Gone fishin’

Well, I think this blog is going back into storage, folks.

I’m just not following the remaining four soaps very much. I do watch DAYS occasionally (to my great surprise) but that’s about it.

And there are SO many serialized shows elsewhere that there’s nothing terribly specific, or special, about this blog’s coverage of them.

I do think there’s more moments where we can celebrate memories and great stories of the shows we love, but quite frankly, far fewer people are reading blogs in general, and far fewer see this one in particular.

The chat about those great memories and old favorites are happening mostly on social media.

I’ve had joyful moments in the last few years watching Another World, As The World Turns and – the one that will forever be admittedly closest to my heart – Guiding Light.

But those moments are mostly in solitude, watching flickering images on YouTube, reacting with the joy of rediscovery, tinged with nostalgia and a sense of time gone by.

In the present day, I’ll still be keeping a toe in the serial storytelling world. I hope to be part of a soap related project in the next few years.

So, is that all there is? Never say never, of course. If Roger Thorpe could crawl up the side of a cliff, anything is possible.

Thanks for reading, as always.

I’d like to offer my appreciation to all the people – writers, producers, crew and all the support staff – behind the scenes at the various shows, past and present.

I began writing about these shows almost 15 years ago — first as a fan, and then within a more academic context. In that time, I’ve developed a much better understanding of all of the intricacies of writing and producing 200+ hours of TV every year.

If I can say one thing for sure that’s different than when I started circa 2005, it’s that I better understand that creative decisions aren’t one person or one team, but a series of stakeholders that can be dizzying in number.

It’s not to say that there haven’t been legitimate criticisms, or that I shouldn’t have asked the questions, of course — just that the answers, or the blame, were never quite as simple as those of us in the cheap seats sometimes believed them to be.

And also, special thanks to Sam Ford, Elana Levine and especially Lynn Liccardo, who continue to inspire me with their work, and who have all been kind in their comments and encouragement over the years. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do.

EDITED TO ADD: I would be remiss if I did not also mention Roger Newcomb, whose We Love Soaps site has been a great source of information and historical clips and documents for many of us – as well as his work in trying to nudge serialized stories forward on the Web. He’s worked tirelessly for years and deserves great thanks for all that he’s done.

Life and Death: Maureen Bauer

The two faces of Maureen Bauer: Ellen Dolan (l) and Ellen Parker (r).

I’ve been reminded, on several different social media pages, that this month represents 25 years since the character of Maureen Bauer died on Guiding Light.

This plot, and its aftermath, has taken on a life of its own in those 25 years. There’s certainly a feeling among many fans that it was a mistake; some feel it was the beginning of the end for the show.

If I’ve learned anything in my years of writing about soaps, it’s that nothing is quite as simple as some of us see from the cheap seats, so I wanted to revisit this and take a fresh look at what happened in front of and behind the scenes.

Maureen had been a favorite character of mine, as played by both Ellen Dolan and Ellen Parker.

As created by Ellen Dolan, Maureen was one of “the ladies of P&G.” These women were smart, sexy and a new kind of character that we saw on screen in the 80s and 90s, mostly on P&G shows.

On GL, Maureen and her sister Nola were one of the first to really emerge, with all of the allure and complexity of earlier characters like Rita and Holly, but with a new attitude.

They were, in some ways, daytime cousins of Molly Dodd, the auburn haired New Yorker balanced between tradition and the modern world.

At first, Maureen seemed to be following in Rita’s shoes, connecting with Ed, marrying him and then coping with sharing the Bauer house with Bert, the grande matron of the manor.

Bert grew to love Mo, and when Bert died, it seemed that the mantle of town matriarch had been passed, at least unofficially, to Maureen.

And this is where, I think, memory gets a little hazy for fans.

I’ve heard or read so many fans talk about Ed and Maureen being the tentpole couple, and that they had the perfect marriage.

But we didn’t always see much of them and when we did, their marriage had, as least as far as I remember, its fair share of challenges.

One of the biggest challenges early on involved a weird story where Fletcher went to Beirut. It made sense for him to be there as a reporter, but somehow, Maureen, Ed and Claire followed.

Fletcher and Mo were believed to be dead, for a few days, after an explosion. Ed and Claire made love in their grief, and Claire became pregnant. They got over that (and Maureen eventually raised Michelle as her own), but Ed and Maureen actually had a pretty flawed marriage.

