Misty watercolor memories: rediscovering “Family”

I haven’t caught much on daytime for eons. Sometimes a scene or story makes me want to tune in here and there. (Of all shows, GL’s nemesis GH has me the most curious lately, first with Laura’s new family members, and now with the sure-to-be-delicious confrontation between Laura Wright and Cynthia Watros.)

I haven’t really found a soap, day or night, that hits me square in the feels, though “Ted Lasso” has certainly had me in tears too many times to count, and “Hacks” delivers more than just jokes.

But a few months ago, I discovered a show that has been living rent free in my head since the first episode I watched. That show is “Family.”

Home sweet home

Many of my readers will be familiar with Family, but I’ll give you the details anyway: The show ran on ABC for five seasons in the late 1970s. It featured veteran actors Sada Thompson and James Broderick, as Kate and Doug Lawrence. The show also gave Meredith Baxter a higher profile, and launched Kristy McNichol’s career into the stratosphere.

The title was, well, the premise. The reputation of its lead actors, as well as the “A Mike Nichols Production” credit that appeared on screen, gave the show some extra luster – in the T&A TV era that very much was the late 70s, Family appears to have been ABC’s entry in the prestige drama sweepstakes.

It was an episodic series, but it did have some continuing elements. The romantic trials and tribulations of Nancy (played by Baxter, then known as Meredith Baxter Birney) and Willie (Gary Frank) were often the center of a given episode.

I found it interesting that Nancy was often depicted as a selfish princess, disconnected from the needs of other family members. And Willie – I mean, there’s a whole lot of therapy sessions needed to analyze his issues – a high school dropout whose main characteristic seems to be playing the knight in shining armor for women in some kind of trouble – the “injured bird” syndrome.

While some episodes are straightforward for that era, many episodes had nuanced and powerful stories and depictions – for that era, and even for now.

One episode, where Kate serves jury duty, seemed a bit lurid at first (as a soap fan, it screamed “SWEEPS MONTH!” to me.) While some of the language and attitudes in the episode feel outdated now, it made one of the earliest arguments I’ve seen that respectability politics shouldn’t be playing into whether someone gets a fair shake by the police or a fair trial.

The one that really amazed me was an episode from the second season where Willie’s friend is arrested in a gay bar, and forced to come out to Willie. I’ll try to save you some of the story to discover for yourself if you watch it, but the jaw-dropping moment was watching two characters – Willie and his father – talk about times in their own lives where they experienced same-sex crushes.

Like I said, nuanced and powerful.

There’s been no shortage of soap actors on the episodes I’ve viewed so far. The professor chasing after Nancy (clearly pre-MeToo era) was played by David Hedison, later AW’s Spencer Harrison. The shameless hussy who tried to hit on Doug? Pat Crowley (the original Rebecca on Generations).

Some of the writers also have daytime connections – Bethel Leslie, who was one of the Maggies on The Doctors for several years, co-wrote the gay-themed episode mentioned above, and Anne Howard Bailey, who wrote for numerous daytime shows, wrote the episode featuring Crowley. I’m sure I’ll find more connections as I go along.

It’s all new to me – I was too young to watch and too young to stay up late enough to see this the first time around – and some things clearly hit my emotional buttons. The Lawrence’s house reminds me a bit of my neighborhood – well, a much nicer version of it, anyway. The beautiful theme music and set design takes me to a time and place.

I mentioned to my husband how I was responding in such an emotional way to so many episodes. With his customary clarity, he hit the nail on the head.

“Well, I know. Kate is reminding you of your mother.”

Bingo.

Somewhere, I have photos of Mom with this same haircut……

Kate is the glue that holds Family together. She’s calm, cool and collected most of the time, but do NOT mess with Kate, because she WILL cut you. There are so many layers to Kate, and Sada Thompson plays them all perfectly.

Kate reminds me of many women in my life – a few of my friends’ moms, for sure, and yes, even a few daytime moms as well. (hello, Kim Hughes and guten tag, Bert and Maureen Bauer).

Mom wasn’t fond of a house dress, and while she had many talents, cooking was NOT one of them! But some of the other parallels between Kate and my mom are almost eerie.

