13 losses leave fans saying 'I love Lucci'

June 25, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

She's had eight marriages to six different men. She's been kidnapped, survived a plane crash, stared down a grizzly bear, posed as a nun, driven a race car and attempted a helicopter rescue of one of her lovers from prison.

But Susan Lucci wasn't talking to reporters yesterday in the wake of her 13th nomination-without-a-win at the Daytime Emmys Tuesday night.

"Every year, the morning after, we get about 600 calls to talk to her, asking why she didn't win," said Karen Reynolds, an ABC spokeswoman. "She's definitely not available. The feeling is that today is a day for those who won to bask in the sun or something."

It's the fictional Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler Montgomery Montgomery, of course, who has had all the marriages and adventures listed above -- not Lucci. But Lucci plays Erica. She's played her since Day 1 of ABC's "All My Children" in 1970, as Erica has grown from troubled teen to international beauty, with stops as high-fashion model, philanthropist and magazine publisher along the way. She's played her so well that she's been nominated 13 times for an Emmy as best actress, and TV Guide calls her Erica "unequivocally the most famous soap opera character in the history of daytime TV."

But Lucci never wins. Why?

I'm going to spare you any tap dancing around the answer: Nobody knows why Lucci doesn't win.

I talked to all kinds of people yesterday about Lucci's loss. I even called the National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences demanding to know just who these folks are who make up the so-called "blue ribbon panel of experts" who pick the best actress after five are nominated by their peers.

Dick Thrall, the national awards chairman for the academy, said he's been getting plenty of calls the past few years in connection with Lucci's no-wins, and explained the process.

Here's the way it works. First, all the actresses working in daytime TV who are academy members vote on best actress. The top five vote-getters are the nominees. Then, each of the nominees submits a tape of her work.

The second phase involves two blue-ribbon panels of actresses who work in daytime TV being assembled by the academy -- one in California and one in New York. Each panel has about 10 members. The members view the videotapes, but cannot discuss them.

After viewing them, they mark a ballot. The ballots are sent to a certified public accountant who counts them.

"When they get in a quiet screening room with five videotapes, who knows what's in their minds," Thrall said. But he believes with the turnover in committee members, it would be impossible for the process to be somehow stacked against Lucci year after year for 13 years. I couldn't find anyone willing to say on the record that they thought there was some kind of conspiracy against Lucci.

But, maybe, why Lucci loses is not what matters. Maybe what matters is that lots of people seem to care about Lucci's losing. Maybe the better question is why do people care about Lucci.

I'm going to spare you the phony instant analysis. The reasons fans care about Lucci are as complicated, profound and varied as the reasons soap opera remains one of the most enduring TV genres in a time when technology and taste are daily decimating other forms of programming that have, also, been around for decades.

But start with iconoclasm -- tearing down the mighty -- a need near the center of what's called the American experience. And, then, think about the way private lives and public roles tend to blur in our minds from time to time. ABC bills Erica as "the dazzling femme fatale . . . the woman you love to hate." There's something elementary and satisfying in the kind of melodrama that brings such characters down, serves them up their just desserts.

There was satisfaction yesterday, too, in the buzz about the standing ovation Lucci received Tuesday night after returning to the podium as co-host following the announcement that Erika Slezak of "One Life to Live" won. Wiping tears from her eyes, Lucci said, "Thank you. Thank you. I couldn't begin to tell you how much that meant to me. I must tell you I vote for Erika Slezak every year. She's a brilliant actress."

Erica brought down and no longer above the fray. Erica on the humble. Erica as one of us. Does it matter whether it was sincere or not?

"Funny, intelligent and moving, this was Lucci's best performance of the evening," one review of the show said. "She's no dummy. She knows that losing the Emmy 13 times is a lot better for her career than winning it once would be."

Maybe it is that simple.

"Why doesn't Lucci win? No one really knows," said Bob Blake, an official with the TV academy. "But maybe she doesn't want to win. Every time she loses, she gets a million dollars' worth of free publicity in stories like this."

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