I liked both Dolan and Parker’s take on the character, but Parker’s Maureen captured the maternal role so realistically. She was as warm and nurturing as you would expect a tentpole matriarch to be, but Parker had an uncanny ability to show the hurt and disappointment in Maureen when people – especially Ed – let her down.

Ellen Parker took over the role of Maureen in 1986, and to be honest, I don’t think any of the producers or writers had a clear idea of what to do with her, other than “Ed’s wife” and “Michelle’s mom.”

Storywise, the show was changing focus, with the return of Pam Long and the focus on some key stories, none of which really involved Ed and Maureen.  Every once in a while, Ed or Mo would pop up in a scene, but we didn’t see much of them, outside of the Bauer Barbeque.

They had one story during this era. It was fantastic, and Parker, in particular, hit it out of the park. It was a “C” story, one where Ed and Mo hit a bumpy patch when Holly came back to town. Maureen found herself flirting with Fletcher and, later, had a meeting of the minds with Roger Thorpe where she tried to see his humanity.

I remember some amazing scenes coming from that, Ed and Maureen talking in a very realistic way. Maureen yelled at Ed, her hurt about Holly being his focus and her disappointment in his lack of commitment to her so close to the surface.

It was captivating, but it was probably the only real visitation of their relationship in any kind of visible story until Ed and Lillian’s affair happened, and the subsequent chain of events that led to Maureen’s death.

I can only say that if you have not seen the before, during and after scenes that you should.

They are on YouTube, under the subject heading “Goodbye My Friend.” There are 30 segments in all. Watch all of them, but especially this one, which is just heartbreaking, in every way.

I just rewatched it recently, and was surprised when it brought me to tears.

Okay, that’s the story part of it. A little discussion of behind the scenes.

Much has been made of how Maureen was killed off, and by whom. A few years ago, Jill Farren Phelps took accountability for the decision in an interview.  There have been numerous rumors about other aspects of the decision, as well.

There was an interview with Ellen Dolan in Soap Opera Digest. I can’t remember if it was before Parker left Guiding Light or after she’d been gone for a while, but Dolan was playing Margo at ATWT by the time it ran.

She made a surprising confession to the reporter that, after Parker had been at GL for a while, GL had reached out to her and asked her to reprise the role of Maureen, an offer she declined.

So it’s pretty clear that there was an ambivalence, at least, about Parker and the role of Maureen somewhere in the higher echelons. Was it the network? P&G? A producer?  Who knows.

Was it a mistake to kill Maureen? Did it hurt the show?

I think the scenes before, during and after her death are among the most realistic scenes I’ve ever seen on daytime. As I said on social media, during the final Ed/Mo scenes I felt like I was sitting on a bench in a room, watching two friends have the most brutal, heartbreaking fight of their lives.

I think the negative feeling about Mo’s death sometimes overshadows the fact that it’s one of the best storylines and best scenes we’ve ever seen on any soap. The comparison some people have made to another emotionally devastating storyline, General Hospital’s story regarding B.J.’s heart, is an apt one.

The timing of Maureen’s exit – and of Parker’s – was a little questionable, since the show had just lost two of its biggest stars, Beverlee McKinsey and Kimberley Simms, a few months before.

But in the big scheme of things, I don’t think that Maureen’s death, per se, hurt the show.

What I think did hurt the shows in the long run (not just GL) was the erasure of characters like Maureen. It’s no one writer or one show’s fault there, and a lot of factors were in play, including ever-shrinking soap budgets.

But many shows jettisoned what were perhaps more “comfortable” characters, ones that added texture and warmth, for charcters that were younger and flashier, ones with more morally questionable personas that could drive story.

Sadly, GL never really got that kind of character back. It briefly had the marvelous Mary Stuart playing Meta, a welcome presence in the midst of the mobster-filled Bauer house.

I’d love to say other shows learned their lessons, but I don’t think that was true. While some of the remaining shows still have a few veteran actors – almost all in their retirement years – I think many shows were or are guilty of killing a character, even a young character in hopes of a boost in viewers.

Few of those stories had the fine writing and well-planned aftermath of Maureen’s death, thanks to the writing of Nancy Curlee and her team.

If she had to go, we were going to damn well feel it, and mourn her after she was gone. In that, Curlee – and GL – were very, very successful. Indeed we do.

The view from other worlds

Earlier this year, a friend sent me an essay written about a soap opera – in this case, DAYS.

