Catherine Hickland by Donna Svennevik/ABC; Melody Thomas Scott courtesy CBS; Jon Hensley courtesy CBS
Best Soap: One Life to Live
It started the year utterly crappy thanks to head writer Dena Higley, but after Erika Slezak (our hero!) royally blasted Higley on the Web, ABC fired the scribe and promoted wonder boy Ron Carlivati. Like magic, the show instantly regained its heart, its thrills, its smarts. The cast is a dream, especially Slezak, whose Viki found heaven in a Texas diner, Catherine Hickland as crazy (or is she?) Lindsay and Tuc Watkins as that gold-digging man-whore David. Once again, we're loving Life!

Best Actress: The Young and the Restless' Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki)
As the distraught mama faced with divorce and a comatose daughter, she pulled out all the stops, then pulled out a few more we never knew existed. This was deep, blistering work. Plus the lady gets extra points for acting sans makeup on high-def TV!

Best Actor: As the World Turns' Jon Hensley (Holden)
His quiet, no-baloney performance was a relief in a year of so much male showboating. Whether playing Holden's tender relationship with his gay son or his righteous anger toward his cheating wife, Hensley felt no need to dazzle us. He simply opened up his soul.

Best Supporting Actress: General Hospital's Carolyn Hennesy (Diane)
Her turn as a mafia lawyer was a savage, bitchy hoot, though there'll be no Emmy love here - her category is inevitably hogged by leading ladies afraid to compete as best actress. But make no mistake: This is the supporting performance of the year.

Best Supporting Actor: GH: Night Shift's Graham Shiels (Cody)
He took a role that is already a cliché - the stressed-out, dope-addicted Iraq War vet - and infused it with great decency and humanity. But what was this transcendent actor doing on a third-rate soap spin-off? He should be a major movie star.

Star of the Year: Guiding Light's Caitlin Van Zandt (Ashlee)
Sweet, touching, funny and not a size 2, she's the most exciting young thing to hit soaps since... well, maybe ever. Van Zandt's character, a love-struck teen warped by her glam monster mommy, is more than a revelation - she's proof soaps have been doing it wrong for years. We don't want to see plastic, runway-gorgeous kids. We want to see real ones.

More Performances I Loved
Martha Byrne's sad, mesmerizing turn as the pill-popping Lily on ATWT.... Ted Shackelford, back from the dead as William's slimy twin Jeffrey on Y&R.... The indescribably delicious Orlagh Cassidy as GL's mommie dearest Doris.... Hill Street Blues vet Bruce Weitz as GH's crackpot mobster Anthony Zacchara. Ditto GH's Kirsten Storms, whose Maxie gave the eulogy from hell at her sister's funeral. Scorching!

Death also brought out the best in Martha Madison as Days of Our Lives' Belle. (Sorry, Deidre Hall, but it was Madison who stole the show when John Black was "killed" in a hit-and- run.) And though we didn't need further proof that Days sucks the talent out of pretty much everybody, we got it anyway: Two Salem escapees soared in new soap roles - Austin Peck as ATWT's goofy, high-octane Brad, and Farah Fath as OLTL's Gigi, a waitress with a hidden past - proving they do have the chops after all.

Best Episode
GL's 70th-anniversary hour, a loving, cockle-warming tribute to the show's legendary creator Irna Phillips, the mother of all soap scribes. The cast had a ball turning back the clock and playing their predecessors on radio and the early days of TV, but it was Beth Ehlers (Harley) as the fire-and-ice Phillips who had me genuflecting. A glorious performance.

Best Plots
The revelation that David is Asa's secret son on OLTL.... Demon seed Will's reign of terror on GL (casting that creepy little kid from The Omen was a stroke of brilliance!).... The "Who Shot Stephanie?" story on The Bold and the Beautiful - crafty, exciting, campy and, best of all, the culprit turned out to be an important character, not just some disposable day player.... I also must give props to the bold, historic love story between gay teens Luke and Noah on ATWT. Yes, even though the writing went horribly awry when Luke was shot in the forest by Noah's queer-hating dad. And, yes, despite the fact that the show clearly lost its nerve as the year went on, witness that Christmas kiss between the boys where the camera panned away just before lip contact and lingered on the mistletoe instead. Hey, Procter & Gamble, what's up with that?

Coming up in the next issue of TV Guide magazine: the worst daytime had to offer this past year, including death-by-pancakes, Days' most-questionable plot twist and the soap moment that out-grossed all others.