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.

HOME FIRES CAMPAIGN INFORMATION

NOTE:

The main blog now lives at http://savehomefires.blogspot.co.uk/ and is run by Kerryn Groves. Look there for updates, but you can see an abbreviated archive of info there below from the first few weeks of the campaign.

I am still the admin at the Twitter account and still reaching out to journalists and advertisers.

Thanks!

>>> I started a Twitter account, @SaveHomeFires. Follow the campaign there. IF you RT any Tweets or create new ones, please add #SaveHomeFires as the hashtag (so ITV can see the activity).

>>> The Change.org petition can be found HERE.

CONTACT INFO FOR ITV 

ITV (the channel that has thus far broadcast the show in the UK) can be reached:

  • On Twitter at @ITV
  • By email at viewerservices@itv.com
  • By phone (within UK) at 0344 88 14150 (option four)
  • By mail (postcard campaign!) at Viewer Services
    Gas Street
    Birmingham
    B1 2JT

Note that the ITV page also has links to emails for several of their talk shows and news programmes, which might be receptive to hearing about the campaign.

UPDATED 5/18: I suggest that emails and letters/postcards be directed to Adam Crozier, the chief executive, and Kevin Lygo, who was recently named as the new head of television at ITV. 

What to mention in your email or letter? A few suggestions:

  • How much you like the show. Be passionate if you like, but be as concise as possible. List a particular story, or just the overall experience/feeling. 
  • Be polite but firm. Let them know what resolution looks like for you (bringing the show back).
  • Let them know how “awake” you are on social media, and how you’d support a 3rd series by Tweeting it and sharing it on Facebook, adding value to their property.
  • You can also mention your awareness of advertisers for the show (see below). 

ADVERTISERS

Kitty very helpfully compiled a list of recent advertisers for the most recent episodes of Home Fires (UK broadcast).

HF adverts

I looked at several of these companies – their web sites really aren’t set up to hear from viewers or people who aren’t in the trade.

However, Tweeting them and mentioning how you’d like to see more of Home Fires, and of their advert on the show, would be great. I have a screen capture below of an example of what that might look like.

Ad Tweets

OTHER NETWORKS THAT BROADCAST THE SHOW: 

UNITED STATES: PBS is the channel that broadcasts the show in the States, through the Masterpiece brand. Unfortunately, PBS has made it nearly impossible for people to contact them directly about a program.

US fans should contact their local station and filter comments through that outlet. Masterpiece does have its own social media pages, on Facebook and on Twitter at @MasterpiecePBS.

Amazon Prime has picked up Season 1. I have no contact information for anyone in programming there as yet – all contact info points back to customer service.

CANADA: It appears that the show can be seen in Canada on VisionTV – Their contact info is here.

A number of areas in Canada can also pick up PBS feeds.

___________________________________________________________

15 May 2016

BATTLE PLANS!

Obviously, I am a huge fan of Home Fires.

I’m also someone who has a bit of background as a writer and journalist, with a dabbling in PR, and a fair amount of experience in the corporate world.

Based on all of that, I have some thoughts and suggestions to share. These are not decrees – I am no egomaniac and this is SO not about me, but know that these ideas might make a difference.

HASHTAGS, PLEASE! Please use the #SaveHomeFires hashtag as MANY times as possible, in every Tweet you can, in every Facebook post. The more it’s used, the more likely we show up as trending on Twitter or Facebook. ***If you see the hashtag in your Trending feed, please take a screenshot!***

MAKING NOISE: The petition is the cornerstone of what we have done and will continue to do, and it is hugely important. It should be the main focus of the campaign, obviously.

But it will be equally important for us to make some sustained noise over the next week or two. This means getting radio stations, smaller local newspapers, and magazines to either Tweet or re-tweet the campaign, or (even better) write about it.

It may be hard to get a mention – some media outlets will have relationships with ITV or possibly a competitor. But anything that lets a wider audience (outside of social media) know what’s happened is a huge bonus.

Planting those seeds in the next few days could pay huge dividends. If you can think of any DJs, local newspaper writers, etc. who might be willing to talk about this, reach out to them. I am happy to help with any advice, ideas, etc.

COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS: We’ve had some great luck reaching out to the WI to raise awareness of the campaign. If you have any ideas about other groups who may be willing to share & spread the word, please let me know. We’ve also had a lovely response from Downton Abbey fans and fan groups.

VALUE ADDED: I know we’re pretty angry at ITV’s decision, but a few things – ITV made this decision from a business standpoint. They are not the enemy.

It was business that made them decide not to renew, and if they change their minds, it is business that will bring them to do so. The question for most corporations like ITV is simple: Where’s the value in doing this?

We have shown the might of our voice in this campaign. I know the show has several fandoms who played an active role on social media – but as a whole, the collective of fans may not have been so vocal on social before the cancellation. I can guarantee we will be far more vocal if there is a renewal. We’d be quite a promotional force, and in that way, we’d engage the audience and grow it. We would add value.