It was a well written essay, one that appeared in an academic publication. And it poked fun at DAYS, which has certainly had its share of bizarre, unbelievable storylines.

But parts of it also reminded me of soap stereotypes that irritate me. These are the things that the media, and anyone who hasn’t watched a soap, always talks about, always brings up as if it equals “soap.”

The multiple marriages and divorces, the returns from the dead, evil twin sort of things. The stories that seem to capture attention when they’re taken out of context.

Those stories have more in common with an episode of Maury than with the kind of story I loved to watch, but they’re still considered canon.

God (and Irna Phillips) knows that those exaggerated ideas have some truth to them. Soap operas are like the last strands of vaudeville – no matter what, the show’s gotta go on, so if an actor quits, or dies, or decides to break his or her contract, then come Monday at 1 pm, another tap dancing singer has to step into that spotlight.

A few times over the last few years, I’ve talked with friends (and in some cases, strangers) about the connotations they have of soaps, I tell them about two other stories they might be familiar with, and why I think the shows I watched for years actually have more in common with those more well-known narratives.

The Potterverse

Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know the name Harry Potter? It’s doubtful.

Author J.K. Rowling crafted several books that galvanized the publishing industry, and the subsequent movies made stars of the actors and minted billions for the studios.

At its heart, though, the Potter stories tap into some very familiar territory. Harry had struggles with his own family, and found a chosen family in his friends, their families, and other students at Hogwarts.

Set aside the fantastic sci-fi and fantasy elements, and you have a group of people navigating through complicated relationships, through understanding their place in the world, and through the choices we all have in the fight of good versus evil.

When I compare the Potterverse and soaps, it’s all about their shared ability to create a narrative world that not only welcomes the characters, but invites the reader (or viewer) into that immersive world. There’s a reason I used to dream about Oakdale and Springfield, just as many readers and moviegoers dream of Hogwarts and quidditch.

Mad Men

Soaps have a few specific quirks about them, to be sure.

One is the tendency for many shows to repeat or reiterate what’s happened already. The idea, I guess, is that anyone who missed an episode can jump right into the action.

Sometimes this was done awkwardly, or in a dry, boring way. Douglas Marland elevated the recap – via eavesdropping – into an art form during his As The World Turns stint.

And the unusual thing about soaps – the older scenes, at least – is that they often swerve from an on-the-nose recap to a scene filled with subtext.

This is one of the things I loved so much, those small character moments that would let us get a glimpse into a character’s motivations. Sometimes, by not talking directly about a topic, the characters would tell us all we needed to know about their story – their fears, their secrets, their goals.

The modern show that captured this so perfectly? Mad Men.

There are a million examples, but probably the clearest illustration, for me, is many of the early Don/Betty scenes.

We could see their marriage was imploding, even before Betty learned more about her husband’s past, but it was all painted beautifully in small moments, what was said and sometimes, even more importantly, what was NOT said.

The setting – the world of advertising  – meant that symbolism plays a big role in the show, and that’s captured magnificently, too.

The season one season finale, “The Carousel,” tells one story in the words of the narrative, on the surface.  But underneath, it’s capturing the hunger and yearning for connection we all have.

It’s those kind of scenes – like the best soap scenes, the ones that capture those little moments – that stick with viewers.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let this be the one time I tell you: please, actually DO look at the comments on that YouTube clip. They are rapturous, and so many people mention the same feelings.


My 2017 best and worst

It’s been a long, strange year, kids. The oddest soap with the strangest twists is, clearly, our lived experience as US citizens, watching our current government do….whatever it is that it’s doing.

I’ve been catching the remaining shows here and there over 2017, and so when Digest’s Best and Worst issue came out, I had a bit of a clue.

Now, the Best and Worst issue is always a conversation starter. Sometimes I’ve agreed with it, and often, I disagree with it. They’ve made some calls over the years that haven’t panned out so well.

There is, for example, this 1987 Best and Worst about a certain Guiding Light couple.

Soap Digest 1987 feature article (Source classicsodnews.tumblr.com)

Yeah, that Josh and Reva that no one ever heard from again….uh, wait…..

Anyway, I have a few things to say about this year. Where appropriate, I’ll compare my entry with the Digest one.

SADDEST DEPARTURE: Tracy, General Hospital

Large chunks of GH have, and continue to be, unwatchable for me, but Elliot was glorious in every scene. The only good things I can say about her departure is that (a) it was on her terms and (b) Tracy isn’t dead, so we may see her sometime, if only for a day or two.

