Behind the Scenes of the 35th Annual Daytime Emmys: Inside The Press Room
Several years ago when I worked for Soap Opera Weekly magazine, I had the pleasure of twice covering the Daytime Emmy Awards in New York, once from Radio City Music Hall and once from Madison Square Garden. I reported on the shows from a vantage point inside the theater. However, this year, on behalf of Soapdom I was lucky enough to experience the awards from inside the Press Room at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.
I imagined a huge room, but it was a rather intimate affair, with four long tables lined up in front of a platform where the winners would take questions from the press. Each assigned seat had a sign on the back of the chair telling every reporter where to sit. I was seated alongside reporters from the AP, TV Guide and SoapNet.
After I found my special Soapdom seat, I decided to partake in the lavish food spread offered to the assembled press while we waited for the show to begin. There was quite a variety of breads, meats, cheeses, fruits and pastries to choose from. I eagerly filled my plate because I was famished after standing on the blistering hot red carpet interviewing arriving stars for the prior three hours. As I ate, I reviewed my notes on the nominees, and the second I finished my last bite, a member of the catering staff appeared over my shoulder to whisk my plate away.
The winners came straight to the press room after accepting their Emmy while the rest of the show proceeded, so the sound on the press room TV monitors airing the live feed was muted. In order to hear the sound from the show, I was able to use a headset that individually transmitted the sound from the broadcast.
Each winner entered the room via an elevator from inside the Kodak Theater. Their name and category was announced to the press by a woman on a microphone, none other than ABC Daytime publicity's Marianne Fleschman. Then the actor or entertainer would step up on to the podium as reporters were selected to ask questions. If questions went on for too long, the microphone woman (Fleschman) would say ‘last question,’ like it was a presidential news conference. Some winners were only asked a few questions and wound up saying, “That’s it?” and others received the ‘last question’ warning.
Once the show began, the first winner was revealed right away – Gina Tognoni (Dinah, Guiding Light) for Outstanding Supporting Actress. Less than five minutes after her win, a beaming Tognoni took the stage in the press room and announced, “I realized as I was coming down the stairs that I didn’t thank my fiancé, Joe. We were engaged in November and will get married next year. I’ve waited a long time for someone special like him and he’s a wonderful guy. He’s not in the business, he’s in insurance.”
Tognoni, who was complimented on her stunning red one-shoulder gown, mentioned it was designed by a designer from Boston, Michael de Paulo, who is also designing an upcoming bridal line. “So we’ll see,” Tognoni said, with a smile.
She also noted the irony of Laura Wright (Carly, GH) and Sarah Brown (Claudia, GH; ex-Carly, GH) presenting her with her Emmy, since at one time she toyed with the idea of taking on the role of Carly after she left OLTL. “There were rumors that there was a role for me to walk into at one point in my career. It’s a great role and it was something that I looked at, but never entertained it for too long because it was about me being on the East Coast, and something else was in my path. Guiding Light came to me and Dinah was a great role, obviously, as I’ve had two wins with her. She’s the best character I’ve ever played.”
When asked to comment about GL’s new hand held camera production style, Tognoni said, “It’s definitely different. Ellen Wheeler [GL’s Executive Producer] is putting a new face to daytime. She’s blazing a trail. Change can be uncomfortable but it’s exciting. It’s the thing that we need to go forward in daytime. Everyone’s aware of ratings and maintaining the audience’s attention. We have the cast to support this and we’ve worked so hard to put the show together.”
She elaborated, “It’s more challenging than it’s ever been, which is one of the scariest things in life but then again it’s exhilarating. The need for dialogue becomes very important because you’re surrounded by reality, there is no fake. It changes the scene a bit, it ups the game.”
Next, Tyra Banks appeared in the press room, following a rousing onstage acceptance speech for her win in the category of Outstanding Talk Show-Informative. The speech focused on female empowerment as she urged women to tell the world to “kiss their fat, dimpled ass.” Banks entered the press room to applause, and the on duty female security guards pumped their fists in the air in ‘you go girl’ solidarity.
At the press room podium, Banks expounded more on her self esteem themes, saying all women need to find one body part they like to focus on, whether it’s an ear, a chin or a toe. An intrepid reporter questioned Banks as to what her own favorite feature was. After some hesitation, she said, “Maybe my nose, or my hair when it’s pulled back, but only for high fashion. Otherwise it looks kind of alien-esque.”