Mom was the mom that the other kids could talk to and confide in. She was fond of her youngest, understanding and empathetic when that youngest child felt out of place with the others. (Not that I ever had a cool nickname like “Tizzylish.”)

And, like Kate, Mom decided to return to school.

There are many more parallels I could list, but I suppose that was the very point of these characters, that so many of us would find the happenings within these walls to be so universal.

So far, I am glued to the TV (Tubi, to be exact) to see what happens next.

EDITED TO ADD: Many of you know Lynn Liccardo, a fellow fan and P&G scholar. She and I often find ourselves in “great minds think alike” moments.

Lynn wrote about the show in an earlier essay that does a great job of drawing parallels to a soap family. She also reminded me that Family producer Mark Rydell was another soap connection (see her post for details). The connections between ATWT and Family are fascinating.

The storytellers

THIS HAS BEEN……Guiding Light!

Things have been silent here for a while (coping with the heat here in the desert). I’ve been busy with several projects and haven’t paid as much attention to the soap world – I’ve missed a lot of Locher Room episodes.

But of COURSE, I could not pass up the opportunity to watch and talk about two highly anticipated sessions – with Jill Farren Phelps (aka JFP) and with writers Nancy Curlee and Stephen Demorest.

I have notes, people. Grab a refreshment and settle in.

FRIENDS OF JILL

I know this episode was hugely anticipated. JFP has worked at a half dozen shows: AW, GH, GL, OLTL, SB and Y&R. And of course, many of the Locher Room’s fans are fervent P&G watchers.

It was an interesting discussion, but I’ll say upfront that I don’t think Phelps really answered anything that she hadn’t answered before. Her print interview with Michael Logan a few years back covered much of the same territory.

I knew Phelps had been involved as a music producer, and I thought the most interesting comment she made there was how shows used small snippets of music, under the impression that it wasn’t a rights issue (similar to making a “free use” argument today).

She also said that in those days, music labels were HAPPY when soaps featured songs, because it always promoted the music. I agree wholeheartedly and have been saying this for years. The obvious examples were from GH (Herb Alpert’s Rise, Christopher Cross’ Think of Laura and Baby Come To Me, to name a few) but I bet many teenagers bought a copy of Almost Paradise after hearing it as Beth and Lujack’s theme.

GL featured music in a number of scenes over the years: whether it was Barbra Streisand’s version of Somewhere playing as Reva attempted suicide (a scene close to my heart), or Sonni Carrera dancing to Peek-A-Boo by Siouxsie and the Banshees (or was it…..Solita?), I remember them well. (Streisand and Donna Summer’s song Enough is Enough was famously the background for the Roger/Rita Hall of Mirrors.) When Sarah and Reva reunited, I can still see those scenes in my head with the Pretenders’ Hymn to Her playing in the background.

As for other parts of the chat – it was fun to hear about how she cast Mark Derwin on OLTL, and some of her experiences at OLTL and Y&R. She clearly did not have the support she’d had at other shows at Y&R, and it showed.

She repeated much of what she said about the choices leading to Maureen’s death in the Logan interview, but I think she did explain a bit more of the nuances. (She didn’t come out and say it, but reading between the lines and from other interviews, it does sound like the network pushed for that character to be off the canvas.) As for Beverlee’s departure, she had compliments for her work and otherwise sort of pleaded the Fifth!

SOUTHERN CHARM

It’s been years since I’ve read or heard anything from Nancy Curlee and Stephen Demorest – I remember reading an interview in someone’s blog around the time GL ended.

I just went back to read it this morning and…..well, it could virtually be a transcript for the things Nancy and Stephen talked about in their Locher Room session.

If that sounds like a gripe, it’s a small one, because Curlee is a charming storyteller, and it was lovely to hear her voice.

The Curlee/Demorest era (with assorted co-head writers, including James Reilly) is often terribly underappreciated, when their work should be considered in the same context as Marland, Long and others.

Of course, Patrick Mulcahey was also there, and he remains the finest dialogue writer any show has ever had. (I still really need to find out if he wrote Alexandra’s takedown of Roger at the country club.)

No big revelations here, either – they apparently fought for Nia Long as Kat over another choice, and had some pushback on the Bridget/Hart story, but that was the extent of tea poured. And I was surprised to hear that she was at one point in negotiations to write GH (!).