MOST WASTED CHARACTERS: Bobbie, Monica, Laura, Kevin, Scotty, Mac and Felicia, General Hospital

A GH with more of these characters would be so much more watchable, especially if they played to the rich history here. Laura is GH royalty, and while her story with Kevin is sweet, I wish we could see Laura without Luke, really coming into her own and not needing to be coupled. I’d love to see Monica grapple with the realization that she’s spent so much time on her career that some of the smaller moments of life have passed her by.

GH has really not done well by many of these characters, killing off children of Scotty and Felicia, for example. It’s great that some of them are still here, and we understand vets are expensive and can’t be on every day, but there are stories still to tell there, and ways to root new characters around these vets, as GH did so well with Hayden and Tracy. Get to it, folks.

SHOW MOST IN NEED OF AN IDENTITY:  The Young and the Restless 

Y&R had had a tough time of it since the death of Bill Bell.  It’s been torn between trying to update and evolve, while paying homage to its history.

Chuck Pratt’s storytelling style had certainly damaged the ship. Sally Sussman Morina and Kay Alden steadied Y&R and gave it back its heart.

Their departure was not one I was happy to see, although they may have been telling a 2017 story at a 1987 pace.

My main beef is that so many of Y&R’s stories – for years, through many writers – were literal retreads of previous stories. Even setting aside the Abbott vs Newman and Nikki/Victor conflicts playing into infinity, there are other stories that felt repetitive.

Cane and Lily? Done before. Victoria and Billy? Ditto. Lauren and Michael? Do we even know what they’re doing these days, or why?

There were some great moves: bringing back Dina, the Newman family implosion, a flinty resistance/attraction coupling in Billy and Phyllis.

But so many other stories were ones we’ve seen before. A number of characters just seem so played out. The new approaches by Mal Young might well be visually interesting. Then again, so were scenes recorded outside in pastoral Peapack.

Where is the story?

I don’t say this to be mean. There’s always been a few things I loved about this show, and an actor (ahem) or two that I just can’t stand, but beyond those personal opinions, I think something is missing here. I just get a feeling when I watch an episode that these stories are treading water.

The raw goods are still there, but Y&R needs to do some long term planning and decide  what stories it wants to tell, trim a few overgrown branches, and bring a few new characters on the canvas with the power to carry the next few years of story.


Holy cow, this is a surprise. A year ago this would be unthinkable.

Over the years, Days has embodied so many things I disliked about where soaps were going. A focus on action/adventure stories and supercouples. Stories that went so far over the top that new definitions for “the top” needed to be developed.

There have been times where I was entertained by DAYS. The initial James Reilly stint managed to be outrageous and yet, rooted the show in strong characters and stories, with Sami at the center.

DAYS has been largely a mess for the last decade or so, though, alternating some decent stories with some dreadful muck. Solid writers like Marlene McPherson and Darrell Ray Thomas Jr. made way for the queen of dreck, Dena Higley. (More on that later).

A year ago it looked like Higley’s DAYS would slide into the trash heap, but Ron Carlivati saved the day.

Carlivati’s ascension to HW was a surprising piece of news, but honestly, it makes so much sense I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier.  His past stints show that he can deliver a show with both punch and heart, and pay attention to history while breaking new ground.

He has a few bad habits, too – sending a lot of characters to prison, and saddling female characters with severe mental health issues – and I’m hoping he doesn’t rely on them while he’s at DAYS. But so far, it’s promising.

I most agree with Digest here, where it says that the Will story managed to make a back from the dead tale seem fresh. It was very unique, and a nice use of both Alison Sweeney (Sami) and Eileen Davidson (Susan/Kristen/Mary Moira).

It is, of all the shows currently on the air, the only one I really want to sit down and watch from beginning to end.  Who knew?

WORST SHOW: The Bold and the Beautiful 

Here’s where I’m sure people will just shrug and figure I’m crazy.

But Patrick, theyll say, B&B has been Digest’s best show for years now. It’s won Best Show Emmy. What are you smoking? 

Some truth, that’s what.

I don’t see what others see, I guess. To me, B&B is often unwatchable.

I get that a 30 minute show has its challenges. There’s only so much airtime, only so many characters you can play. And certainly, B&B has its fans. It celebrated 30 years this year.

But I don’t understand why. The serious repetition drives me to distraction.

