Why can’t ‘One Life to Live’ win top Daytime Emmy again?

Debuting in 1968, “One Life to Live” is now one of the longest-running soaps currently on the air, pre-dated by only “General Hospital” (1963) and “Days of Our Lives” (1965). Over the years, this groundbreaking drama has featured top-notch talent as it shed lights on serious issues such as race relations, sexual identity, mental health issues and class struggles.  

Despite its stellar reputation, “OLTL” has managed only a measly five nominations for Best Drama Series. By the time of the first Daytime Emmys in 1974, “OLTL” was well-established, ranking seventh among the 17 soaps. However, it had to wait until 1983 for its first bid, which it lost to “The Young & the Restless.” And it wasn’t until 2000 that “OLTL” merited another nomination, losing that time to “General Hospital.”

In 2002, “OLTL” won its only trophy for top daytime drama. However, that victory was bittersweet as more than half of the cast wasn’t even present to accept the award. The top tier of talent boycotted the ceremony to protest their sweeping snub by the TV academy. “OLTL” was nominated again in 2007 and 2008, losing to “Guiding Light” and “General Hospital” respectively.

In stark contrast to the other series of the era, “OLTL” was set in an urban environment and featured a diverse group of characters who reflected the real world. Creator Agnes Nixon (photo, left) wanted the show to offer an alternative to the other daytime dramas which were set in small towns and were peopled by upper class folk with few real problems.

The early years of “OLTL” included daytime’s first Jewish family — the Siegels — and highlighted the differences between the upper class Lord clan and the working class Woleks. It featured one of the first interracial romances on daytime television as Carla Gray, a black woman passing herself off as white, dated  Dr. Jim Craig. That storyline was so controversial that many ABC stations across the country refused to air it.  

One of the on-going plot points has focused on Dissasocative Identity Disorder. Victoria Lord, a role created by Gillian Spencer and now played by six-time Emmy champ Erika Slezak (1984, 1986, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2005) suffers from multiple personalities. Nikki Smith, her first and most popular “alter,” is a vast departure from the always-respectable Victoria. Nikki is a wild child who likes to have a good time and often got Viki mixed up in trouble.

In 1994, “OLTL” won three of the six performer prizes — Best Actress (Hillary B. Smith) Supporting Actress (Susan Haskell) and Younger Actor (Roger Howarth) as well as Best Writing but wasn’t even nominated for Drama Series. That was won by “All My Children,” which was also created by Nixon who has said that remains the favorite of all her shows.

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