Nominees

Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman of "Guiding Light" are both nominated for Daytime Emmys. (Arthur Cohen / CBS)

If Kim Zimmer wins best actress at the Daytime Emmys, it won't be because she gave the best performance on TV over the last year. Rather, it'll be because judges fell for what she did in two episodes of "Guiding Light" before her character tumbled down an elevator shaft. Zimmer is in a close race with "The Bold and the Beautiful" star Susan Flannery, who's gambling that judges will appreciate seeing her character, Stephanie, egg on her nemesis, Brooke, to kill herself.

"Go on! Do it!" Flannery purred with sinister delight, passing her foe a pistol in one of the episodes she entered for Emmy evaluation. "You've been meaning to do this for years! I bought two bullets in case you miss the first time."

This year the episodes submitted in the lead actor and actress races are packed with high-caliber performances and big risks taken by major stars when choosing two samples of their best work to give judges to watch. Three of the five lead actress nominees wave guns in their episodes: Flannery plus Kelly Monaco of "General Hospital" and Beth Ehlers of "Guiding Light." One best actor rival does too — Ron Raines on "Guiding Light," screaming, "I did not kill my son!" Maurice Benard blames himself for turning his son into a killer on "General Hospital," daring to show Emmy voters a vulnerable, compassionate side to a mobster whom soap fans love to hate.

But it's the father-son story line submitted by Anthony Geary — the legendary Luke on "General Hospital" — that most experts believe has the best chance to result in a win. Hovering over his comatose son in the hospital, Geary cries, gets drunk, sings to the boy and ultimately unplugs his respirator as he shakes him, shouting, "Breathe! Breathe!"

Unlike the organizers of other major entertainment awards, like the Oscars and the Grammys, the Emmy chiefs believe that there's too much TV to expect voters to have seen everything, so nominees must pick samples of their work. Choosing just the right episodes is key. Ask Susan Lucci, who lost 18 times before she finally gave judges what they needed to end the humiliating losing streak of daytime's biggest star.

Experts believe three elements are crucial to a winning submission: Actors must demonstrate a broad emotional range, impact (at least one pow money scene) and story lines that portray them sympathetically. Thus Benard's mobster-with-a-heart entry may have been a wise one.

Another shrewd submission this year: Flannery's episodes were "stellar," according to Daniel R. Coleridge, senior editor of TVGuide.com, who adds, roaring, "What range! Madness, betrayal, fury, loving tenderness, hilarious wit — she does it all with gusto."

However, Nelson Branco of In Touch Weekly and Canada's Weekly Scoop picks Zimmer to win, calling her episodes about menopause and how a mature woman copes with lingering sexual desire "phenomenal."

Ehlers of "Guiding Light" submitted "a very good reel," but it may have been too "big" and "over the top," says Mimi Torchin, columnist for Soap Opera Weekly and Soapnet.com. However, Torchin "really, really loved" the scene in which Ehlers' character bids goodbye to family and friends before going off to jail.

Torchin also likes the episodes submitted by "General Hospital" star Monaco, who hosts the Emmy-cast with Tom Bergeron, but she worries, like many other pundits, that Monaco sometimes comes off as a supporting player upstaged by costar Steve Burton.

A strategic mistake may have been made by "All My Children's" Bobbie Eakes, who chose two consecutive comedic episodes in which she spars teasingly with her husband.

"There's not enough range," Torchin says.

At least Eakes didn't make the worst mistake of all, which occurs rarely but popped up this year.

Branco insists that Robert Newman of "Guiding Light" gave a better performance on the episodes submitted by costar Zimmer for the actress' race than the reels he chose for best actor.

"Egads!" cries Branco. "I was shocked!"