Let’s take Liam. I like Scott Clifton, and certainly think he’s a solid younger leading man. But he’s been on the show since 2010 – seven years – and I can’t buy anything the character says or does. There is no credibility whatsoever. The constant flip/flop/flip of love interests for Liam makes it impossible to invest in what he, or any of the other connected characters, does.

There’s a rumor that Hope Forrester is coming back. Played by who? Does it even matter? These are just names on a chalkboard that just keep getting flipped around.

It’s a template that worked great for this show in its early years, with Ridge and Brooke and the third in that triangle, whether it was Caroline, Thorne, Eric or Taylor.

And it was great when there were counterpoints to that energy, whether it was the late, great Darlene Conley, or the legendary Susan Flannery. There was a balance.

That balance is gone, and no counterpoints have taken its place. The “new” Spectras are a mixed bag, but while some moments were fun, the whole story – and reuse of names – seems like a weird sort of cosplay.

The show has completely wasted Maya, one of the most fascinating characters of any show in the last five years, by diminishing her bitchy side and making Maya a PSA instead of a woman with a full, rich, complicated life.

It had two sparks of energy this year – Quinn and Ridge, and the return of Sheila – but bizarrely muffled both stories after short explorations.

Some of these stories are so bland and blah. And the shame of it is, there’s character and history there. I still say that the scene where Katie cut off contact with Brooke, by saying goodbye to her sister, was one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in the last several years.

But Brooke has already married Katie’s ex-husband, discarded him, and is now making her way back to Ridge for the eight millionth time.

I didn’t particularly have an issue with the Thorne recast per se, other than a feeling that it’s just going to add to the repetition.

This show feels less like an actual story being told, and more like a board game where the pieces are interchangeable. I’m sure in this era of Short Attention Span Theater that this approach is totally intentional.

Years ago, I said that B&B never seemed like it had a long term story – that there was just a bell, invisible to the audience, perhaps ensconced in Brad Bell’s office.

And every few weeks, when the Bell rings (pun intended), there’s a voice that yells “Change!” And so the names flip on the board, and Liam loves Sally this week. Or Hope. Or Steffy, or Quinn, or let’s pick a name out of the hat and see who’s next.

I suppose it’s dramatic. But that doesn’t make it a story.


Since Digest has one of these, I’ll add a few thoughts of my own.


Ms. Higley, I’m sure you’re a nice person, kind to animals, and a true professional in all you do.

But to be diplomatic, madam….it’s clear from every one of your head writing stints that you have a very different idea about good storytelling and good soap opera than…well, most everyone everywhere.

I wish you no ill will. I wish you health and happiness and every professional success. But Jesus, lady, do it as far away from any of the remaining soaps as you can. Please.


Kind of weird that so many stories in the last few months were on the shoulders of newbies or recurring players: Juliet, Zack, Graham, Ravi…….

Which reminds me….where are those characters again?

TIMID AWARD: Tessa and Mariah, Young & Restless

I’ve seen Otalia. I lived Otalia. I *loved* Otalia.

And sorry to say, but you, ladies, are no Otalia.

I’d write a whole post about how sad it is that, almost a decade after Otalia, we still have a story that tiptoes around two women falling in love. But I’d get so sad and angry, and that happens too often these days, so, self-preservation, kids.

WORST CHARACTER NAME: David Bensch, General Hospital

Really? James DePaiva deserved better. (He also shoulda been a recast for Jeff Webber or Jimmy Lee Holt, if you ask me, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)


Speaking of the DePaiva family, it’s wonderful to see a healthy Kassie back at DAYS.


Can someone explain the rooting value? I don’t know if it’s just that Brady’s been ruined by story, or if it’s the performance of the actor, but ugh, this character is unbearable. Why does the show keep pushing Brady front and center?

MISSING IN ACTION:  The Female Catalyst and the Male Heartthrob, All Soaps

These two character archetypes are classic ones that we’ve seen in hundreds, if not thousands, of episodes of TV, both daytime and prime time.

Sure, it’s 2017, and the definition of those archetypes have evolved.

But it feels like today’s shows needs these characters.

They need a Nola Reardon, or Carly Roberts, or Sami, Brady, or Reva Shayne, or Carly Tenney. The character who wants more for themselves, and pulls several other characters into that pursuit.

And we also need a heartthrob that is handsome and strong, and maybe, just maybe, one without a rap sheet.

Writers love an anti-hero, sure, and many stories over the last decade or more have been strong women redeeming the anti-hero. Those have been great stories.

