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.

About 1000worlds

A Thousand Other Worlds - A blog about traditional daytime serialized TV that ran from 2008 to 2010.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to An analysis

  1. anonymous says:

    “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.”

    The increasing networks/advertiser etc interference is something that, imho, gets in the way of proper storytelling in daytime and television in general. Now I know that sometimes network interference results in good things but it seems to me that when they do it a lot it hurts storytelling more often than not. Its probably no coincidence that the creator of the critically acclaimed Mad Men claims that AMC does not interfere much with the show.

  2. Elana Levine says:

    Sorry to hear you’re discontinuing the blog, though I understand why. Just wanted to say that this post is the best analysis I’ve seen of how P&G killed their soaps over time. Really interesting and insightful.

    Thanks Elana. I hope to keep writing and work some mentions of my old favorites in.

    I appreciate the praise.

  3. Marymary says:

    Interesting comments.

    I must be the only person on the planet who was not enamored of Hogan Sheffer’s run on ATWT. :)

    I have never understood why P&G didn’t do more to market its soaps on DVDs with classic episodes, storylines, characters, etc. I vaguely recall them doing video tapes featuring Roger and Reva from GL back in the 90s, but that’s about it. There was so much they could have done and did not do, that I have to conclude that P&G didn’t want to produce soaps anymore.

  4. Derek says:

    I am glad to discover your site. You can add “Houston” to the list of former P&G soap locales. “Texas” was my personal favorite, particularly in the last few months with Pam Long as Head Writer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s