The just completed 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards telecast restored daytime’s biggest night of the year with a memorable broadcast that, for the first time in many years, was not slammed by the fans, or the critics.
NATAS (National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) wanted to ensure, that in this pivotal and crucial make or break year for the kudofest, that they put the right team in place to deliver a show that represented the daytime community in a respectful and fun way, and to find the right broadcast partner to bring it back to TV. In the end, Michael Levitt Productions got the production company nod, and Pop would become the logical broadcasting partner.
After all the gold hardware was given out, and with a few moments to breathe after a tireless few months with many twists and turns, just like on your favorite soaps, Daytime Emmy telecast executive producer Michael Levitt sat down with On-Air On-Soaps for an exclusive post-mortem to analyze and give fans insight into the creative decisions behind-the-scenes that shaped the telecast, the overall vision and direction of the 2015 presentation of the Emmys, and what changes had to be made as the ceremonies were being broadcast live.
From Tony Geary (Luke) and Genie Francis (Laura) reuniting on-stage, which would prove to be a precursor for Genie’s return and Tony’s exit from GH, to the DAYS 50th anniversary tribute, to Melissa Rivers paying tribute to her late mother Joan, to Tyra Banks anchoring the show, to Daniel Goddard’s (Cane, Y&R) surprise to one of his biggest fans, to Tessanne Chin’s stirring rendition to “What I Did For Love” during the Love Stories in the Soaps montage, to Betty White’s “Password” Lifetime Achievement Award set-up, and more, Levitt breaks it all down for us. Here’s what we shared!
General Hospital’s Tony Geary (Luke) and Genie Francis (Laura) presented the final award of the night together for Outstanding Drama Series When you booked them for the Emmy telecast, and wanting to have this moment with the two soap icons appearing on stage together, did you have any idea at the time that Genie was returning to GH, and that Tony was leaving?
MICHAEL LEVITT: I did not know that Tony was leaving the show, nor did I have an inkling that Genie was coming back to GH when I thought of having them present on the show. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how timely and relevant it was after the moment happened. I engineered that moment purely on knowing they are so iconic to daytime, and thought it would be really fun to reunite them on the Daytime Emmys and present the last award. I truly had no idea that it would be so timely, but I was really happy to see it was! Tony and Genie were a pleasure to work with and they looked great, and it was a joy to see them back together on the Daytime Emmy stage.
Fan’s reactions were mixed on the choice of the host for the Daytime Emmys in Tyra Banks. Some thought she brought the “Cray Cray” and was fun, other’s thought she was just too much. When all was said and done, do you feel it was the right to hand the hosting duties to Tyra?
MICHAEL LEVITT: I do feel it was a good decision, and Tyra was at the top of my list to host the show. I knew she was coming back to daytime with The FAB Life in the fall, and so I thought the timing was right for her to anchor daytime’s biggest night of the year. I also thought she set the tone for the show to be youthful, fresh, and fun. I think that the daytime community felt really disrespected the last few years during the Daytime Emmys, and my goal was to make the show reverential, but also have fun at the same time. I think we were able to achieve that balance nicely with Tyra at the helm.
At the beginning of the telecast, fans noticed that you showed clips from previous red carpets instead of the red carpet from this year. What was the decision to not include any snippets of the arrivals?
MICHAEL LEVITT: In a perfect world that would have been ideal, and that works really well on a taped and edited broadcasts, but when you are live there is a huge expense shooting the red carpet live, and then turning it around quickly to air at the top of a live show. We just didn’t have the man power, or the finances to achieve that this year, but we still wanted to have a representation of the glitz and glamour of the red carpet at the top of the show.
What were you thinking as you were watching the live show go down? Were there any tense moments for you as EP? The show was running over, so I assume that was one of the major concerns?
MICHAEL LEVITT: The only thing that was really intense was that the show was long on time. Throughout the show, we are being calculated for time by our production team as a running clock as the show is going on. And after the first act we were already 8 minutes long, which is really bad news. So as a producer of a live show you have contingency plans in place to make up for that long time. So for example: for every nominee package you have a shorter version that you can use if the show is running long, and you try hard not to do this, and you also try hard to be judicious when you go to the short packages, because as producers we know the fans want to see the clips. So it’s a real balancing act when everything is happening live, and a lot of tough decisions have to happen on the fly.
Was that also the reason some the bumpers, which included some of the fan favorite voting categories clip packages, were cut?
MICHAEL LEVITT: There were two that we had to cut, and that was simply because of timing, and another thing to let people know – we send out a letter to all the nominees and asked them to keep their acceptance speeches to 45 seconds or less – and I think for the most part people do their best to honor that, but at the end of the day throughout all the excitement by the time they get to the stage, they have a lot of people to thank, and even though they are well-intentioned people, they take longer than the 45 seconds. Ultimately, that impacts the show, because we have to make up that time in other areas.
As a producer, you also had two moments at the end of the show that were extending the broadcast … Shemar Moore going off script and doing his ode to his humble beginning’s on Y&R … and then the tie for Outstanding Drama Series, which meant you had two sets of acceptance speeches that had to be given airtime.
