Maybe It's Better Not To Win a Talk-Show Statue

The most popular shows often don't nab an award
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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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