But hey, a hero wouldn’t be such a bad thing in the mix, too. A truly gorgeous man with a moral center and a focus that’s almost as intense as the hunger of that female catalyst?  A recipe for a hot, engaging story.

GH is sorta kinda close to this with the Griffin/Ava story, and I think it was hoping Nelle would be that young catalyst, but her story has been a bust so far.

Most other shows haven’t even tried in recent years, on either front.  I wish they would.

TV: A window to the world

Any longtime reader of my blog knows that I am not a fan of what I call “darkness.”

That’s not to say that I want the scripted TV or movies that I watch to be all light and no substance. Exploring sadness, loss and complex feelings in a person, in a family, in a community? Sign me up.

What the issue has always been, in my eyes, is when it’s the default setting of a story or a show, when it’s celebrated and embraced with little or no balance.

Several months ago, this was a post on General Hospital’s Facebook feed.

Self explanatory, no?

It should surprise no one that this show and this character are near the top of my list of dislikes.

I have no beef with the actor, nor with the initial arc of this character, one many of us expected to see play out a few villainous plots before heading off to pay for his sins.

But somewhere along the line, Sonny became a character with rooting value.

Never mind how many people he’s killed, or what nefarious things he’s done. He’s still considered the core center that this particular world revolves around.

It’s a template that worked well for GH, after all. They had the original recipe antihero, Luke Spencer.  And they’ve got a stable of handsome leading men who also have metaphorical (if fictional) blood on their hands.

Jason (whoever he may be), Valentin and Julian – all murderers in some way, at some time – are positioned as romantic leads along with Sonny. Their misdeeds are a challenge, perhaps a roadblock, for the women that love them to work through with them – together. Viva la supercouples!

It goes much deeper than that, of course. It’s also the female characters, and it’s also other shows.

If you think I’m being specific or literal about murderers, or saying that they don’t belong on soaps, you’d be wrong. Certainly soap characters have killed other characters as part of a story.

But for many years now, someone – the storytellers, the networks, the viewers, perhaps all three – seems to really be dwelling and living in the blood and gore of it all. It’s shown in a way that I think blurs lines, that feels less like entertainment and more like tragedy porn.

Sure, it’s probably a direct response to things like reality TV, to the sorrow porn of shows from the 90s like Maury, Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, hours of human beings being horrible to each other and to themselves.

It’s impossible for me not to see a connection between the tone of these stories and the ugliness we all see and hear in the world today.

I don’t know if this is a “chicken or egg” debate, whether our changing world fed into these stories or whether our fears, projecting into our reality, made things worse.

There’s an academic theory, “mean world syndrome,” that gives some credence to the idea that much of our media – TV, movis, video games – make us think the world is far more violent than it is.

I just assumed for a long time that I must be a terribly old-fashioned viewer. I probably had relatively sophisticated tastes for a teenager.

There were edgy stories, dime store novel murders and guns and bombs in the stories I watched back then. (Let’s not forget, our GL hero Phillip once blinded true love Beth with a bomb.)

But there was also Nick, the Santa Claus stand-in. There were millions of smaller, quiet moments, and a willingness to embrace a loving moment, a happy ending, a resolution.

A few months ago, the Washington Post featured an article about the Hallmark Channel.

The headline? “The Feel Good Hallmark Channel is Booming in the Age of Trump.”

I wonder if I am still the only one with the soft spot for corny sentiment, the Pollyanna who yearns for those family centered shows.

Many programmers think that there’s extremes – that it’s either a saccharine sugary schlockfest where everyone hugs and learns lessons at the end…..or that it’s body counts, coroners and bloody gangfights in a gritty setting.

Is there no space in the middle? The world around us, I think, looks far more like that middle than it does either of those extremes.

I remember reading several articles expressing surprise that NBC’s Dolly Parton movies were so successful, that a Waltonsesque historical story with no mobsters, serial killers or antiheroes/antiheroines would attract such an audience.

Some of the success, no doubt, is the legend of Dolly Parton. But it’s also a story of family, of dealing with the difficulties of life as a family. It’s a hopeful story.

And whaddya know….it’s a story written by none other than Pamela K. Long – the former Guiding Light head writer who created many characters (including that lady who wore red all the time) and who loved those small, charming, mildly corny moments. Like Nick showing up on Christmas Eve.

Like Beth showing up on Christmas Eve – a moment (at around 43:00) that still makes me tear up after all these years.

