Daytime divas duke it out

At the Daytime Emmys, the most suspense surrounds the best actress race where TV's grand divas square off against brazen young ingenues who dare to threaten their supremacy in a soap realm beset with treachery, heartbreak -- and even occasional murder.

Well, at least in the on-TV plotlines they enact.

The final five nominees will emerge from an early list of pre-nominations on March 14. Insiders who work on each of the nine daily soaps offered two candidates from within their ranks:

"All My Children": Bobbie Eakes (Krystal Carey Chandler), Alicia Minshew (Kendall Hart Slater)
"As the World Turns": Martha Byrne (Lily Snyder), Maura West (Carly Tenney)
"The Bold and the Beautiful": Katherine Kelly Lang (Brooke Logan), Susan Flannery (Stephanie Forrester)
"Days of Our Lives": Kristian Alfonso (Hope Brady), Alison Sweeney (Sami Brady)
"General Hospital": Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis Davis Lansing), Laura Wright (Carly Corinthos)
"Guiding Light": Crystal Chappell (Olivia Spencer), Kim Zimmer (Reva Shayne)
"One Life to Live": Kassie DePaiva (Blair Cramer Manning), Bree Williamson (Jessica Buchanan)
"Passions": Lindsay Hartley (Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald), Juliet Mills (Tabitha Lenox)
"The Young & the Restless": Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor), Michelle Stafford (Phyllis Summers Newman)

Where's Susan Lucci, you ask? Talk about soap intrigue!

The "All My Children" superstar -- reputed to be the highest-paid performer in daytime TV with a yearly salary above $1 million -- has been mostly pushed out of contention of late, allegedly due to industry jealousy.

Ever since she finally won in 1999, Lucci has been nominated only twice and snubbed five times. Previously, she was nominated, almost automatically, nearly every year -- a total of 18 times. Her own colleagues seem to be the toughest on her.

Rarely have they drafted her as one of "All My Children's" two contenders since the new pre-noms voting process was instituted in 2003, thus blocking her chances to make the final five -- and to win a second Emmy.

However, two other royal dames of soapdom continue to survive in the rundown and often triumph: Kim Zimmer ("Guiding Light") and Susan Flannery ("Bold and the Beautiful").

Both have won four times in the past (Zimmer triumphed last year) and are in the current pre-nom runoff. They're two victories shy of tying the record held by daytime's biggest actress champ: Erika Slezak ("One Life to Live"), who, like Lucci, is a TV icon currently spurned by Emmy voters.

Some Emmy-watchers believe that voters think Slezak's won enough. Early last year, Zimmer announced that she herself had won enough times, too, and would yank herself from competition if she prevailed again, as she ended up doing.

However, she's flip-flopped since then and rejoined the race, claiming she needs to promote the show and honor its writers who gave her a juicy breast-cancer story line this year.

Among the snubees this year were three worthy talents -- Victoria Rowell (Dru, "The Young & the Restless"), Sharon Case (Sharon, "TTY&R") and Deidre Hall (Marlena, "Days of Our Lives") -- according to Nelson Branco, contributor to In Touch Weekly, TV Guide Canada and Hello! Canada.

Daniel Coleridge of TV Guide says it's "very disappointing that Victoria Rowell is not pre-nominated" since she's been "a real acting tour de force" on "TY&R." "She had some really entertaining, over-the-top moments as 'Ghetto Dru' taking on Carmen, the slutty publicist who was trying to steal her husband. She also had some very real heartbreaking human moments that would've looked great on her Emmy reel."

Branco predicts that the five nominees will be: Maura West (Carly, "As the World Turns"), Susan Flannery (Stephanie, "Bold and the Beautiful"), Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis, "General Hospital"), Kim Zimmer (Reva, "Guiding Light") and Michelle Stafford (Phyllis,"The Young & the Restless").

"Most shows this year threw their previous supporting nominees into lead," says Branco, noting that the pre-nominee list is dominated by younger actresses.

"But the canvas boasts a lot more of the same usual suspects, so expect the final five vote-getters to be previous winners/nominees once again. I predict a few soaps to show in this category with double nominations, probably two for 'General Hospital,' two for 'Guiding Light,' two for 'Bold & the Beautiful,' two for 'The Young & the Restless' -- or a mix of these."

Ideally, Branco believes that Katherine Kelly Lang (Brooke, "Bold and the Beautiful") should be nominated and win best actress.

Coleridge not only agrees, but pleads for that to happen: "Could Katherine Kelly Lang, who has played Brooke on B&B for the past 20 years, please, please, please get one lousy Emmy nomination? For 20 years, she has played Brooke, a woman who commits terrible sexual sins (she's slept her way through a whole family and then some) while remaining totally sympathetic. Lang deserves to have her work recognized. "

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