Bittersweet symphony

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Yesterday was Anthony Geary’s last episode (at least, for now) as General Hospital’s Luke Spencer.

I have to give the man credit for spending a majority of the last 37 years playing the same role, and for an obvious desire to practice his craft and bring Luke to life.

I have mixed feelings in general about all that the Luke-and-Laura era represented for soaps. I think my thoughts (and the thoughts of fellow soap analyst Lynn Liccardo)  have been well represented in a number of our posts.

Geary and late GH executive producer Gloria Monty went on record with their dislike of traditional soap opera. I still believe that for all of the short term wins — in ratings, in audience, in growth — for these shows, the over-reliance on action/adventure was what started the dismantling of these shows. The transition to incessant darkness, and unrepentant antiheroes, has just added weight to a sinking anchor.

GH did become a more exciting show during those Luke and Laura days, and it was certainly the era for romantic action/adventure. We saw it in film, too, a la Romancing The Stone. GH and DAYS were among the shows that hit the right notes with their audience using the format.

But it also set in motion the first wave of what I’ve come to call “the Moldavian Massacre Conundrum.” Once you’ve shot everyone in the head and blown up the institutions in your story, what’s left? Where’s the tension? Where’s the novelty? It just becomes a game of shoot-’em-up cowboys.

We’re seeing this in primetime, too (my previous post on this was about Scandal), but its emergence in daytime was on GH.

Many of the established shows, including the P&G shows, attempted to mimic the GH formula. Search For Tomorrow wasn’t even subtle about it, giving Travis Sentell a Luke Spencer perm. Guiding Light initially stayed strong with the classic soap of Douglas Marland, but soon was overcome by The Dreaming Death.

I feel like what should have been the takeaway message from GH’s Monty-era success for all the shows was missed: Hey, you can try new things, and the audience will like them!

What most writers and producers heard was: Hey, GH tried something new, and it worked, so let’s all do exactly the same thing to copy them.

Geary’s goodbye interviews have been laced with disdain. I find it curious that an actor who was given near-carte-blanche over storyline and the words coming from his character’s mouth could still be so disappointed in his experience.

Last week’s news of GH head writer Ron Carlivati’s departure was a surprise. I hope that the new HW’s will give Laura — the other half of that famous pairing — a chance to explore her life as deeply as Luke was explored on the show. Laura….you know, the character who actually has even deeper roots in Port Charles?

PC will always be a place with antiheroes, bad guys and waterfront docks. But I hope that the show finds some balance in its remaining years. It might just do so, away from the long shadow of Lucas Lorenzo Spencer.

REFRESH: Thoroughly Modern Kim

REFRESH NOTE: This weekend is Kathryn Hays’ 82nd birthday. I thought it was a great time to repost this piece from 2010

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Few characters on daytime have a more fascinating history (on screen and behind the scenes) than Kimberly Sullivan Reynolds Dixon Stewart Andropoulous Hughes, played for 38 years by Kathryn Hays.

Her onscreen history speaks for itself – a passionate woman who slept with her sister’s husband – a man who became her soulmate. Bob and Kim tormented each other for 12 years and married several others before finally getting together. (Take that, CarJack!)

But the creative story behind Kim is equally fascinating. Kim was, perhaps, the last great, grand invention of the iconic soap writer and creator Irna Phillips. Kim may have also been closest to who Irna really was – or at least, how Irna wanted to see herself.

Writer Martha Nochimson wrote a phenomenal academic study of female soap opera characters, No End To Her. Kim is one of the characters she writes about, and she says it so much better than I could. It mentions Kitty Foyle, a character that was featured in movies, TV and books and was an early example of the “career woman.”

[Phillips] had begun to develop a narrative for As The World Turns about a new character, Kim Reynolds, an independent and aggressive young woman. All was going well until Reynolds went Kitty Foyle a few better. Whereas [Foyle]….had been wooed by a philandering suitor, Reynolds herself seduced Dr. Bob Hughes, one of the serial’s “ideal” husbands.

Phillips was determined that the liason remain intact and that Reynolds be given the life denied Kitty Foyle – that is, sole possession of the man she wanted, and on her own terms. Proctor & Gamble viewed Phillips’ story as public sanction for immorality. Reynolds, they said, must be punished and the affair terminated. Phillips refused to accommodate the demand, and she was fired.

Phillips would die just a few months after she was fired. But Kim was the beginning of a changing face for women on soaps.

