"This is so bittersweet," Branson said backstage.
He tied with Vincent Irizarry of ABC's "All My Children," who got his soap start on "Guiding Light" in the early 1980s.
"I have such affection for that show. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of television history," Irizarry said backstage. "What other medium is producing product that lasts 72 years? It has entertained not only generations, but employed generations of people."
Singing, dancing, comedy and a touch of pathos set against the glitzy backdrop of a historic theatre were part of the 36th annual Daytime Emmys in an attempt to lure an eroding audience for award shows.
Sunday's broadcast relocated to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, leaving its recent home at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Opened in 1926, the venue has hosted everyone from Judy Garland and Jack Benny to Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder.
Honoring everything from soaps to talk shows to game shows, it's the first time the awards weren't on one of the major three networks. They had alternated between ABC and CBS the last four years.
Host Vanessa Williams' singing and dancing chops were on display in the show's opening number, a parody set to "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" from the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" in which she was comically inserted into scenes from the soaps and game shows.
Later, she sang and danced with "Dancing With the Stars" runner-up Gilles Marini.
The Daytime Emmys paid tribute to "Guiding Light," which CBS canceled after a 72-year run that predates television. The low-rated soap will air its final episode in September, leaving just eight daytime dramas on the air. CBS and ABC will have three weekday soaps, with NBC having one.
That lone show, "Days of Our Lives," scored two trophies.
Tamara Braun earned supporting actress honors, the show's first victory in the category in 23 years. Darin Brooks gave the show just its second win in 21 years in the younger actor category. He used an expletive in his acceptance speech that was bleeped on the telecast.
"I'm so happy to have this for them," Braun said backstage. "I wasn't there that long and they opened their hearts to me."
Betty White introduced the "Guiding Light" tribute, with more than 30 past and present "Guiding Light" actors participating and earning a standing ovation.
"I've been watching `Guiding Light' ever since it went on the air in 1776," the 87-year-old TV icon said jokingly.
Rachael Ray and Tyra Banks repeated as winners of the entertainment and informative talk show trophies, respectively. The ladies of "The View" ended Ellen DeGeneres' four-year run as talk show host winner. Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sherri Shepherd and Barbara Walters weren't on hand to accept.
Neither was game show host winner Meredith Vieira of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."
"Good Morning America" earned morning program honors for the third time in as many years since the category was introduced.
The lifetime achievement award went to PBS' "Sesame Street" for 40 years of educating and entertaining children. Sandra Oh helped salute the show, joined by Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster, who sang its famous theme song and earned a standing ovation.
Kevin Clash, who portrays Elmo, won for performer in a children's series.
A "Daytime Gives Back" segment featured a visit to Kenya by Lucci, Anthony Geary, Kelly Monaco and Montel Williams.
Lucci was also seen in a runway photo shoot, with actors modeling outfits from their shows.