Yet Again, STILL The Worst April Fools Joke Ever

I do love to repeat myself.

It’s now been eight years since Guiding Light’s ‘cancelversary.’

Here’s what I said last year.

I had the briefest of hopes this year, with The Talk’s celebration of GL and ATWT as part of the 30 Years of CBS Daytime event, that a reboot – even the tiniest of reunions – might happen, but so far, no dice.

I still hold a flicker of hope that the story will resume someday.

Call it a flicker in the window….a light, if you will.

Genoa City Neighborhood Watch

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The shocker of the year in soapland had to be the announcement that The Young and the Restless was welcoming back Sally Sussman Morina as head writer (as well as Kay Alden as a consulting writer).

It’s a big roll of the dice to go back to the future, especially in this era, where soaps are on shaky ground. Will the new-old-new team be able to strike the necessary balance between the show’s past and its future? Will we finally get a sense of where Mal Young is leading the show?

I did watch the first episode from the team, and thought it was fantastic – a great way to re-set the tone of the show.

I’m making a commitment now to watch every day in January – full episodes, no FF – to really immerse myself and see what’s happening.

And I’ll be doing a snapshot of all four shows – and why I “can’t even” with some of the others.

2017 is (almost) on! Let’s do this!

The joy of the season

I haven’t had a chance to watch Sense8 on Netflix yet, but someone posted a trailer to the show’s Season 2 premiere, which in Sense8’s case, will be a Christmas special. (Thank you, Lana Nieves, for sharing.)

I’m not familiar with the Wachowskis’ work – I know they did The Matrix movies and several other films and shows.

But I was struck by what Lana Wachowski says in the first few seconds of this video. She talks about “the intersection of my life with these fictional characters.” I love her explanation of stories with a viewer’s life, just as a fictional book can sometimes intersect and resonate in a reader’s life.

Lana lists a few TV shows with holiday specials that she remembers – and lo and behold, All My Children is on that list.

I loved what she said here. The holidays are special, and it was perhaps one of the times I loved most about any of the shows I watched.

As Lana Wachowski says in the video, the holidays can deliver a sense of togetherness for some, and underscore isolation for others.

And while the holidays are “special episodes,” they can be great ways to take the temperature of where all the characters are in any story.

Another World and As The World Turns certainly had memorable holiday shows – ATWT started at Thanksgiving with the Hubbard Squash, of course!

But I have to admit, I have the softest spot for Guiding Light and its holiday shows. Especially during the Pam Long years, where the story had a lot of unabashed heart (and, let’s be real, a bit of welcome cheese, too).

I mean, Saint Nick was a character. HELLO!

In 1988, Holly had just returned to town, and Phillip was trying to help Harley with Alan-Michael.

(The Phillip/Harley scenes were among several from that year where many of us saw chemistry between the characters and actors, a decade or so before they were actually paired.)

And then there’s the episode from the following year. Pay close attention to the end of the episode (from around 53:30).

Times change, styles change, and people change, and that’s undeniable. It’s been a rough year, and an angry one.

I wish we were telling more stories that didn’t turn to violence or ugliness as a default setting. I wish we had more stories with vulnerability and heart. Even if it’s a little cheesy.

At the holidays, we could all use a little cheese, and a lot of warmth.

Happy holidays, everyone!

POSTSCRIPT: For more holiday clips, check out this blog post from Alina Adams. Adams was a part of the P&G team for years, and wrote the Oakdale Confidential book, as well as several other P&G show-related titles.

Help support a soap writer!

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Former OLTL and ATWT writer Leslie Nipkow is participating in a manuscript competition, and she’s in the game by a razor close edge.

If her book has enough pre-purchases, it will be published.

It’s a memoir that will touch on her soap experiences – there’s a great excerpt about her crossing paths with Randolph Mantooth (who appeared on Loving and ATWT).

The contest closes tomorrow, so if you can help, click here to support her book.

The Phoenix at rest

A tribute to the Phoenix - in flight, and at rest.

A tribute to the Phoenix – in flight, and at rest. (Internet image) 

2016 has been a brutal year in the arts community, and in the soap community. We’ve lost many artists, all with work that resonated deeply for us.

Earlier today, we learned of the death of actor Joseph Mascolo, who was best known as the invincible Stefano DiMera on Days of Our Lives. 

Mascolo, who died at 87, had a long and varied career in nighttime and film. He proved his versatility with the role of Massimo on B&B – where he was a welcome alternative to the wall of Forresters (and where his departure was a total mystery for many fans).

