It was a glitzy evening of beginnings, endings and anniversaries Sunday as the 36th annual Daytime Emmys honored television's finest pre-prime-time programming while saying hello to a new home and farewell to an old friend.
Held at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, the ceremony handed out 17 awards during a two-hour telecast on the CW, marking the first time the program wasn't seen on one of the leading networks. The telecast also welcomed a first-time host, Vanessa Williams, a nominee for her voice-over work on the PBS show "Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies."
The star of prime time's "Ugly Betty" opened the show in a sleek white gown and danced and sang her way through a parody set to "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" (used in the musical "Jersey Boys") as her image was digitally inserted into scenes from daytime programming.
One of the evening's highlights came with a tribute to "Guiding Light," whose final episode will air on CBS on Sept. 18 after a 72-year run that began on radio. Thirty-five members of the cast and producers who crowded the stage for the honor were introduced by Betty White.
The longest-running drama in television history earned one of its final trophies Sunday as Jeff Branson, who plays Shayne Lewis on the serial drama, tied for supporting actor with Vincent Irizarry of ABC's "All My Children." Irizarry also made his soap debut on "Guiding Light" in the early 1980s.
Soap operas once dominated weekday afternoon programming, but after "Guiding Light" ends, there will be only eight soaps left on the major networks.
"I have been watching 'Guiding Light' since it first went on the air in 1776," White quipped. "Well, I was actually only 3 in 1776, so I didn't start watching till 1789. . . . I am a huge fan. But as the saying goes, 'All good things must come to an end.' "
Like all awards programming, the Daytime Emmys telecast continues to battle declining viewership. Last year's show on ABC garnered 5.38 million viewers, down about 35% from 2007's 8.33 million viewers for CBS.
"I love daytime television," catwalk maven Tyra Banks said when accepting her show's win in the informative talk show category. "I learned the birds and the bees from watching ['General Hospital' characters] Luke and Laura. I learned my ABCs, 1-2-3 from 'Sesame Street.' This [Emmy] is for the women out there that do not feel beautiful . . . that do not have time to do their makeup. . . . This is for you guys."
Banks anchored a fashion show segment featuring couples from all the soaps saluting the "daytime's finest fashions." Daytime leading lady Susan Lucci donned a strapless gold number, twirling and posing during the segment.
But the razzle-dazzle affair turned somber as Lucci strolled off the makeshift photo shoot to introduce the "Daytime Gives Back" segment. It featured footage of a visit to Africa by Lucci, Montel Williams, Anthony Geary and Kelly Monaco a month ago with Feed the Children, a nonprofit that supports children in Kenya's slums.
The evening also celebrated the upcoming 40th anniversary of "Sesame Street" by honoring the groundbreaking children's program, which has 118 Emmys. Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster and others took the stage as Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") presented the show with the lifetime achievement award.
"It's not only a great honor, but it's delicious," Cookie Monster said. "Wow, that tastes even better than Latin Grammy."
Meanwhile, ABC's "The View" may have been snubbed in the talk show-entertainment category, but the five outspoken panelists beat out Rachael Ray, Ellen DeGeneres and "Live With Regis and Kelly" co-hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa for best talk show host.
The evening ended with another first: The CBS soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" won drama series honors for the first time in its 22 years.