But something Nancy said in that 2009 interview, and again in the Locher Room, made me tear up a little, and I think said beautifully why so many of us were affected by Maureen’s death.

We did care about Maureen of course, but Nancy’s comment about the Bauer porch light being the light of GL hit home. No matter how awful the world is, if you can just make it to that porch, everything will get better.

But what happens when you get to the porch, to that light….and no one is there?

WHAT’S THE WORD?

I wasn’t exactly disappointed by these interviews, but I feel a bit like Charlie Brown vs Lucy with the football with my expectations.

One thing I’ve noticed as we continue through so many of these Locher Room interviews is that while actors are willing to be very forthcoming with issues or grievances about something that happened during their tenure on a show, writers and producers are not.

I’m guessing that most writers and producers have a non-disclosure or non-defamation clause in their contract, and really CAN’T say much.

And the inability to be authentic about the ups and downs isn’t limited to Zoom shows and podcasts. For every EIGHT YEARS IN ANOTHER WORLD, we’ve seen dozens of autobiographies from actors that all seem to stay away from anything that isn’t we’re-one-big-family.

One recent great book is Elana Levine’s HER STORIES. (I’m STILL exploring it – I get through a few pages and have to start researching a tangent and fall down a rabbit hole.)

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I seriously considered writing a book about GL. My template was Jeff Giles’ Llanview book, which I thought did a wonderful job of just letting the actors speak for themselves (it was more of an oral history, lightly edited to establish a chronological order).

I didn’t pursue it, because while I felt confident that I could manager the research and organization such a project would require, I simply don’t have the type of personality to “sell” the idea to the participants and convince people to participate (a lesson I keep learning in my professional life). I also lack the connections to reach out to those people. But I certainly wish such a book existed.

The OLTL book was great because it did have some authenticity and honesty. Not Pollyanna-ish, nor deliberately tabloid-ish, not to be gossipy for gossip’s sake, but more the approach of “We did this, we made this show. Sometimes it was great, here’s how. Sometimes it was tough, here’s how. Sometimes we got along and sometimes we didn’t, here’s what happened.”

But those books are the exception, not the rule.

It’s perhaps truly a moot point to argue with four shows left, but still, we don’t always take ourselves seriously, or hold up the indistry – for recognition, or for an honest examination. Soaps seem to be forever relegated to the space under the stairs.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I had to chuckle a few times during both sessions. We all love these stories and some of us (ME ME ME) are as nerdy as a baseball fan is about dates and stats.

But I remembered that yes, the events we’re talking about here are between 30 and 40 years ago, and these fine people don’t always remember dates and details. God knows my memory isn’t what it used to be!

Jill had a few names/dates wrong – but the thing I most obvously heard her say, if I understood her correctly, was that they needed to immediately fill Bev’s shoes and cast Marj Dusay immediately to keep story running. They actually waited a year to bring back Alexandra, because they wanted to give the role some space after Beverlee’s sudden departure.

Nancy confused a few dates just a tiny bit. She had Pam returning for her second stint in 1988 or 1989. Pam actually returned in the fall of 1987. September. The third week, I think. (So I’ve heard…..)

A week that I truly wish was on YouTube or DVD, by the way.

Like I said, I’m a nerd.

The scourge of Cincinnati strikes again

If you thought that the cancellation of the last of our beloved shows meant that P&G….sorry, Telenext, would never confound, anger or confuse you again…..

……well, it’s 2020, folks.

Apparently, P&G or related entities are making copyright claims on YouTube videos.

And so hours of our beloved shows – our last connections to these ignored and forgotten hours – are disappearing.

Deleted. During a freakin’ pandemic, when old memories might be the most comforting thing on the Web.

Pissing the fans off since…..well, forever

I understand that this is intellectual property, and there’s a legitimate claim to be made on this content.

But P&G/Telenext has all but let these archives die on the vine. They’ve shown zero interest in getting this content to us in any monetized way.

It’s not that the framework to do it doesn’t exist, since they managed to get the content playing in China not long after the ax fell.

No one would be happier than me if P&G ended up putting together an online archive, similar to what WatchTheDoctors is doing.