But it was Stefano that most people remember. I can’t tell you how many Tweets and Facebook blurbs I’ve seen today that said something like: I didn’t really watch or know soaps, but I know THIS guy. I know THIS name. 

As readers know, I’m more of a P&G fan, but Days was among the first shows I ever saw – it was, along with Another World, my mother’s “story.”

I remember when the DiMeras came to town. I would have never guessed that the family would still have a foothold almost 40 years later.

The twists, turns, deaths and resurrections of “The Phoenix” are too numerous to list here, but Mascolo tackled them with bravado. He made a lot of really crazy stories fly, because he believed and he made you believe.

He walked an INCREDIBLY fine line in his performances. He had a twinkle in his eye, an Easter egg of sorts to the audience letting them know this was all crazy. And yet, he didn’t play scenes for camp (well, unless it involved Susan Banks, of course). It’s easy for actors to descend into camp when all else fails, but he had a strong sense of his character.

Like As The World Turns‘ James Stenbeck, Days used – or misused – a compelling, complicated villain and piled on a plethora of fake deaths and new children until the plot twists no longer packed a punch.

And like Anthony Herrera’s Stenbeck, Mascolo’s Stefano was a renaissance man. Both were men with sharp intellects and a sense of the dramatic; both were lovers of fine art, fine wine and fine women. Both men used those brains for manipulation and havoc, instead of being  positive forces.

Mascolo, who’s been described as the polar opposite of his character in real life, will be missed by many Days and B&B fans – as well as that casual viewer, the one with the wandering attention. Mascolo made quite an impression on those viewers, a special talent in any era.

The edge of darkness: depictions of violence on daytime

Appreciating the former doesn't mean that a show - or its viewers - should forget the latter. (Roger and Holly, Guiding Light)

Appreciating the former doesn’t mean that a show – or its viewers – should forget the latter.                                (Roger and Holly, Guiding Light)

Variety’s TV columnist Maureen Ryan just shared a column she’s written about the depiction of rape on nighttime TV.

I’ve been a big fan of Ryan’s work since her days at the Chicago Tribune, and Ryan is one of several women – including her colleague Sonia Saraiya, and writers Emily Nussbaum, Linda Holmes and Margaret Lyons, to name but a few – who are doing great work talking about TV and the ways that it represents us.

Ryan’s column got me thinking about daytime, of course, which has a long and mostly problematic history with the topic of rape.

I was especially taken by these paragraphs:

Television isn’t any safer for women: there’s no doubt that rape is one of the small screen’s most frequently used dramatic devices. Whether writers think it adds “edge” or connotes character depth — and both of those assumptions are fraught — rape is prevalent in prestige vehicles, procedurals and genre shows alike.

“It’s become shorthand for backstory and drama,” says an experienced female writer who didn’t want her name to be used. “Everyone knows rape is awful and an horrific violation, so it’s easy for an audience to grasp.”

I read those sentences and immediately thought: “Ciara and Chase on DAYS.”

DAYS brought on a whole new generation, and proceeded to ruin one character (Chase) and damage another (Ciara), all while portraying a pretty ugly series of scenes.

That’s just the most recent example, of course.

Longtime readers know I am not a fan of “darkness.” That’s the case for a number of reasons, and one is that we see enough ugliness and frightening things on the news and in our daily lives. I want to escape from that onslaught, and I imagine many viewers do, too.

Another reason is because it has, indeed, become a lazy way to tell story. And daytime becomes most problematic when it does the thing daytime has done so often: played out a story where a female rape victim is attracted to/has a relationship with her attacker.

It’s the obvious DNA from the legacy of General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. It’s been done a number of times since, from DAYS’ Sami and EJ to, perhaps most disturbingly, OLTL’s Todd (or at least, who we THOUGHT was Todd) and Marty.

There have been compelling, well written stories about rape on daytime. GH revisited its story a few decades after the initial rape, which we were then told was a “seduction.”

Michele Val Jean did amazing work mapping out the complicated feelings between Luke, Laura and their son Lucky, working through the repercussions of the violence of that act.

The gold standard, in my humble opinion, was Guiding Light’s Roger and Holly.

It was also one of the most complicated, because it did show that while Holly was damaged by what Roger did, she was, indeed, drawn to something about him, or perhaps to the drama that he brought to her life.

