due to better clearances for the show, winning the Emmy gives a show a boost, in terms of both internal morale and external perception.
Emmy fuels publicity
“It's nice to feel that people are acknowledging your work, and it creates a positive halo effect on the staff,” McLoughlin says. “It helps reinforce with publicists that yours is a show they can take their stars on. And it helps the whole process of getting upgrades, even though obviously you have to perform and get numbers as well. It helps the whole momentum for a show.”
Redmann agrees. “You get so much publicity, and it motivates the staff,” he says. “Everyone involved gets a huge burst of energy. And it gives you credibility.”
That said, though, choosing between winning an Emmy or getting high ratings is easy for some. It's ratings every time, says Gelman, who doesn't mind being called the Susan Lucci of daytime talk, particularly because after being perpetually nominated for 19 years, Lucci finally won the big one.
“Would I like my staff to have a stack of Emmys on the mantle? Yes, of course,” Gelman says. “But given the choice, I'll take our ratings any day.” So would most general managers.
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