Shows up, I should add in (a) an episode written by Pamela Long that (b) is filled with those kind of sweet moments and (c) ends with the cast and their families singing a Christmas Carol which just SLAYED me completely.

(Whew, it is really dusty in here…)

I love a good Christmas miracles, but we can be miracles for each other on other days, in other scenarios, too. We can embrace the good in all of us as much as we embrace the uncertainty, the fear, the ugliness. And we can have narratives of our lives that do the same.

Yes, uncertainty and tension is the friend of any writer. But if everyone’s at the edges, who will tell those of us in the middle a story?

And more importantly: Can we edge our way back to the screen with these types of stories? If the everyday soap isn’t feasible, where can we tell these stories, and see these people on screen? There’s an audience for them, a hunger for them, that much IS clear.

Soaps and the Family Tree, Part Two

(Photo credit: Claudio Edinger)

I’ve mentioned my love of genealogy a few times here, talking about my own experiences in this post.

In another post, I mentioned PBS’ Finding Your Roots, which had featured former ATWT cast member Julianne Moore in one of their segments.

Although the segment didn’t feature any half-sisters/cousins coming back from the dead looking exactly like Julianne but with a strange accent that sounded somewhat like a British accent crossed with Madonna…..well, it was still interesting!

But I was really surprised to see a recent episode of Finding Your Roots. One of the guests in this particular episode was Gaby Hoffmann, who’s had a long and varied career as an actress, but who I know best as Ali Pfefferman from “Transparent.”

I was very surprised, a few years ago, to learn that Hoffmann’s biological father was the late Anthony Herrera, known to soap fans as James Stenbeck from As The World Turns.

I remember learning this via a photo in the New York Times a few years ago – the photo at the top of this post – and Finding Your Roots showed a glimpse of the same photo in their segment on Gaby.

The photo shows Viva, Gaby and Gaby’s older sister…..and a TV set, tuned to ATWT, with Anthony Herrera and Colleen Zenk on the monitor. (Colleen is also in the video clip that was included.)

It’s a connection that, to be honest, I kind of pushed out of my mind. For a few reasons.

One reason, sadly, is that Hoffmann and Herrera apparently did not have a relationship.

And the second, somewhat related reason….is that in some of her earliest Transparent scenes, Hoffmann really resembled Herrera in certain expressions, and I had to sort of block that connection out, so I could just appreciate her work on its own. Which I do.

Hoffmann’s Finding Your Roots segment is very captivating, and very much uniquely Gaby Hoffmann. Her life story could be a movie of its own – her mother, Viva, is a famed part of the Warhol artist and actor community.

It was definitely a compelling story — as well as a sad and surreal one to watch.


NOTE: You can see the episode here.  The episode also features Tea Leoni, with an equally captivating story about Tea’s mother.

The Hero Dies

The cover of Michael Ausiello’s new book.

Today’s the publication day of Michael Ausiello’s book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.

Readers of sites like TVGuide.com and TVLine may recognize his name – if you’re an “Aushole” who follows his news, spoilers and updates about shows.

But Ausiello also has a soap pedigree. He was an editor at Soaps In Depth for several years, and has always been open about his love for soaps in his mainstream press work.

He talks a bit about it in a new interview posted this week on TVLine, an excerpt from the book:

My mom also shared my love of soaps. Unfortunately, since I was a child of the Dark Ages—a time before VCRs, never mind DVRs—school proved a rather daunting obstacle to my daytime TV watching. But it was not an insurmountable obstacle. If the truancy cops had paid a little more attention to my absentee records, they’d have noticed that all of my illnesses coincided with pivotal episodes of Days of Our Lives. Bo and Hope’s wedding? I was home with a cold. The climax of Stefano DiMera’s evil prism plot? I was nursing a relentless cough. The death of Roman Brady? Nasty stomach bug.

This both made me laugh and also hit close to home for me.

My mom is at least partly responsible for my soap habit. She, too, watched DAYS, back in the Doug and Julie era.

Michael’s book is about the illness and death of his husband, who died of a rare form of cancer. You can read two articles about the book here and here. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I shared a social media post about my mom’s passing, which happened this week ten years ago. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago, after a long fight with a number of health issues, including cancer.

Michael’s book will no doubt be a tough read, but a moving one.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ll note here as well the sad news that Mark LaMura, who was such a talented actor and a key part of All My Children, died of cancer yesterday at 68.  That C word again.