But despite a few smart and hardworking people behind the scenes, the company’s overall decisions regarding these shows has mostly confused or annoyed me, as well as other fans. So I’m not optimistic.

Hoping we learn more soon….before the last of our memories just slip completely away.

Brava for Beverlee

I haven’t had much to say here lately – busy freelance projects plus a somewhat cross-country move in the midst of a pandemic (0 stars out of five, do not recommend).

But the news of the latest Locher Room reunion brought me to (happy) tears this morning, and I’ll be there with bells on.

Edited to add: You can see the entire episode here.

AND….

I’d heard from a source or two that there might be a forthcoming book about Beverlee, and that book was confirmed at the end of that episode.

Patrick Dilley, a professor at Southern Illinois University with an extensive background writing about queer theory and women in education, is the author. I can’t wait to read it!

Et tu, Quibi?

Not much to say these days, but before I go off on an extended journey again, a quick note about Quibi.

I’d meant to make this post months ago when Quibi was first announced; it’s both a surprise and not a surprise that it would flame out, burn and crash so quickly.

But the main idea percolating in my head about Quibi was this: why didn’t they develop a few soap operas?

And no, not just because I’m a fan of the genre.

Think about it.

Quibi needed content that would be habit forming, that would make users subscribe and return to the platform on a regular basis.

We hardly knew ye, Quibi!

Serialized storytelling would have been a great hook. Especially if the deep pockets at Quibi had paid talented writers and actors, and cut back on network interference.

Irna Phillips was navigating a relatively new (to the masses) medium when her soaps were on TV in the 1950s, and quite a few soaps in those days crashed and burned before the ones we watched for years took flight.

Quibi could have programmed a mix of old content and new.

Exciting new shows by new writers and creative minds, for sure.

And I would have welcomed 10 to 15 minute increments of [fill in the blank of any P&G show here] and I bet AMC and OLTL fans would do the same for their beloved shows.

Sadly, the platform itself has already crashed.

There *has* to be some way for people to make money, create art, employ writers and actors and do so on a scale that works and attracts an audience.

But the soap genre still hasn’t yet figured out that formula. Luckily, people creating and producing web soaps are still tinkering under the hood!

A brief note

Hello, everyone – haven’t had too much to say recently but I’ll continue to post now and then…..

*IF* I can access this blog – WordPress is rolling out changes that may take the simple editor I’ve used for years and make it more complicated to post. So stay tuned…..

To Texas!

Somehow, despite being a dedicated Another World watcher (with mom), I never became hooked on Texas.

I do seem to recall watching the first few episodes. Beverlee McKinsey’s Iris was there, of course, and I think there may have been an appropriate ooh and aah at seeing her name in the show’s opening, with the “Starring” billing.

It was summer, so I know I checked out those first few episodes, but that was about it.

I know later on, after McKinsey left, it seemed to have a very dedicated group of fans, and that many were upset at what they felt was a premature cancellation.

I also know that Guiding Light has an irrevocable bond to that show, since GL gained a producer, head writer and several actors when Texas ended.

I never had a chance to see any of the later run of Texas, or those final episodes – but I caught them recently on YouTube, and was blown away.

A few of them had me in tears. Those episodes are all heart, and all Pam Long. Truly ALL Pam, as she was writing and acting in those shows!

Her time at GL had plenty of that heart, perhaps tampered down just a bit by executives or the network – but on these episodes of Texas, it was a full on schmaltzfest (and I LOVED it).

A return of a lost loved one, the connection between mother and child, a child born at Christmas and yes, even a reading from the book of Luke (the same one that Linus reads to Charlie Brown)!

As another Texas-based show would later say: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

I watched these last month – almost 38 years after they were filmed – and it was far too late for a spoiler alert. I’d heard years ago what happens in those final episodes (well, one part, anyway, where a certain Mary-like figure returns home).

And still, the impact was quiet moving. The last few minutes of Part One had me sobbing.

To Texas!

Happy birthday, Beverlee McKinsey!

Sunday marks what would have been Beverlee McKinsey’s 85th birthday.

I knew it was somewhere in early August and just searched to see when, and was greeted in my search by a recent article, published in a newspaper in McAlester, Oklahoma – Beverlee’s home town.

