Just about perfect

I was looking at We Love Soaps and the This Day In Soaps feature, and saw this As The World Turns episode from 1986 – yes, 30 years ago.

This was somewhere in the first few months or so that I’d started watching the show. It’s the episode where Chris Hughes (the senior Chris, the patriarch) dies in his sleep, following the death of Don McLaughlin, the actor that portrayed Chris, a few months earlier.

I didn’t have a strong memory of this from the first time around, but it’s so perfect – so many faces we loved, the wonderful ripple effects that Douglas Marland played so well, a balance between young love and mature characters, intrigue and family – well, I could go on.

I wouldn’t change a think. Well, okay, maybe that weird pajama/housedress thing Kim was wearing there. But really, not a thing.

Political overload

We’re in what seems like the longest presidential race ever. And all this after a decade of American politics that is far more crazy — and over the top — than any soap opera could be.

It’s times like this when I’m nostalgic for a certain candidate for Senate…..if only some of our politicians would break out in cases of humanity like Ross Marler did.

I did post about Ross’ dream before here, but I have to say, I’m not sure it seems so ridiculous these days. Bread and circuses surround us in this one, I’m afraid.

Time on the clock?

A tale of two executives - Jill Farren Phelps (left) and Steve Mosko (right)

A tale of two executives – Jill Farren Phelps (left) and Steve Mosko (right)

There’s been a lot of soap news in the last few weeks.

The big attention getting announcement, of course, was that Jill Farren Phelps’ contract at The Young and The Restless was not renewed.

This was a bit of a surprise to me, since Phelps and Chuck Pratt had increased ratings at Y&R. It wasn’t my cup of tea, though recent Y&R has seldom been my cup of tea, anyway. But ratings, such as they are, were up.

Phelps has a colorful record at several soaps, and a contingent of fans have very negative feelings about her work. They cite the killing of Frankie Frame at Another World (a story that Phelps denies was her call) and the loss of Beverlee McKinsey at Guiding Light.

And – of course – the dismissal of Ellen Parker as GL’s Maureen Bauer. The death of that character was compelling on screen, but came to be seen as a symbol, in some way, of the loss of “our shows,” of those narratives of humanity.

Phelps’ style has long been high drama, low lighting and a noirish presentation. Her arrival at GL kicked the show into high gear in 1992. It had never looked better. Unfortunately, the second half of her tenure at GL went off the rails, mostly because her production tricks couldn’t mask the loss of several key performers and writers.

The reaction on social media has been…..well, vivid. Along the lines of “Bye, Felicia.” (Perhaps one of the kinder things I can repeat here.)

So that was the big news of the week, right?

Not quite.

For my money, kids, the FAR bigger news is that Steve Mosko is out at Sony.

Who? Whaaa?

You may not recognize the name, but Mosko, along with Steve Kent, was the leader at Sony TV that oversaw its TV shows. Of the remaining soaps, Sony is the production arm behind two of them – Y&R and Days.

I’m not the blogger with the backstage connections, so I couldn’t tell you if Mosko’s departure had an impact on Phelps’ freedom to pursue other career opportunities.

But I believe it’s a bigger impact because it may mean other shifts within Sony. Days is on its shakiest ratings ground ever. Network broadcast shows continue to shrink, and more shows are being produced for streaming networks.

The parallel I drew when I read about Mosko’s firing was the dismissal of Mary Alice Dwyer Dobbin from P&G in 2004.

Dobbin, like Phelps, was a figure that was not always liked (for a long list of reasons, many of which I co-sign). But she WAS a protector, of sorts, for P&G and a figure who was another voice advocating for the shows at the network. I don’t think it’s a surprise that the ends of both GL and ATWT came a few years after Dobbin left (and the position was eliminated).

It remains to be seen what impact the departures of both of these execs will have on Y&R (and what impact Mosko’s departure will have on Days), but it makes me wonder how much time remains for both of these shows.

DAYS: Letting obvious sand slip through the hourglass

I don’t write often about DAYS, as you all know.

I’ve never been a fan of the action/adventure mix DAYS and GH adopted in the 80s and, with mixed results, have returned to every so often in the years since.

(Someday, Lynn Liccardo and I will have to have a podcast about that very topic. There will be pillows and at least one intermission, maybe two.)