But even THAT story required a bit of revisionist history, because most viewers of 80s and 90s era GL didn’t know that Roger had actually raped several women during his first go-round in Springfield.

What Ryan says about rape in her column really captures the way I’ve felt about all violence on soaps, and what I’ve written about over these many years.

And yet, the crutch of fast, attention grabbing story is still used by all the shows. After a few promising years, GH is back to being a pit of darkness. They sacrificed a legacy character that had huge potential – Paul Hornsby – by making him first a mobster and then, out of the blue, a murderer and a serial killer, at that.

(A character like Paul and an actor as charming and handsome as Richard Burgi and THIS was the only thing they could come up with? Really?)

GH viewers have, over the last several months, been treated to several murders, a possible suicide (Morgan), the complete decimation of Alexis Davis, now a shadow of her former self, and a resumption of mobster warfare between Julian and Sonny.

Its latest centerpiece story has a young twentysomething woman pretending to seduce said fiftysomething mobster – a person devoid of any moral compass but who proves over and over to be irresistible to every woman in town.

In all seriousness, WHO IN THE FUCK WOULD POSSIBLY WANT TO WATCH THIS?

I apologize for the language – it’s neither scholarly nor good journalism – but I am at a loss how to underscore my utter confusion as to why the remaining shows like GH tell these stories.

DAYS isn’t much better. After killing what seemed like half of the cast – including Will Horton, a character many people either grew up with or cared about a great deal – the aforementioned rape story played out, along with a return to the character of Ava, which was as painful during the second go-round as it was the first time.

Joey, like Chase and Ciara, has also been damaged – it’s hard to root for a murderer, even one that may have been justified in his actions. Oh, that reminds me – hey, Hope! Hard to be a credible cop after you murdered the town’s crime kingpin.

The Bell soaps, to their credit, seldom use violence as a story element, and have generally told stories with violence at their core with great care, including Brooke’s rape, Jake’s abuse, and the story of Stephanie’s violent childhood.

B&B has its own issues (the weirdly incestuous vibe on this show is getting REALLY threadbare and worn) and Y&R has been a show without a clear identity for a few years, but it’s good to see them avoiding violence as a cheap ratings grab – a choice that is probably influenced by their positions at #1 and #2.

It’s high sport for many soap fans to claim that X writer or Y producer “killed” a show, but I’m of a mind that many of the NYC shows suffered because they turned so often to violence and darkness.

Playing the forces of good versus evil? Hell, that’s as old as the Bible and as revered as Shakespeare. A good story needs a source of conflict.

And sometimes life truly IS ugly. It can be a revelation when a show depicts the ugliness, the struggle and the aftermath.

But it should be an exception, not a rule.

Remembering Claire Labine

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I didn’t mean for this post to be so late, but this has been a truly sad and bizarre week, and it’s taken a while to get my equilibrium back.

So much has already been said about Claire Labine, who died last week at 82. She wrote small, intimate stories with memorable, one-of-a-kind characters.

I was a fan of Ryan’s Hope when I finally got a chance to watch it (the local affiliate in Pittsburgh, where I grew up, never carried it). That was near the end, but I did get to see Maeve and Johnny, Delia, Roger and some other great characters in action.

Her run at General Hospital still stands as the only time during the show’s run that I could count myself as a fan. Yes, I remained a hardcore Guiding Light fan through thick and thin. But Claire’s arrival at GH in 1993 captured my attention.

She humanized a GH that bordered on parody, and introduced characters like Lois who widened the base of the show, and yet never felt out of place.

It was interesting to see Luke, Laura and Lucky return to the canvas. I know Tony Geary has gone on record with his dislike of the 90s era L&L, but I, for one, enjoyed the different perspective on those characters.

And of course, BJ’s heart. Enough said.

In 1993 and 1994, the wheels were coming off at GL. There were a number of departures of actors, and some writing changes, and the show felt tremendously different very quickly. GH was actually a bit of a safe haven at that time – I watched characters I could still understand and recognize.

Speaking of GL, I was so happy when I heard that Claire would be writing for the show. Sadly, what should have been the ideal fit never seemed to click. Was it a bad match? Interference from the network or P&G? Paul Rauch? Claire shared a little here and here about what happened.

With the passing of Labine and Agnes Nixon, we are truly near the end of an era. It’s a cliche, I know, but one that is wholly appropriate in this case.

The characters, the stories, the way those stories made us feel, continue to sink into the ether, deeper into memory, preserved in bits and pieces on YouTube.