Product placement: making us sick?

Remember when we got a little irked when Margo Hughes talked about touching up her hair with Nice ‘n Easy?

Or when Dinah Marler craved a package of Pringles? Remember?

We didn’t know how good we had it, kids.

General Hospital recently told a story that involved a real company doing real product placement.

And like much of what Sonny Corinthos does, it was questionable at best and perhaps misleading.

Arstechnica summarizes the nitty gritty details here. 

I found some of the comments amusing (among them, “Luke would have NEVER let this happen”) but this trend is disconcerting.

In general, it raises my anxiety that, in the Trump era, we don’t know who’s behind the messages we’re getting in media or what their goals are.

And when it comes to daytime, our shows are discounted and disregarded already. Yes, everyone has to make a profit these days. But stories should help people, not just treat them as human ATM’s, targeted only for their marketing value.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to stop by the store and score a canister of Pringles. Can’t stop at just one, you know.

30 years of Designing Women

The women of “Designing Women.” (Internet photo) 

Okay, I know, I know – Designing Women isn’t a soap opera.

And technically, it’s been thirty ONE years since it landed on our screens in 1986. But I’m giving GetTV a pass on that one, because they’re bringing Designing Women back to our TV sets. Thirty years is a great hook – and a great Twitter hashtag too!

I’ve always loved this show, and while it changed over the years, and lost some of its charm – and a few of its finest characters – towards the end of its run, it still stands as a solid piece of work for me.

One thing I truly loved about the show is how carefully defined each character was, and how story emerged from those details. As with the best of soap opera, a well defined character meant the story would often write itself.

As with Maude and All In The Family, the more I watch them, the more timeless they feel. The wallpaper might be out of fashion, and the situation of the episode may seem quaint. But the issues that people are fighting about are the same.

Suzanne was, of course, a predecessor to Karen Walker, but one with a beating heart under all the bravado.

Mary Jo was, as Dash Goff once said, “part calico choir girl………..and part satin dance hall doll.”  

Charlene was everything you saw at the surface – a loving, generous friend, with a quirky stream of consciousness emerging from her brain 24/7.

And Julia was, in every sense, a grand lady – a combination of beauty and brains, with high standards – and no problem letting the people who didn’t meet those standards know about those failures!

Designing Women had Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and husband Harry at the helm, with Linda writing all the episodes during the first few seasons. The consistency in the writing showed in the quality.

I always sort of felt there was a kinship between DW in that era and Guiding Light, which had Pam Long, another writer with roots in the South who wrote about Southern characters, and understood the balancing act – and the conflicts – between old worlds and new ones, always a fertile ground for soaps to cover.

It was no surprise that GL’s Kim Zimmer made a memorable appearance on DW as Mavis, Charlene’s cousin, in a 1989 episode, shortly before Zimmer left GL. It seemed almost tailor-made for Zimmer’s talents.

The way they were….. (Internet photo)

I loved Julia’s epic reads, though I know some people found them a bit wearisome. But I truly loved how she could, as the old Irish saying goes, tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they’d look forward to the journey.

Fans – myself included – remember some of the more iconic scenes – the “night the lights went out in Georgia” speech, an AIDS episode – based largely on Thomason’s own mother struggling with AIDS – as well as Charlene’s WWII fantasy and wedding, and the arrival of Charlene’s baby.

But one of the most moving ones, for me, was an episode called “How Great Thou Art.”

Charlene feels a call to the ministry, and approaches her very conservative church leadership about this call. (You’ll recognize Patrick Tovatt, Cal from As The World Turns, as the minister.)

Meanwhile, Julia is asked to sing at her church, and fears performing the song How Great Thou Art because of her worries about hitting the high note.

It sounds like a simple plot, but it’s a very moving one. Much of the power of it comes from the characters (and of course the performers).  The Designing Women Online website, a wonderful resource for any fan, has a wonderful writeup about this episode. 

Their words say it splendidly – that the show “created and told an emotionally explosive story with no gimmicks or dramatic scenes — simply two women struggling with their faith.” 

