Welcome to the archives

Hi there!

You may be checking out this site for the first time as a reader of Survival of the Soap Opera. I blogged about soaps for several years and am a contributing writer to that book of essays.

Because my blog primarily focused on the P&G soaps – As The World Turns and Guiding Light – I concluded this blog back in September of 2010. There simply wasn’t enough content to continue on a regular basis.

But please take a look at the archives, which reach back to 2008. You can also see some of my soap-related work on the Marlena DeLacroix Web site.

And for my non-soap writing, you can check out my blog Elegy and Irony, or my profile on the writers’ social media community Red Room.

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Outro

There are six remaining serials on the air. I wish them all the success in the world, but I have to admit: None of them are “my” shows.

I will never be an everyday viewer of a network serial again. No offense to the remaining shows, but though I’ve watched them all and may catch them again in the future, none have ever spoken to me as these shows did. And none are consistent enough today with the kinds of stories I’d need to see to form a habit.

Serials are, sadly, still the bastard child in the narrative world. Put a bunch of male characters in a serialized story, give them costumes and supernatural powers, and you have a comic book. Those stories will be praised as realistic and as capturing the essence of man. A huge chunk of the movie business, and nearly every director, will want to make a movie in that vein, and billions of dollars in tickets will sell.

Put a mixture of characters in a story with emotion and heart and small moments and you’re labeled, at best, as programming for women. At worst, those programs are dismissed as insignificant and trifling. You will be relegated to specific cable channels and a few hours here and there on the networks.

And after decades of criticism, one by one, those shows will stop doing what they did best. Slowly, our onscreen shows continue to evolve into action-adventure hybrids.

That’s that.

*

*

I don’t have anything else to say, so this is it, folks. I made a big fuss when I took a hiatus before, having been overwhelmed with writing about the death of Guiding Light. No fuss this time. This is the last post. Thanks so much for reading.

You may see me pop up on other blogs in the comments, or as a guest blogger. And there are a few projects Web soap Web soap Web soap that I’m interested in pursuing.

A hat tip and a wave to everyone who came, who read my posts, who commented.

As the earth turns, we know the bleakness of winter, the promise of spring, the fullness of summer, and the harvest of autumn. As the earth turns the cycle of life is completed. But as long as there is a springtime and a harvest, as long as the earth turns, nothing is futile.

EDITED TO ADD: Please don’t forget to buy The Survival of Soap Opera. There are a lot of collective voices from the soap community in those essays. You can read more about it here.

My other blogs:

Elegy and Irony

Red Room blog

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An analysis

There isn’t anything else I can say about the air shows of As The World Turns, or of Guiding Light. All of my comments about the creative aspects of the shows have been said.

Dozens of writers (including me) have tried to offer reasons for the cancellation of ATWT (and of GL). We’ve attributed it to the loss of a certain actor here, or a particular story there. And though all of those things contribute to the death of a show like these shows, they are hardly the only reasons.

Connie Passalacqua (aka Marlena Delacroix) said something last year at GL‘s end that I thought summed it all up perfectly: In the case of these shows, it was death by a thousand cuts.

Like his GL counterpart Ellen Wheeler, ATWT producer Christopher Goutman is the focus of much of the discussion in the soap blogosphere. He has his supporters, who have lauded him for keeping the show looking great on a small budget and keeping it contemporary.

But Goutman has also endured a tsunami of criticism. The finest piece of analysis and writing about Goutman, and his reign at ATWT, is from Lynn Liccardo. You can read it here (and I recommend reading her other essays re: ATWT).

There isn’t much I can find to disagree with in Lynn’s essay. But I think there’s more to the story.

These shows, these remaining P&G shows? Have been dying a slow death for about seventeen years.

Last year, I talked about GL and noted that there was a really notable shift in network support around 1993 – seventeen years ago.

It seemed to be a dramatic shift. Just a year before, the show had celebrated 40 years on television (and 55 in total) with a nighttime special. Nancy Curlee and Stephen Demorest had led the show into a grand heyday.

A year later, GL was relegated in many markets, including the CBS owned and operated stations, to a morning timeslot.

ATWT suffered a big loss in 1993, as well – Douglas Marland’s death – and I suspect that the show’s network support (it had, after all, been number 1 for 20 years) started to erode.

It started to cut veterans’ screen time and salaries, and went through a bumpy few years in the 90s.

It did regain footing during Goutman’s initial years as EP, with Hogan Sheffer as head writer. I may not have always loved the focus of the show, but it was still a recognizable Oakdale.

Then 2004 came, and two things happened that I think had a huge impact on the show.