MICHAEL LEVITT: They impacted greatly. As a producer of live event television and award shows, you can only anticipate so much, but ultimately things are going to happen that will impact the show like Shemar Moore, or the tie at the end, which added to the time. But on the flipside of that, what works to our advantage is oddly enough when someone does not show up to accept their award. It is there we gain time back, because we are not watching a 45 second plus acceptance speech.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently? Are you happy with how it played out on stage, and to the audience at home, creatively?
MICHAEL LEVITT: I think that the blueprint we created for this year was very successful, and a huge improvement over the last several years. Again for me, it’s about producing a show that is respectful and reverential, and one that laughs with the daytime community and not at them, and also knowing that there are a lot of award shows out there that are handing out award after award can get monotonous. I think you have to look at every act in the show and to go, “Where are the moments?” Then create fun, irreverent loose moments to be interspersed among the respectful moments, and the award’s acceptances. I think it keeps the show interesting and unique, and that daytime is ripe for fun. There is so much great material, and so much fun programming for us to mine, and we would be remiss to not have that translate in the Daytime Emmys.
You used a Game Show theme throughout the telecast, and that has never been done before.
MICHAEL LEVITT: Right! That is a perfect example of creating fun that is unique and organic to daytime, like the vacuum giveaways to the fans. On any other show that may have seemed odd, but on the Daytime Emmys it felt perfectly appropriate. It was the ultimate homage to these daytime talk shows, who do giveaways on a daily basis.
This was a very emotional Daytime Emmys as well, which included: The DAYS 50th Tribute, the Love Stories package, Freddie Smith’s (Sonny, DAYS) acceptance speech, Melissa Rivers honoring her mother, etc. What were your thoughts on that?
MICHAEL LEVITT: To your point, that is the other ingredient in creating a show, and that is bringing the heart to it. Where are the emotional moments? I think we over-delivered this year, and let’s not forget the tribute to Betty White. Melissa Rivers amazingly heartfelt to her mom leading into the In-Memoriam package was so touching. Those are water cooler moments that people talk about the next day.
Did you talk to Melissa Rivers about her emotions anchoring the In-Memoriam package, and her feelings on remembering her beloved mother this way?
MICHAEL LEVITT: There was a dialog with Melissa prior to the broadcast, and to her credit it was really important for her to participate in the show, because her mother was genuinely grateful to the daytime community for standing by her in her darkest days following the cancellation of her primetime talk show, and of course, following the tragic death of her husband, and Melissa’s father Edgar. So for daytime to embrace her in the early 90’s, and then acknowledge that with an Emmy, was truly a highlight for Joan. Something that was really interesting of note for me to hear was when Melissa acknowledged in her speech that this was the only Emmy her mother ever won in her entire career, which made it even more special.
And the Daytime Emmys did honor Days of our Lives with a clip package, and more for the show’s upcoming 50th milestone.
MICHAEL LEVITT: I thought it was really a nice moment, and one of things that was most important to me was to have the cast take a 50th anniversary celebratory bow to button the segment. It was interesting when Deidre Hall (Marlena, DAYS) came to rehearse, she actually removed that line about the bow, not for any other reason, but she just did not know my motive for including it, which again was to have the emotional button in the segment. Of course, once she knew, Deidre was happy to reinstate it into her script copy, and as subtle a beat as it was, I think it is really nice, because we came out of this amazingly produced clip tribute, and then to come back and see 50 plus cast members representating all eras of Days of our Lives all joining hands and taking that celebratory bow, I thought was really great TV.
And for the first time, the fans who have been such a key part of the success of daytime soap opera were given their due through the “Knock Knock” fan surprise segment.
MICHAEL LEVITT: I could not have been more pleased with the fan surprise “Knock Knock” moment that Daniel Goddard (Cane, Y&R) so beautifully anchored. I honestly give you, Michael Fairman, all the props for that. You were intimately involved in producing that segment and found the right soap star one that would be intimately involved, and really authentically connected to their fans and deliver that surprise with such heart. I think Daniel hit it out of the ballpark. And on top of that, we had to find the right fan, one that was genuinely loyal to daytime to a fault, and one that I think would be a great ambassador for all the fans of daytime. I think the fan that you picked, Sharon Hofreiter, was a perfect ambassador, because you could feel her love of daytime, her love of Y&R, and her love of Daniel Goddard. It was like a pure love, and a joyous love. I think that resonated with all the viewers. I also think Sharon, being a school teacher of under-privileged kids, and someone who works so tirelessly to help others, and then to be rewarded of this moment of Daniel bursting in to her staff meeting, and being at her school and surprising her, not only to tell her that she gets to go to the Daytime Emmys, but that she actually gets to a present an award on stage, was magical!
Through this concept, the telecast was able to make someone live a dream come true, and that has never been done before that I know of on the Daytime Emmys. I know Sharon was so moved by this whole experience from talking with her, being there when she was shocked to see Daniel walk into her classroom, and from messages I received from her afterwards.