Maybe I’m a Pollyanna for thinking there’s an enormous amount of drama in these true-to-life situations, drama that need not involve a chimera (whatever the hell THAT is), or a virus that makes you hit people on the side of the head with a giant rock.

This is high stakes for the characters involved, and for at least one of them, it doesn’t end with a happy ending. That doesn’t make the drama any less meaningful or involving.

And it also makes me wonder why faith was always generic and rare on soaps. It was seldom used, trotted out only at holidays and for weddings, funerals and deathbed prayers.  (There’s probably a whole separate post coming on that one.)

I’ll be checking out the GetTV episodes – even if I do have all the DVD’s already. GetTV, by the way, has a really great library – I’ve especially enjoyed some of the 60s and 70s talk shows they’ve got in their library.

Check out the GetTV site to see where it plays near you.

ALSO: Check out this blog post about the return of DW by writer Will McKinley. He’s an expert on classic movies and classic stars. He’s also quite knowledgable about soap operas, too. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Another dose of Agnes

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for mentioning this clip to me – it’s a recent post by Michael Fairman,  a well-known soap journalist.

This is, shall we say, the expanded remix of what Fairman produced as a memorial tribute for Agnes Nixon at this year’s Daytime Emmys.

It’s quite moving to see so many people get so emotional about Agnes and, really, about the passing of an era.

It’s a lovely clip. It gets a bit syrupy at the end – how very daytime! – but much of the clip has some very moving emotions and reactions, real and authentic words from many of the people who loved Agnes Nixon and owed her a debt of gratitude.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fairman years ago, on that trip where Guiding Light invited a number of bloggers to see the new production model and somehow decided to invite me. Really nice work, Michael.

A Daytime Mystery: Guess That Day Player

Here’s a fun question for my TENS of readers, especially my old P&G friends.

As one does, I was clicking around on We Love Soaps. This often leads to a rabbit hole, so to speak – one click takes me to another link, and so on.

In this case, one of the site’s features, Today in Soap Opera History, had a GL clip from 1984. Once that played in YouTube, I clicked on other clips that had been uploaded where the air dates were just a few days ahead.

Which brings me to this clip.

There’s a day player who shows up at around 6:10 and appears through the episode. The waitress with the red hair.

That voice….it’s familiar. The face is familiar.

Could it be recent Tony winner Cynthia Nixon?

I’m kinda convinced that it is. I asked a few folks, including We Love Soaps’ Roger Newcomb, what they thought.

But no one is sure. The credits that roll on the following day’s episode don’t mention the character or list Nixon’s name.

GL is not listed on Nixon’s IMDB page.

She was in New York at the time this would have been filmed. 1984 was the year Nixon was in two plays at the same time – Hurlyburly and The Real Thing. So that puts our, uh, suspect at, shall we say, the scene of the crime.

So daytime mystery lovers, here’s a mystery to solve! Let me know if you find any leads or have any theories or clues.

Let’s just make sure this mystery is shorter than that Carolyn Crawford one in Oakdale, amirite?



A glimmer of light

Wow. I really didn’t think I’d be posting about The Bold and the Beautiful two posts in a row.

But I also never expected Donald Trump to be president. Or for the Battle of the Network Stars to make a comeback. And yet, here we are.

I’m way overdue in making this post. 2016 has come and gone. The Emmys have come and gone.

But I remembered seeing this scene last year and thinking that it was so fantastic. It was a glimpse of what can be when a soap weaves in its history to inform character as well as plot.

This. This is the layered storytelling and acting I know and remember.

Heather Tom did Emmy-deserving work here, to be certain.  (And while I can’t be sure, the words sound like the work of dialogue master Patrick Mulcahey.)

The scene is from around 9:00 on. The last two minutes are the emotional punch in the gut.

Hello, Sheila

Sheila reports for duty – but not at Y&R – she’s in LA again.

I’m not a fan of stories that repeat themselves, especially when it comes to super villains.

Mostly because it makes for lazy storytelling. You can do just about anything and blame it on Helena Cassadine or Stefano DiMera. And they never die (well, almost never), which just makes the stories they touch less and less believable.