As for Kim’s onscreen life, there’s something about Kim, and the way that the magnificent Hays portrays her, that suggests so much context when I see her.

Kim reminds me of so many women I’ve known – the well dressed, suburban mom and wife, a woman who seems calm on the exterior but is sharp and contentious and passionate and whip-smart underneath.

Anyone assuming Kim was “just” a doctor’s wife or a powder puff did so at their peril. That person also might get a snarky “toots” or “kiddo” from Kim. Believe me, you lived for the scenes when Kim let loose with one of those. Classic.

Like her niece Barbara, you couldn’t quite place the “nice” label on Kim. She wasn’t a 100% ingenue nor the kindly matriarch that mother-in-law Nancy had been. There was always, as with Barbara, that fighting spirit and prickly persona that would show up from time to time.

I was a teenager and young man during most of Douglas Marland’s reign, but I still remember most of his stories as if it they just aired. I think his genius shone brightly with the ideas he had for Kim.

He came up with three phenomenal stories for her and Bob. One was the discovery that the baby of Bob’s she’d lost (see above) was still a live – a happy full-circle moment for Bob, Kim and Irna Phillips. (Twice as much Julianne Moore was just a bonus….seriously!)

The second was when Bob and Susan had a one-night stand. Watching Bob and Kim’s explosive scenes after Kim found out was must-see TV. It was so intensely real that you occasionally had to look away – not because it was violent or lurid, but because these were, in essence, your parents. Or your friend’s parents. Or the people next door.

But the most genius story was when Douglas Marland gave the audience what they wanted – Bob and Kim marrying – and then used that to launch the Douglas Cummings story, which was one of the finest mysteries ever told in daytime. Another amazing use of ATWT history, a tightly woven story from beginning to end, and the amazing John Wesley Shipp as the troubled Doug. It may have involved many others (and it was a star-making turn for Julianne Moore), but it was Hays’ moment to shine all the way.

It was Hays and her remarkable skills that kept us interested in Kim, even when the writers and producers didn’t get who Kim was or what her life had been. Kim never needed a brain chip or supernatural experience to make her interesting. She just was. She survived Douglas Cummings, that hussy Susan Stewart and Johnny D….and don’t you forget it, kiddo!

B&B hits it out of the park

Yes, I had some initial concerns about The Bold and the Beautiful’s transgender story, and I still stand by them.

I will always think that the way it was introduced, while undoubtedly ‘soapy,’ hit a few problematic spots.

But the scenes with Maya and her parents – oh, my.

I’m nearly tempted to take back my previous words after seeing this scene.

It is, in any case, beautiful work and a beautiful scene.

I hope this Maya, struggling to tie the loose threads of her life together, integrates with the ambitious Maya we knew before.

I’m hoping for a Maya who is flawed and human, but also someone who is NOT to be trifled with!

And her parents are fascinating. Whether they are sincere – or shady – remains to be seen, but hooray to B&B for not making them one-dimensional talk-tos.

The Plan to Save DAYS, Part 9,564,895

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Honestly, I joked about the new “plan to save DAYS.”

Soap Opera Digest, did you just use Ken Corday’s phrasing (again), or are you just TROLLING us at this point?

I admit it – I cackled and clapped my hands like a demented seal when I saw this cover. Too funny.

Now have to go grab a copy and peruse to see what awaits…….

 

The Bauer Barbeque

I’m sure it’s still happening this year, right?

Just remember to bring extra burgers. Rick’s grilling skills are almost as bad as his surgical skills.

 

Really, Alan, a sweater in the jungle? Style game on point, I suppose.

Alan-Michael couldn’t just hitch a ride with someone….

From 1990. So many familiar faces.

MARY STUART, people. Pay homage.

A few years later, in 2001. And more Mary!

And the final one *sob*.

Danny Boy

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Danny Boy? Sorry, I know Daniel Cosgrove is a grown man but I just had to slip some Maeve Ryan realness in there for a moment.

There’s some talk in the soap stratosphere that Daniel Cosgrove is leaving Days of Our Lives.

Thus far, it hasn’t been confirmed by the network, but a few reliable sources (here and here) have posted information, so it seems legit.

DAYS has been doing a massive reset on what seems like an annual basis for a few years now, and TPTB decided to go back to the Classic DAYS template again, so it’s understandable that newer characters might hit the road.

But I’m bummed for the show and bummed for Cosgrove.

Why?

I think he’s a really solid actor, a great fit for the soap medium, and has a great sense of humor.