The show has been more like DAYS OF OUR DEATHS for months, and in the rare moments I catch it, I can’t find anyone I like, or want to root for, or any couples that have even the dimmest spark.

Yeah, I know. Tell us how you really feel, right?

The latest thing to make me scratch my head is a story with Nicole, Kate and Deimos, who, despite Vincent Irizarry’s vast talents, still seems to be more of an idea than an actual character.

I caught bits of the show on two different days where a past love of Deimos was being discussed. Apparently, Nicole looks a whole lot like a woman in Deimos’ life from 30 years ago.

Nicole. Okay…..but Nicole?

GOSH. IF ONLY THERE WAS SOME WAY DAYS COULD GO BACK IN TIME TO CAPTURE VINCENT IRIZARRY 30 YEARS AGO WITH ANOTHER ACTIVE DAYS FEMALE CAST MEMBER.

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I MEAN, IT WOULD BE COOL IF PICTURES EXISTED. AND THE CHEMISTRY EXISTED. AND, YOU KNOW, IT WOULD BE ALL RIGHT THERE.

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I MEAN, HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE IF THAT PERSON WAS, LIKE, ALREADY PART OF THE DAYS CAST?

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I can’t be the only person who, when Helena and Deimos’ past was mentioned, went “Huh?”

Was there no one at DAYS who thought of this? C’mon, folks. Is there even a Telenext to complain about the photo usage? Can we not break a twenty and pay them to show it for a day?

I just have to figure one of two things is true.

(1) Judi and Vincent don’t care much for working with each other. I’ve heard nothing of the sort, and I know about as much as the next viewer re: backstage gossip, but hey, it’s possible.

(2) DAYS missed a giant opportunity to capitalize on existing talent/chemistry. There’s been a lot of change backstage as well as in front of the camera.

#1 is a possibility, but based on everything else I see with this show (“Kassie DePaiva is driving a rare interesting story on the show? Let’s write her out!”) you’ll forgive me if I tend to believe #2.

Those sands keep slipping through the hourglass, sadly……..

Remembering Morley Safer

It was sad to hear the news yesterday that, barely a week after CBS announced his retirement, Morley Safer died at the age of 84.

As a writer, journalist and news nerd, Safer was a pillar of achievement for all of his work with 60 Minutes.

And as a soap opera nerd, I think my third or fourth thought after hearing the news? Was, “Oh, yeah. He did that piece on the end of Guiding Light.”

Though the segment still leaned a bit too heavily on some of the weirdness of soaps and the things that, out of context, always seem so absurd about soaps, I think Safer’s piece captured the significance of GL, and the reasons why people loved it so.

Safer’s passing is, like the end of GL, the end of an era. Safer was the last of a storied group of journalists who made such an initial impression on 60 Minutes – Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather and Harry Reasoner among them. And as with GL, while others will take his place, we are unlikely to see the likes of Safer again.

A word about Home Fires

Welcome to Great Paxford......under attack, by war and ITV suits!

Welcome to Great Paxford……under attack, by war and misguided ITV suits!

There’s a great TV drama, in only its second season in the UK, that’s become a favorite of mine. (Season one – or as they say in the UK, series one – played in the US last fall on PBS.)

It’s called Home Fires, and it’s based on the book Jambusters. Like the late and lamented Downton Abbey, it’s a period piece, but instead of post-Victorian England, we’re in that same spot at the cusp of World War II.

It’s a great story, with multiple characters, all deftly drawn and played wonderfully.  It’s become a favorite of mine, despite a long gap between episodes ( two seasons of six episodes).

Despite solid ratings and a dedicated fanbase, ITV (the producing network in the UK) decided to end the series.

This blog sat shiva, so to speak, and blogged the ending of two long running shows we all loved, as my readers will remember.

But this is so different. This show is just hitting its stride, a lovely story, a bit of a slow burn story. It had relatively healthy ratings, if not blockbuster ones, and was winning its time slot. It appears to be a case of a few suits ignoring what the audience wants.

It’s also a show that’s primarily about women, and women over 35 at that, and shows with women seem to have a target on their backs this season.

Two US shows – Castle and Sleepy Hollow – axed their female leads.  The whole Bury Tropes Not Us campaign shows how often female characters, especially LGBT female characters, are killed on our shows.