But B&B has my attention with the return of Sheila Carter.

Frankly, I never imagined that Kimberlin Brown would ever return to either of the Bell shows. It had been over a decade since her last appearance, and her story had gone relatively off the rails before she left.

There was also that whole business with Phyllis being Sheila or Sheila being Phyllis or Why Does My Head Hurt This Makes No Sense, whatever that was.

And oh yes, the Republican National Convention appearance.

It didn’t enter my mind that she’d be back on either show. But I’m interested in seeing where this goes.

I’ve never quite “gotten” B&B as a show, but there are periods where I’ve tuned it, and it looks like I’ll have to check in on the new Spectras, too.

And of course, my blog post title is an obvious call back to another surprise return. Still and always my favorite.


The Gospel of Saint Agnes

I’m just getting back to my desk here, so to speak, after some time away. There’s a lot of catching up to do!

Yesterday, Decades Network (a digital network that plays old sitcoms and shows) replayed an episode of Dick Cavett’s show that featured Agnes Nixon as his guest.

The time frame appears to be around 1977-78, when All My Children had been in the works and/or running for about eight years. Cavett, who has appeared on practically every network over the years, had a show on PBS at this time.

It’s an interesting interview, more relaxed in many ways than I think we ever saw Agnes in later interviews.

I did pick up Agnes’ autobiography in March, when it hit the streets.

I wish I could give it a rave, but I had mixed feelings about it.

The most fascinating part was the part we really didn’t know much about: young Agnes and her story prior to her rise to prominence.

Readers of the book will understand that in characters like Palmer Cortlandt, Agnes was in many ways writing about her own father.

The part that was truly her story is fascinating. But it is almost seventy percent of the book. When she gets to her soap-writing days, the momentum slows.

Like Bill Bell’s book, it feels sanitized when discussing other people, the networks, etc. There’s a bit of cordial professional conflict peppered in, but if you were looking for a really in-depth understanding of what it was like to be a woman heading productions like these in the 60s and 70s, that isn’t really the take here.

Aside from a pointed rant about the shows’ cancellations, she is relatively kind, and she gushes about many of the people who have worked with her and for her.

So if you want AMC dirt, you may be disappointed. But it’s worth a read to learn about the woman herself. She was fascinating, determined, and talented. It’s easy to see where Erica Kane got her strength.

There are precious few soap-themed books that have gone deep into authenticity. Eight Years In Another World remains the standard bearer. The recent Llanview book by Jeff Giles was very well done, allowing everyone to express their perspective.

Most other books have stayed in a relative safe zone. Some, like Kim Zimmer’s I’m Still Here, have been more revealing about personal things than about the ins and outs of the industry.  (Yeah, Zimmer had some pointed words about the end of Guiding Light, but nothing that hadn’t already been discussed in the soap press.)

Jeanne Cooper’s book was similar. Lots of personal revelations, few professional ones.

I’ve had a specific book project of my own in mind for a while. But it’s been a challenge to move forward.

Actors and production people are, in general, reluctant to speak in a frank, honest way about their work. It could be a number of reasons: a perception that the squeaky wheel might be a difficult one to work with, or a code of silence (speak out, and never get hired again), to name a few.

Who will be the one to write another Eight Years? Who will capture the industry, in all its wonder and all its dysfunction?

Who will give voice to the love we have for the genre, while acknowledging its mistakes, acknowledging how we got to here?

I’m going to have to watch this clip again. It may be from 40 years ago, but the storytelling wisdom Saint Agnes drops on all of us in this clip is ageless and timeless.

POSTSCRIPT: Cavett was, well, Cavett-y in this clip. But I liked his intro, and the joke about “Dutch elm disease.”

Cavett has a tie to soap opera: his first wife, Carrie Nye, appeared twice on Guiding Light: once in the 1980s as the evil real estate agent Susan Piper, and then again in 2003 as Carrie Carruthers, part of the hugely unpopular Maryanne Carruthers storyline. (She died a few years later, in 2006.)