Hogan Sheffer departed as writer under incredibly mysterious circumstances. And more importantly, P&G eliminated its Executive in Charge of Production position, from which it had overseen production of its shows for years.

I think that change had an impact on Ellen Wheeler (who came on board as it was happening) and to Goutman. They were now not just the producers but also had to step in and absorb some of what that executive position had done.

(For those keeping track on the scorecard at home: The last Executive in Charge of Production was Mary Alice-Dwyer Dobbin, and despite many of us loathing various aspects of the shows during her reign…..yes, I am actually arguing that the shows were stronger when she oversaw them.)

I think it explains a lot about why Goutman-era ATWT from 2000 to 2004-2005ish was SO different (and so much more successful) than part II of the Goutman-era.

We also have to remember that the financial cuts really got bloody in 2005. This was when GL actors were asked to take an across-the-board 15% pay cut.

I keep going back to these thoughts when I hear things like, “But this story happened under XYZ’s watch! He/she is responsible! They are ultimately the producer!”

I remember being on the P&G message boards years ago. Alina Adams, who has written several of the P&G related books, was a moderator. After a particularly brutal exchange on why X or Y story hadn’t happened, or hadn’t gone the way it should, Alina explained the chain of approval needed to get on the air.

It was a dizzying list of names, and writers and producers were hardly factored into the algorithm. Network heads, affiliates, advertisers, P&G, CBS – they all had a say in the storytelling, much more than they’d ever had before.

It seemed like Goutman had lost energy and enthusiasm in his role in the last few years. I said as much back in June 2009 in this post. But considering all of this, it would be more surprising if he hadn’t.

Both Goutman and Wheeler probably had to deal with the more prickly HR-type aspects of hiring, firing and renegotiating – something they weren’t experts at doing, and which may explain some of the more sloppy transitions on or off the canvas.

It’s an unpopular position, but I still have a lot of respect for Ellen Wheeler and her energy and love for the show. I think GL waited far too long before it found a writer (Jill Lorie Hurst) that knew how to write for the show, and I suspect CBS had already made up its mind by then.

Wheeler appears to have fought the various entities as hard as she could. She scored an early victory in convincing someone, somewhere that Roger Thorpe should die and be buried on screen. Which tells you how stupid someone, somewhere was in thinking that wasn’t necessary. A brilliant episode came out of that (followed, unfortunately by the Sebastian story, which was probably what Wheeler had to agree to for that story to air).

I really want to be understanding and fair about ATWT and Goutman within this context, and I’m sure Goutman fought for the show and was as much of a warrior as he could be in its last years.

There are, however, aspects of his tenure that makes it a challenge to do that. One is the Hogan Sheffer mystery. Sheffer is happily back in daytime at The Young and the Restless, and he also worked briefly at Days of our Lives. One wonders what, or who, the issue was when Sheffer departed from that highly successful collaboration.

But more than anything, I still don’t understand the whole Martha Byrne issue. And I think Byrne’s controversial departure not only affected the show, but is a perfect example of what I perceive was Goutman’s biggest liability at the end: inflexibility.

Perhaps we don’t know how hard he fought, or what he did or didn’t do. But it didn’t make sense from the peanut gallery to not capitalize on the obvious resource that was Luke and Noah.

And it seemed insane that Byrne was fired. Martha Byrne, who had been the biggest cheerleader for the show for years. Martha Byrne, who had been a huge part of Goutman’s success with the Lily/Rose story.

Martha Byrne, who just a year before had willingly taken a huge paycut. THAT was the person he fired.

But no one person, one story, can really kill a show.

In retrospect, when Dwyer-Dobbin left in 2004 and P&G eliminated that position, that should have been a big sign to fans: HEY, WE’RE DISMANTLING YOUR SHOWS. WE’LL SQUEEZE AS MUCH AS WE CAN OUT OF THEM, AND THEN THEY’RE DONE.

P&G has a brand with hundreds of characters, and they have held them for SO long with an iron fist, to the point that they are no longer attractive to other channels or venues. (It made so much sense to me that Hallmark or We would want to make TV movies featuring some of these characters – or that a romance novel could be written about them!)

Telenext, the company that was producing the shows for P&G, has ran from these two shows as if they were on fire. There was this lovely news that the PGP Classic Soaps channel on YouTube will disappear next month.

And of course, the Chen Broadcasting System (CBS) will undoubtedly be purging ATWT content from its website soon, too.

Henderson.

Monticello.

Somerset.

Bay City.

Springfield.

Oakdale.