I don’t want to pigeonhole Cosgrove in a comparison, but his humor, charm and handsomeness should mean a front burner role a la Nathan Fillion. I could totally see Cosgrove playing a Castle like character on any show, daytime or nighttime.

But for some reason, only his time on Guiding Light really captured that. His pairings with Crystal Chappell and Emme Rylan, in particular, were great showcases for that sort of crackling, humorous banter.

I didn’t have any solid sense of his Scott during his second go round at All My Children, and he was put into an unenviable position at the end of As The World Turns. He was tasked with redefining Chris Hughes, an oft-recast character who (a) had to woo the town’s, erm, best networked and most popular widow and (2) die for pretty much the last six months of the show.

His time as Aidan started off in a promising way; he and Kristian Alfonso had great chemistry, and Aidan seemed like a great antidote to the sadness of Hope coping with the end of her marriage to Bo. I was even hoping that the writers might bring in a sibling for Aidan, or in some way expand his family.

But the dead wife kinda put a kink in that. I think that story might have damaged his character, or derailed the rooting value for Hope and Aiden. And as soon as Peter Reckell’s return was announced….well, I suppose it was inevitable.

I’ve enjoyed Cosgrove’s work from GL forward. He was one of the many folks I met during my GL set visit in December 2008, and you could practically have made a show out of the backstage stuff he was doing.

Here’s hoping he lands on our screens again soon — day or night, small or big screens.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy seeing what happens next with Aiden — with a bit of wariness, hoping that they don’t destroy his character in the process.

The Moldavian Massacre Conundrum

Olivia Pope: STILL slaying.

Olivia Pope: STILL slaying.

A few weeks ago, I listed several prime-time or streaming TV shows in my “Steal This” series.

But one of my favorites — ABC’s Scandal — was not on the list.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of Shonda Rhimes. I think she’s hit on a great formula that mixes emotional narrative and tight, well-woven plot in a very heady cocktail, and clearly, with the success of Grey’s Anatomy and now Scandal, it’s been a recipe for success.

But I’m beginning to think Scandal has become a victim of what I’m now calling the Moldavian Massacre Conundrum.

Everyone loves a plot twist, and Scandal certainly gave us a lot of them.

But if you have a steady diet of OMFG moments, wig snatches and twists designed to make us clutch our pearls and gasp, the question then becomes: What’s next?

And often, it must be bigger, badder and uglier than the week before.

The Moldavian Massacre, of course, was the capper to an over-the-top season of Dynasty. And it begs an excellent question: If you have shot everyone in the damn room, or set everyone on fire, where on EARTH do you go from there?

Scandal had become addicted to the OMFG moments (or at least the ABC promo department had).

And indeed, where can it go next? Some people think Scandal’s season 4 ender was a bit of a letdown, but I think it was an inevitable reset for a new direction.

I don’t know if it could sustain the pace it had been at before. Who is the “white hat?” Every major character has blood on their hands of some kind: Olivia, Fitz, Mellie and Cyrus, for sure. Huck has killed more people than most armies.

I get that this is not a story where people hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” but who the hell do you root for in this scenario? Even the most anti of antiheroes (or heroines) must have some basic rooting value for the audience to give a flip.

Olivia’s parents, played by fantastic actors, are both responsible for hundreds of deaths. It’s hard to have them sit at the dinner table after that, you know?

Fitz ordered an invasion of a country for Olivia (now, talk about a narrative stretch).

I was a longtime Grey’s Anatomy fan, but that show experienced some of the same issues. It became a huge tragedy porn-fest. The guy that shot up half the hospital — that was fun. What made me stop watching was the plane crash. To have to watch that happen, and the aftermath, was just too much for me.

Yes, it’s fiction, but if I wanted to watch incessant ugliness, loss and death, I can watch the news for that.

And after I’d briefly stuck my toe in the water this year, another big tragedy played out with the death of a major character. I get that Rhimes is, by her own admission, ‘dark and twisty.’ But some of this seems repetitive.

It’s a problem that daytime faces, too. Some shows have had this issue, and General Hospital is certainly near the top of the list.

And now, Chuck “Chuckles the Clown” Pratt is blowing shit up and sending in the clowns — and doppelgangers — at The Young and the Restless.

Not everyone craves the type of intimate, slow-build storytelling that I love. I get that.

But there has to be some pacing and balance for any show, and a skilled writer who can weave story well and unmask someone at JUST the right time.

Because otherwise, if you set everyone on fire, what comes next? What has the narrative power to come next? And can you feed an audience’s bloodlust?