After Banks finished holding court, Jennifer Landon (ex-Gwen/Cleo, ATWT) who won for Outstanding Younger Actress, took the podium, after patiently waiting for Banks to finish.
Clad in a beautiful flowing Grecian style peach gown by Marchesa, Landon demurely took questions from the press. Minutes earlier when she accepted her award onstage, she said something in French, which she explained in the press room as, “If I said it right, it was a little salute to my Pops [the late Michael Landon], ‘For you always, I love you.’ ”
When queried if she would return to ATWT if asked, she said she wouldn’t know until the time came, because she has been “working on my apartment and getting certain life issues in order.”
Landon also confessed to not knowing where she would put her third consecutive Emmy, saying, “Wherever it fits in my studio apartment.”
Immediately after Landon, an exuberant Tom Pelphrey (ex-Jonathan, GL), who won for Outstanding Younger Actor, bounded on to the platform. He admitted it had been an “emotional weekend as I haven’t seen my little extended GL family for awhile, since I moved to LA. It’s been good.”
He said he wouldn’t be opposed to appearing on an LA based soap. “We’ll see how things go. I’m not going to say I’m against it but I’m not definitely planning on doing it. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’m on the auditioning grind now.”
Pelphrey acknowledged this was the reason for his new shorter hairstyle. “It’s audition hair. My agents said ‘cut your hair,’ and I said [in grudging voice] ‘okay.’ This thing I’m wearing tonight, it’s like this European tux that I rented. It’s something Steven Segal would wear, right? I wish I had my long hair and my ponytail so I could do it right.”
A caterer dropped a tray which clattered to the floor during Pelphrey’s Q&A and he interrupted to joke, “Oh, fire in the hole,” to which the press cracked up.
Changing moods yet again, Pelphrey noted that his father passed away in December. When asked to share a story about his dad, he said, “He was a big guy, 6’4, and he played college basketball. He was an athlete. He coached my basketball teams and I sucked, but he had to play me because I was his son. I would get like two points a game and maybe a rebound. He paid for my tuition to go to college. I went to Rutgers to become an actor. I asked him, ‘Paps, why did you support me going to college to become an actor when you’re totally opposite?’ He said I knew what I wanted to do since I was very young, and he didn’t, and he said he admired that.”
Pelphrey then kept the press room in stitches with some off color jokes. Referencing his Dad again, Pelphrey deadpanned, “He was Big D—k,” followed by a long pause, “because his name was Richard.” He added, “The apple sure doesn't fall far from the tree.” Interspersed throughout Pelphrey’s time at the podium was use of the word f—k. The press responded to Pelphrey’s attempts to liven things up and laughed along with him.
The press room dramatically shifted gears as soon as Ellen DeGeneres arrived with her trophy for Outstanding Talk Show Host. Ellen kept things light, yet moving. In the middle of Ellen’s Q&A there was a knock on the press room door. In typical Ellen fashion, she left the podium to open the door and call out, “Who is it?,” before opening the door to an embarrassed caterer who had been locked out.
DeGeneres was asked if she would take her name off the Emmy ballot in the future, a la Oprah, and she said no. “Oprah has just made so many bad decisions and look where it’s gotten her,” DeGeneres joked.
On a more serious note, DeGeneres was questioned about her marriage plans to longtime partner, Portia de Rossi. “We have set the date. It’s actually the dream wedding. We have things that are happening that are so incredible. Incredible people singing and it’s just very exciting.”
When pressed to comment about the law in California which made her same sex wedding legal, DeGeneres was circumspect. “I think some people are stuck in feeling strongly about their beliefs. Everyone has a right to their feelings and opinions and I hope that people open their minds a little bit and see that it should be legal everywhere. I hope so. I think it’s long overdue and someday people will look back on this like women not having the right to vote and segregation and anything else that [in retrospect] seems ridiculous that we don’t all have the same rights cause we’re not all the same people.” She added, “I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to get married. Planning a wedding is stressful. I’m inviting all these people…my gardener is now invited.”