The article even features Beverlee’s yearbook photo. So lovely. You can see the whole article here. 

I shared my memories of Beverlee and her work five years ago to mark what would have been her 80th birthday. Her work is remembered and her talent is appreciated still today.

The next stage for serialized storytelling

The screen may change, but the story remains the same.

I really enjoyed The Locher Room‘s session with soap writers last week. I love learning about the nuts and bolts of making a show as much as I love the end result, and it was great to see Jill Lorie Hurst, Jim Brown, Millee Taggart, David Kreizman and Courtney Simon talking about their time as GL writers.

There was a moment near the end when Alan asked the writers if they’d ever wanted to create their own soap.

They weren’t exactly stumped, but there was silence, and the general reaction was: where would it play?

Certainly, the chances that a network would take on a daytime soap again is between slim and none. (I’ll get back to this later.)

We are at around the ten year mark (astonishingly, surprisingly) from when all four remaining New York soaps left the air.

There are people working hard to take the format and make it work on other platforms.

I’m not as familiar with web soaps as Roger Newcomb, who has done a beautiful job promoting new series, and supporting creative excellence with the Indie Series Awards

In the beginning, many web soaps were getting their sea legs and finding their way in the new platform. Acting and production choices had to be adjusted or modulated. Some shows had five minutes of content and seven minutes of opening and closing credits!

I’ve checked out several shows, including Anacostia, Venice and After Forever.  I also loved the show Weight, a pilot featuring Martha Byrne.

I think writers and creators have figured out the beats, and the scope, and the engaging stories for a web series or similar format.

What no one has figured out yet…..is how to make it work, or be worthwhile, financially.

Venice might have been successful at breaking even or making a profit, since it was sold by subscription.  (Definitely welcome any information on this from those in the know.)

Beyond that, many shows have had backers, crowdfunding, or were able to be done on a wing and a prayer – and the creator’s own money.

________________________________________________________________________

We’ve been hearing a LOT about the Quibi platform lately. It launched recently – in the midst of a pandemic – and a recent Vulture article does a deep dig on the behind the scenes power struggles, as well as Quibi’s content choices.

The intended demographic is, as elsewhere, a young crowd with disposable income. Quibi apparently stands for “quick bites” and the content playing on the platform is in the ten to fifteen minute range.

I’m wondering why there aren’t, and weren’t, any soap operas on Quibi. It seems like a no-brainer to me – an opportunity to develop content that drew viewers back multiple times a week, and got them hooked on a story.

Quibi may survive its bumpy launch – the owners have some deep pockets – but it may be another platform to think about for similar stories.

Yes, I loved the hour soaps and the languid pace of its storytelling, but the same kind of work could be done, and cut into eight to ten minute segments.

As I mentioned above, the networks are riding their existing soaps to the finish line. It is unlikely any new soaps will ever be seen on network TV. I mean, broadcasting TV like NBC, CBS and ABC may themselves drastically change in the next decade; it’s likely that all three will stop broadcasting or limit programming, and send viewers to a streaming channel with a monthly fee.

Soaps were running on a strict model of same time, same channel for so many years, but I look at something like HGTV, where so often, content is repeated frequently before unveiling a new episode. It’s what networks should have been doing with soaps for years, re-running them at night or on weekend omnibus airings, like EastEnders does in the UK.

The industry is STILL tinkering with some of the technical and financial elements to continue this kind of storytelling into the 21st century.

There are ideas like Quibi floating around, but there are still other pieces of the puzzle as well; as we learned from the Prospect Park production fiasco, content providers also have to, y’know, PAY those writers, actors and crew members.

Let’s hope we can still have programs with intelligence, heart and love – not just romantic love, but the love of close friends and of family, of knowing that you’re home….or knowing that, when you’re lost, that light in the window will guide you to where you need to be.

 

Irna Phillips: All hail the queen

I didn’t see this when it originally appeared a few months back – I’m grateful to my friend (and Phillips expert) Lynn Liccardo for sharing this with me.

Appropriate that in a view of 100 women over 100 years, Irna Phillips would be recognized for her contributions.

The article (well, a short summary) can be found here.

And what a great illustration!

Irna Phillips in TIME.