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Take 19: Lucci Wins at Last!

TIMES TELEVISION EDITOR

This time the tears were for real, as Susan Lucci, “All My Children’s” villainous Erica Kane, accepted a Daytime Emmy as best actress in a drama series after a record 18 nominations--and 18 losses.

If the moment was bittersweet for the 53-year-old actress, there was no sign of it during Friday night’s 26th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony at New York’s Theater at Madison Square Garden.

The announcement brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation as a smiling, sobbing Lucci said: “Thank you very much. I truly never believed that this would happen.”

Bob Barker, host of “The Price Is Right,” received a lifetime achievement award and in accepting it ended his two-year boycott of the show, upset that one of the major game show awards was given off-camera.

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“I wish I had a refrigerator for every one of you,” said Barker, whose show’s “Come on down!” call to contestants has been a signature of “The Price Is Right” since he joined it as host in 1972.

Barker has been named best game show host a record 10 times. But this year the honor went to a different sort of game show host: the very dry Ben Stein and the very sly Jimmy Kimmel, who co-host Comedy Central’s off-beat and irreverent “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

But it was Lucci’s “will she, won’t she” down-to-the-wire drama that kept audience members on the edge of their seats.

Lucci, who was first cast as the spoiled, beautiful teenager Erica Kane when “All My Children” premiered on ABC-TV in 1970, quickly emerged as one of the most popular soap opera stars. And Erica was the character that fans “loved to hate.”

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In the 29 years since, Erica has wreaked havoc on the fictional town of Pine Valley and, in the best daytime drama tradition, has left dozens of discarded husbands and lovers in her wake.

As the Emmy nominations stacked up along with the losses, Lucci, whose salary has reportedly reached $1 million a year, found herself more often asked about that than her acting.

In 1996, TV Guide predicted an end to her losing streak. It didn’t.

Earlier this week, she told Charlie Gibson during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she had stopped writing acceptance speeches.

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“I haven’t really written a speech in a number of years,” said Lucci, who has remained gracious about the elusive award.

Lucci’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 1981, she was honored by Harvard University as the best actress of the year, and in a 1985 People magazine poll, fans named Lucci best soap opera actress.

While over the years Erica has been charged with murder, staged a helicopter rescue of an imprisoned lover and masqueraded as a nun, it was the story line that had her sitting at her daughter’s hospital bedside that proved the winning difference, though the actress was clearly the sentimental favorite.

Before leaving the stage, Lucci took a moment to promise her fans: “I’m going back to that studio Monday and I’m going to play Erica Kane for all it’s worth.”

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The critically acclaimed “Disney Presents Bill Nye the Science Guy” won its first Emmy for best children’s series, while “The Island on Bird Street” was named best children’s special.

The evening held other emotional moments as Rosie O’Donnell made her tearful thanks for picking up her third Emmy as best talk show host for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” which also won as best talk show.

“I one day hope to move through life with the grace and dignity of that woman--Oprah Winfrey,” said O’Donnell, tears streaming down her face.

Winfrey, who has received seven Emmys in the talk show category, removed her name from consideration after receiving the lifetime achievement award last year.

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The Emmy awards show was telecast by CBS. Winners and their categories were:

Lead actress, drama series: Susan Lucci, “All My Children”

Lead actor, drama series: Anthony Geary, “General Hospital”

Drama series: “General Hospital”

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Talk show host: Rosie O’Donnell

Supporting actress, drama series: Sharon Case, “The Young and the Restless”

Supporting actor, drama series: Stuart Damon, “General Hospital”

Younger actor, drama series: Jonathan Jackson, “General Hospital”

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Younger actress, drama series: Heather Tom, “The Young and the Restless”

Game Show: “Win Ben Stein’s Money”

Children’s animated program: “Arthur”

Performer, animated program: Rob Paulsen, “Steven Spielberg Presents: Pinky and the Brain”

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Children’s series: “Disney Presents Bill Nye the Science Guy”

Drama series writing team: “General Hospital”

Children’s special: “The Island on Bird Street”

Game Show Host: Ben Stein and Jimmy Kimmel, “Win Ben Stein’s Money”

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Drama series directing team: “The Young and the Restless”

Talk Show: “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”


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