Commenting about de Rossi’s style, “DeGeneres joked, “I help her get ready. She does look great and she wears heels so everyone thinks she’s taller than me. You can print that we’re actually the same height.”
After the levity Pelphrey and DeGeneres brought to the press room, it was a hard act for OLTL Head Writer Ron Carlivati and his writing team to follow, after they won the award for Outstanding Drama Series Writing.
Carlivati talked about how he grew up watching soaps. “I try to write what I think I’d like as a fan,” he said. He also announced OLTL’s plans for their special 40th Anniversary episodes to air on July 21st and 22nd. “The show will be revisiting a modern take on three of my all-time classic favorite OLTL episodes – Tina Going Over the Falls, Clint Going Back to the Old West and Viki Going to Heaven. Agnes Nixon [OLTL’s creator] will also have a cameo.”
When asked if he had any real life issues with his father, since most of his characters have had or are currently having trouble with theirs, Carlivati replied, “I have a wonderful father. I think I know who he is,” he said with a laugh. “So the paternity drama comes from the mystery of the characters.”
The press room buzzed with surprise and happiness when Jeanne Cooper (Katherine, Young and the Restless) earned her first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress after 11 prior nominations. Cooper was emotional when she arrived to the press room, clutching an Emmy statue that was almost bigger than she was.
“I’m still in shock,” she confessed. “I only decided to come to the Emmy’s on Monday.” As her voice quavered she continued, “The thing that I’m happiest and most proud of tonight is there are so many members of the press and people behind the scenes who always wanted me to win, and I finally did it for them.”
After the excitement of Cooper’s first win, it was a different kind of excitement that Outstanding Lead Actor Tony Geary (Luke, General Hospital) brought to the press room after his record breaking sixth win. He said he’s pleased with the Luke and Tracy pairing since, “I first auditioned for the show back in the Punic Wars to be Tracy’s lover and didn’t get the part.”
He couldn’t help but express his excitement for Cooper as well. “I’ve known Jeanne a long time and I’m very pleased for her.”
The press room part of the evening came to a close about 30 minutes after the show went off the air with the arrival of Jill Farren Phelps [GH’s Executive Producer] and her team, who were celebrating General Hospital’s tenth win for Outstanding Drama Series.
Phelps touched on the idiosyncrasies of the night when she acknowledged, “I’m disappointed a lot of our actors weren’t nominated [Geary was the only one] but we can get over that now that we’ve won best show – that’s everyone.”
After Phelps wrapped up this portion of the evening, I returned my headset and picked up transcripts of the show’s acceptance speeches. I was off to the ABC party expecting some eating, drinking and dancing with the stars, though the party turned out to be fairly tame.
The ABC party was held upstairs at the Hollywood and Highland complex at a club called The Annex. The candle lit décor was impressive with lots of ice-sculptures throughout. Several stars including Kimberly McCullough (Robin, GH) took to the dance floor with its blaring mix of 80’s and current hits. Laura Wright (Carly, GH) wandered around carrying her high heels. Kristen Storms (Maxie, GH) and Julie Marie Berman (LuLu, GH) flitted about while power couples Thorsten Kaye (Zach, AMC) and Susan Haskell (Marty, OLTL) and Bob Guiney (The Bachelor) and Rebecca Budig (Greenlee, AMC) congregated near the bar.
An impromptu after-party in the Renaissance Hotel lobby started jumping around 1:00 am, when the celebration picked up steam for some NBC and CBS actors who displayed varying degrees of sobriety amongst them. Blind item: What drunk male partygoer was observed in the men’s bathroom spraying the wall of the men’s urinal (and himself), only to exit the bathroom without washing, and greet a married NBC actress with a full body hug and a kiss before proceeding to feel up a top magazine editor?
Not all the actors were inebriated. Some sat in corners for lengthy conversations with friends or table hopped. Others made spectacles of themselves trying to be the life of the party. How ironic that in a room with several reporters from different web sites and magazines, the stars felt comfortable enough to really let down their hair and trust it to stay private.
Lesleyann Coker is a reporter and monthly opinion columnist for Soapdom.com. She is also the co-author of Boob Tube, a forthcoming novel that goes behind the scenes of the soap opera industry. The book is available in ebook form at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3 . She was previously a reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine.
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