MICHAEL LEVITT: The details are so important, and so having her walk out on-stage and finding the right part of the Y&R theme music filled with the strings playing, and having her walk out and wave to the audience was such excitement. This was really a daytime “Cinderella” moment come true. I truly think it was a highlight of this year’s show. One other thing: not only did she get to present, but she got the full VIP treatment! From having a limo pick her up, to walking the red carpet, to us providing hair and make up and a stylist to outfit her. I saw her at all the private After-Party’s, too! She made the rounds, and was on the inside partying with daytime’s biggest stars. I was not only happy that we could deliver for her on-camera, but off camera as well.
How did you come to think of having Tessanne Chin to perform “What I Did For Love” to the Love Stories in the soaps montage?
MICHAEL LEVITT: I had heard a preview of Josh Groban’s Broadway album, and one of the singles is “What I Did For Love” the amazing song from A Chorus Line, and initially I wanted to get Josh to sing it on the Daytime Emmys telecast, but his touring schedule did not allow it. He simply just wasn’t available, but I just couldn’t get that song out of my mind. It just felt so anthemic for daytime, and all of these incredible love stories that we have tracked over the years, and so it came to me to do a tribute to the love stories of daytime dramas through the years, and to find somebody else who could deliver that song in a way that would really connect with the viewers. I had remembered Tessanne Chin from watching her on The Voice, and being blown away by her vocal chops. This is a person who has Whitney Houston level singing ability, and so I thought she would be a great choice. I reached out and she was excited to be a part of it. For me, it was less about the name value and more about the right voice to service the moment. I think Tessanne hit it out of the ballpark.
It was very cool that while the clip package was playing, you could hear different sections of the audience clapping for their cast mates who were featured in them, and that team spirit we have come to love from the daytime soaps at the Emmys.
MICHAEL LEVITT: It did! I think that was the one moment in the show, and in that tribute, where we brought together all the soaps in one presentation. It was great to see that camaraderie and the celebratory cheers from the different sections, and I think there were people from soaps cheering on defining moments from other soaps, because they genuinely respected the work that their fellow soap actors and producers were doing.
So when all was said and done, with all these moments in the show, what was your favorite?
MICHAEL LEVITT: This is a good problem to have, because I have to say there were so many signature ones. But I have to say the “Knock Knock” fan surprise with Daniel Goddard, and the Password Tribute to Betty White, which was really a unique way to honor a Lifetime Achievement Awards recipient. I think Charo brought a camp and a level of fun that notched it up a few level. I think seeing Betty White trying to decipher what Charo was saying in broken English, and then getting up on stage and then doing “Couchi Couchi” with Charo was really sweet. I think the Tessanne “What I did for Love” moment with the love stories in the soaps package, and then Melissa Rivers introduction of Babyface singing his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon” for the In-Memoriam package was a highlight, too. I also really loved when Steve Harvey came out at the end of the broadcast and interrupted Tyra Banks as she was saying “goodnight” and asked her to answer one final Family Feud question which was: “We polled 100 people in our Daytime Emmy audience and asked them: What was the best way to close the Daytime Emmys?” Next, Tyra hits the buzzer and says, “Confetti” and then that cued the confetti to come down on the audience. I think that was another reminder that this show was not just a monotonous show of boring patter, and award after award, but chocked full of wonderful moments that people will look back on fondly, and remember as a great homage to daytime.
How was Pop to work with as the broadcaster who aired the show so the Daytime Emmys could return to TV?
MICHAEL LEVITT: Pop was a great partner, and I will tell you why. They did not micro-manage the process. They trusted in myself and my team, and the academy, to deliver the best show possible and make creative decisions that were in the best interests of doing justice to daytime television, and celebrating the industry and that is very rare these days. Typically, networks will micro-manage the process, but Pop really believed in us, and for that I am very grateful.
What feedback have you gotten from NATAS and Pop? Do you get the sense that they would want you to produce the Daytime Emmys next year?
MICHAEL LEVITT: Yeah, I mean, nothing is official, but I know both entities were incredibly pleased and proud of the show, and would be excited to see what we can do next year, and how we can make the show even better.
Finally, since we started the conversation about Tony Geary, we will end with Tony Geary as a nice button. What did you think of this legend winning his 8th Daytime Emmy during your show, which now comes to mean so much with his upcoming departure? It is quite the moment, especially if Tony decides not to submit himself next year.
MICHAEL LEVITT: I think it’s not surprising he won. I think it’s a fitting testament to him as an actor, and how beloved he is by the fans. And honestly, now knowing that he was leaving, I think it was wonderful to see him win this year as that final sort of acknowledgement and gratitude, and also acknowledgement of his work over the last 37 years of what he gave to that character, and what he gave to General Hospital, and the genre.
So, what do you think about Michael Levitt’s thoughts and comments on how he constructed and thought-out this year’s Daytime Emmy Awards telecast? What was your favorite moment in the broadast? What did you think about his remarks on: Tony Geary and Genie Francis? Tyra Banks? The DAYS Tribute? Daniel Goddard’s fan surprise? Betty White? Melissa Rivers and more? Do you think Michael successfully brought back the respect due to the daytime community? Comment below!