The stars of television's 11 daytime soaps gathered Jan. 10 in Beverly Hills for one of their favorite pastimes collecting trophies. And while the eighth annual Soap Opera Digest Awards offered prizes by the bushel (there was even a statuette for the best death scene), the consensus was that these days, soaps are a lot more exciting off camera than on. It has been an unusually jittery winter in the world of daytime TV, where money, tempers, and careers are short and only gossip is in plentiful supply. Here are some of the awards they didn't hand out-but should have:
Best Fight Scene
A recent on-set brawl between two stars of the CBS soap The Young and the Restless, Eric Braeden and Peter Bergman, resulted in bruised faces, wounded egos, and temporary suspensions for both actors. Actually the Braeden-Bergman bout might better have been billed as the young versus the restless; some say veteran Braeden, who plays Victor Newman, has been put out by the prominence of Emmy winner Bergman, who plays Jack Abbott. ''It wasn't the best way to resolve their differences,'' says one of their costars on the top-rated soap. ''But they met during the hiatus to smooth things over. We've been told not to discuss it, but I hope it's over.''
After seven years, NBC's Santa Barbara, long on the verge of cancellation, is hanging by the thinnest of threads. The series, which draws only about 10 percent of available viewers, is ''struggling,'' says NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. ''We hope that it can continue, but we can't live on hopes.'' The network, however, may have an ace in the hole it doesn't know about: 1989 Emmy winner Marcy Walker, who left the show last year to star in CBS' prime-time fast flop Palace Guard. ''I'd consider going back,'' says Walker, whose prizewinning drop-from-a-cliff death scene might make that difficult. ''But to be honest, no one has asked me.''
Best Career Move
Next July, Deidre Hall will become the first actress ever to have a daytime soap built around her when she leaves NBC's long-running Days of Our Lives to star in an untitled spin-off that takes her character, psychiatrist Marlena Brady, to New York or Chicago. (That scotches a long-planned West Coast spin- off, which was to be called Pacific Lives.) Hall will also coproduce her new show.
Most Dramatic Exit
After 15 bumptious months in a second go-round as executive producer of ABC's General Hospital, Gloria Monty is out and Wendy Riche, a onetime Fox programming executive, has been hired to replace her. Monty pink-slipped much of the population of Port Charles during her tenure, but she may have lost one star too many when she abruptly replaced Finola Hughes, last year's Emmy- winning best actress, in December. Hughes' crime: She took time off to star in ABC's prime-time spring replacement, Jack's Place. With wan ratings and lurching plot lines, General Hospital ''is in a fragile place right now,'' says Hughes. ''Just when everybody knows their role, they make a change. It's tough.'' Ironically, GH will attempt to bolster its audience with Monty's final hiring coup the return of Emma Samms, whose character, Holly Scorpio, will make a remarkable but not atypical recovery from a fatal 1985 plane crash.