New York — When the daytime Emmy Awards are broadcast on ABC Wednesday night, the suspense will center on the greatest ongoing cliffhanger in soap opera: Will the woman who portrays the genre's leading hellcat finally be named best actress or will she once again be dealt a slap by her peers?
Susan Lucci of "All My Children" has been snubbed 13 times since her first nomination in 1978, making her the biggest loser in the history of TV's highest honor. She is also the best known and, reputedly, the highest-paid actress in her field, making Lucci's quest, in the words of one Emmy insider who requested anonymity, "her own private soap opera that's as tragic, gripping and bizarre as anything on daytime TV."
The curious year-to-year drama has developed such an enormous following that last year's award show was the most-viewed program of its week, topping second-place "60 Minutes." Losing again this year could be especially embarrassing for Lucci because she's the ceremony co-host along with Walt Willy of "All My Children."
"I really think she can pull it off this year, though," one source close to the balloting says. "It's the best chance she's ever had."
What bolsters Lucci's latest bid is that none of the actresses who have beaten her in the past is nominated this year. Also, with one exception, none of the nominees has ever won an Emmy or been in the running for best actress. "The exception is particularly ironic," the source adds, "since it's Julia Barr, who plays Brook English, Lucci's staunchest adversary on 'All My Children.' " Barr was nominated for best actress in 1991 and was voted outstanding supporting actress in 1990.
Emmy winners are determined by members of peer-group judging panels made up of approximately 40 voters who agree to remain anonymous, but several spoke up privately after the screening session. None will reveal who they voted for, but all say that Barr and Ellen Dolan, who plays Margo Hughes on "As the World Turns," pose the biggest threat to Lucci this year. "Lucci, Barr and Dolan all submitted dynamite sample episodes of their shows for consideration," according to one voter. "All the submissions were first-rate, but this time it looks like a cat fight between these three."
The other nominees are Linda Dano, who portrays Felicia Gallant on "Another World," and Maeve Kinkead, who plays Vanessa Chamberlain on "Guiding Light."
Lucci refused to be interviewed about her record losing streak, but has expressed wide-ranging reaction in the past, at times even responding much like her feisty TV character. In 1982, when she lost for the third time, she pounded a table in rage, according to one press account. The following year she stormed form the room in tears. In more recent years, she has displayed a sense of humor about the defeats, even acting out a playful tantrum on a popular TV commercial for an artificial sweetener.
But why does she keep on losing?
"Part of the reason has to do with the voting process," one panelist says.
Emmy nominations are determined by approximately 500 members of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, based in New York, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, headquartered in Los Angeles. Panels of judges then determine winners after viewing a sample episode submitted by each nominee or the producers of the nominee's series.
"Clearly, the whole TV industry wants Lucci to win because they keep nominating her every year," the panelist adds. "She just can't get past those judging panels."
"Lucci keeps picking the wrong kind of episodes to be considered," a voter says. "She slams too many doors in them. It's hard to like her."
Apparently, the judges want to see intimacy, tenderness, tears, in other words, a soap opera diva at the top of her form, quivering with passionate \o7 Angst \f7 and vulnerability. Not just rage.
This year, judges say Lucci showed a wider span of emotions in an episode in which she learns her mother has cancer. "She chews a doctor out for being an insensitive autocrat one minute and then embraces her mother tearfully the next," a panelist says. "Susan finally gave us a few tender moments and it wasn't just sentimental. It was strong and real."
Lucci's harshest critics claim she continues to lose because "she just doesn't measure up" to some of the actresses who beat her in the past, such as two-time Tony Award-winner Helen Gallagher, who played Maeve Ryan on "Ryan's Hope" and topped Lucci in 1988. "There are a lot of great actresses working in daytime TV," a judge adds.
\o7 The Daytime Emmy Awards will air Wednesday at \f7 9\o7 p.m. on ABC.\f7
THIS YEAR'S COMPETITION
Julia Barr (Brooke English, "All My Children")
Linda Dano (Felicia Gallant, "Another World")
Ellen Dolan (Margo Hughes, "As The World Turns")
Maeve Kinkead (Vanessa Chamberlain, "Guiding Light")