(Updated to add: LadyPartsTV has a great piece on this, especially re: the new Shonda Rhimes show. Click if you like, but be warned there are spoilers for The Catch: https://ladypartstv.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/lgbt-fans-deserve-better/) 

I’m not sure why this particular show is being shuttered. It may be, sadly, the unrelenting push for youth programming. It may be that the fans that love this show is a mature one, and we the audience have not (thus far) made the big splashes on Twitter, Facebook and social media that outlets like ITV use to measure success.

Home Fires is a unique band of actors and roles, all wonderfully character based. I haven’t been invested in a show like this in years, and I’m part of a campaign to hopefully convince someone to make more of it – whether it’s ITV or another company remains to be seen.

It’s a long shot, but if you’ve seen the show, these women bond together in the face of astonishing odds to make things happen. Their belief brings life, literally, to places where others thought were riddled with death.

It’s a beautiful narrative, and I’ll lift my pen and tap my keyboard as much as I can, as long as I can, to try and help the cause.

The petition to save Home Fires can be signed at: http://chn.ge/1TB1mdf

Follow @homefiresitv and @savehomefires on Twitter for updates. 

Note: The show is carried here on PBS. Unfortunately, PBS has restricted the ability of viewers to post comments or dialogue about a program or show on their pages, but if anyone has suggestions on how to get in contact with them, please let me know. 

Anachronism: Why are so many shows bad at mining the past?

Mad Men: period piece done right. (Also, I needed an excuse to post a Peggy photo.)

Mad Men: period piece done right. (Also, I needed an excuse to post a Peggy photo.)

There’s been a few recent stories about HBO’s Vinyl, and the fact that HBO recently fired its creator and will install a new showrunner.

I thought the show was dreadful for a number of reasons, but primarily because it mines a lot of territory that Martin Scorcese already covered in many of his movies, and for which he has nothing particularly new to say.

(I’m also biased, because I’d love to create a show covering some of that era in music – but yeah, I’ll let you know when I sell that treatment.)

Vinyl fell victim to one common trap, the “Let’s Make It Really Super Obvious What Era We’re In!”  The premise of the show, and its era, were hammered home again and again.

Yeah, I get it — recreated performances of classic, existing music performances will be a part of this show, but nothing about these scenes, ones that were supposed to be “setting the mood,” felt at all organic. It all felt incredibly posed, and underlined for our benefit.

A few lines of dialogue are one thing, but for me, part of my willingness to buy into a show is how well they navigate that tricky territory.

This is particularly true, it seems, of shows based in the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s a really interesting Amazon series called Good Girls Revolt, based on a book about women journalists, and the pilot was interesting (Nora Ephron is a character in the show).

But it was guilty of the same sort of over-the-top-hey-look-it’s-the-60s business in trying to set the tone.

Yes, we know it’s 1969. We don’t need it hammered home with every line of dialogue. Yes. Vietnam War. Yes, Nixon. Those references end up feeling so forced (and so unnatural).

Granted, it was the pilot, and pilots are not known for emerging fully formed out of the womb, so to speak.

But I think there’s so many interesting things that can be done and said with a period piece, and the fact that it is a period piece doesn’t mean that the audience needs a little bouncing red ball to follow along. We’re pretty smart, after all.

M*A*S*H, for example, allowed the writers to use a previous war (Korea) to talk about Vietnam.

It’s certainly spoken to cultural trends. CNN’s The Seventies’ piece on TV touched on the trend of deeply traditional shows like The Waltons and Little House on The Prairie in the midst of the 1970s, a chaotic decade that saw a lot of change.

In terms of more current or recent shows……

Downton Abbey may have had some softer edges and some sympathies for upper-class British society, but it also had some interesting things to say about class divisions and socioeconomics, a topic we almost never see discussed (even badly) in any US television show.

Call The Midwife is another fascinating show to me, and despite its time period, it’s provided an often unflinching look at the lives of women – their short list of choices, and the ways in which they were limited in society.  It also often brings faith into the conversation (the main midwifery practice, after all, is run by nuns).

Perhaps I was spoiled by Mad Men, a show that managed to hit the right notes so often, a show that was often far more allegorical than literal, and had stronger stories and narratives as a result.

Rule number one, though, was a hard one for Vinyl to learn: if you’ve got to drop anvils on your audience’s head to convince them where they are and what they’re watching? You’ve already lost half the battle.