Portfolios to the sponsor, cash cows for the networks. But real places for viewers. And now, only a memory.

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As the era ends

The end of As The World Turns also represents (as many of us have mentioned) the end of the P&G soaps.

I’m also looking at it as the end of traditional soap opera. Despite the dramatic changes to ATWT and Guiding Light in their last years, they were still by and large traditional soap operas in the same vein that P&G had been producing for decades.

Many people have compared the end of ATWT and the end of GL. They both took two different pathways at the end of their lives.

Both were affected by budget cuts. GL decided to implement the much-discussed new production model, while ATWT shifted to a variation of the telenovela or “chapter” storytelling, minimizing the number of actors and sets used in a given period and thereby making cheaper episodes.

For many who wrote about the end of both shows, ATWT has been reviewed far more favorably than GL.

I ultimately found a level of satisfaction as both ended, but I am not sure I’d place ATWT leap years and miles in front of GL’s ending.

It’s true that GL’s last day seemed very disjointed, as if treading water for its final Josh/Reva scene. And there was the fuckery (I’m sorry, but there’s no other word) of the Jeffrey/Edmund story.

But I thought that the final months of GL – and especially those final weeks - beautifully captured characters as I knew and remembered them. THAT was the show I’d started watching almost thirty years before. (This was, I suspect, largely due to the positive influence of Jill Lorie Hurst, who understood who these people were and knew how to write for them.)

I thought ATWT’s final episode was beautiful – I heard it described perfectly online as something simple and heartfelt. But I don’t think the last six months of ATWT moved and involved me as much as the end of GL did.

There were some wonderful moments – the Barbara/Henry story and the resolution of the whole Stenbeck legacy, Kim fighting to keep Chris safe, the Kim and Bob anniversary, Nancy’s funeral, any part of the Reid story.

And I understand the show wanted to remain contemporary to the end. I respect that choice, but I felt that some of the warmth that would engage us all as long-time viewers – the incredible warmth of seeing so many veteran GL characters at the end of that show – simply wasn’t there, or was fleeting. (Don Hastings and Kathryn Hays couldn’t do it all by themselves!)

I wish we’d have seen more of the on-canvas vets, as well as even the briefest of visits from a few important people.

And though the sets looked nicer, the lights brighter and the look of the show was much as it was twenty years ago, the feel of the show was very different.

If you were, as I was, a fan of both shows, I’d love to hear what you think when you compare the ending of both shows.

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And?

My thoughts on the finale?

You know I have had, at best, mixed feelings, and at worst, frustration at these last weeks and months of As The World Turns. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

But the last episode was lovely. The wisest choice was to have Don Hastings narrate the episode. It felt like a lovely bookend to the Christmas show.

Personal preferences about characters and stories aside, I felt that it nicely addressed every character that was currently on the canvas. (‘Currently on the canvas‘ being the important phrase to remember there.)

I sat down to watch it with, admittedly, a bit of a chip on my shoulder….and oddly enough, as soon as I started to hear Bob’s narration I started bawling our roof started to leak! Oddest thing, really.

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The last day in Oakdale

I don’t have much to say about this very sad day, and I am looking forward to watching today’s As The World Turns episode on my DVR this evening with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

The thought for today is a Sanskrit proverb that As The World Turns referenced years ago. Jennifer, Kim’s sister, used to quote this to Kim. Jennifer apparently learned the proverb from their minister, Reverend Booth. (Jennifer repeated this to Kim when she appeared as a vision to Kim during Kim’s 25th anniversary show back in 1997.)

“Look to this day. For yesterday is but a dream. And tomorrow is only a vision. But today, well lived makes yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore to this day.”

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Quick notes

I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed with the episodes of As The World Turns this week (still holding out hope for the finale) but today (Thursday’s) penultimate episode had some bright spots.

And Jon Hensley? Broke my heart when he started to sob during his dialogue. Hensley has long been an unsung, under-appreciated talent in this cast.

Let’s be honest (as Hensley himself was in this recent TVGuide Canada interview): when Hensley was first cast as Holden, he was cast in part because of how good he looked in tight jeans.

He’s grown so much as an actor it would be a challenge to even quantify it. He’s been turning in nuanced, subtle performances for years. He soared during the Luke-coming-out story, playing a perfect mix of unconditional love and straight-guy-discomfort-with-the-subject-matter.

And he’s grounded his clan during some of the more ridiculous twists and turns over the last few years (eg, Lily and Damian pt II).

If you haven’t seen these scenes (at the end of Thursday’s air show) check them out. Beautiful scenes with Holden and Lily, with nice work by Noelle Beck as well.

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