CORRESPONDENCE: Written correspondence to ITV – email or by post – is important. The thing I just said about us adding value? Is something I’d include in every and any correspondence with ITV. I’d also let them know what you hope the resolution will be. Be positive but direct, and if you have the time and inclination, send it to as many people as possible within ITV. (I’m a believer in ‘snail mail,’ myself.)

________________________________________________________________

18 May

HEARTFELT WORDS ABOUT HOME FIRES

From Mark Umbers, who portrays Nick Lucas:

UmbersComments

19 MAY

HOME FIRES ON THE RADIO!

The Save Home Fires campaign was on the radio this morning in the UK – Anna King’s show on BBC Gloucester interviewed Kerryn Groves, the leader of our petition, and others about the move to save the show.

You can hear it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03t3xsd

MORE NEWS

The petition – at least the signatures to this point – were delivered to ITV today. After some initial confusion, Kerryn Groves received confirmation, and I also received an email from Janice Troup confirming ITV’s receipt.

______________________________________________________________

21 MAY

B IS FOR BOYCOTT

Members of our campaign have been discussing the possibility of some sort of protest and/or boycott to further engage ITV in a conversation about bringing back Home Fires.

It’s an interesting idea, but we should proceed with caution. Here’s my thoughts on the idea.

(1) Since only a limited number of people actually participate in metered ratings measurement, the ability to “measure” the boycott would be limited.

(2) I’m of the mind that we want to keep things more positive, at least for the moment, and remind ITV how we can be a positive promotional voice for a possible Series 3, and add value to their decision to renew/recommission.

(3) Rather than a straight-up boycott, I would consider reaching our to Home Fires advertisers and tell them how disappointed you are that ITV cancelled the show, and how you’re unable to see more of their adverts, etc. – we can work on the message, but the point should be – ITV is impact the relationship I have with you as a consumer.

We do need to speak to ITV’s bottom line. As I said earlier – it was a business decision for them, and if they bring the show back, it will be a business decision that changed their mind.

If one is pursued, we need to have public conversations with the advertisers, and we need to communicate directly with ITV leaders (Adam Crozier and Kevin Lygo) as well as their PR team. 

_________________________________________________________________

23 MAY

PRESS COVERAGE

 

Some press listings (a more complete list at Kerryn’s blog)

THE EXPRESS featured TWO THREE (!) posts:

RADIO TIMES:

THE TELEGRAPH:

THE CHESTER CHRONICLE:

iNews UK:

Oxford Mail:

Kevin O’Sullivan (@TVKev):

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.

Lady Parts and Otalia

As I mentioned in my last post, the video blog Lady Parts – created and hosted by Liron Cohen and her wife, former Soap Opera Weekly editor Mimi Torchin – has a new episode with former Guiding Light head writer Jill Lorie Hurst. You can see it below.

It’s a fantastic chat, well worth a watch, and I don’t want to comment or editorialize on it (it can speak for itself) but I will say this…..

I’m a big fan of Jill Lorie Hurst. When I made the trip to NYC in 2008, and “the bloggers” got to cover GL, we met a lot of people. A LOT of people.

And Jill stood out for me among the crowd, because of her authenticity. The optimism, the generosity, the attempt at fairness (and here, forgiveness) and looking at the glass half full that you see in this interview? That’s all real, and all Jill.

She may have been “co-head writer” but it’s not hard to understand that the humanity that increasingly surfaced in the show in its last year or so came from Jill’s pen, and from her view of the world as a person. Otalia may have been the most vivid representation of that, but you could see it, feel it and sense it in many other corners of Springfield (and Peapack).

POSTSCRIPTS:

  • In the vlog, Liron mentions an article about lesbian characters who have been killed on our TV screens; I found one link here. Astonishing (and devastating)  to see in its entirety.
  • Another great interview surfacing this week is Michael Logan’s chat with the legendary Jane Elliot. Check it out here.

Dark disappointments – and Big Purple Dreams

Otalia, the supercouple.

Otalia, the supercouple.

As I mentioned a few days ago, it’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since the end of Guiding Light.

It’s been fifteen years since Bianca Montgomery came out on All My Children, and almost ten years since As The World Turns‘ Luke Synder came out.

We live in a county that celebrated marriage equality last year, and daytime was out there in front with LGBT characters  (well, until last year, mostly L and G) stretching back into the 1980s. Granted, their appearances were spotty and inconsistent, but we did surface and lead a full life on daytime pretty early in the game.

And yet, daytime diversity, especially on the LGBT front has been – well, decimated.

Harsh? Nah, I don’t think so.

We have the back burnering of General Hospital’s Lucas and Brad – which started before the departure of Ron Carlivati last year, and has continued save for an occasional appearance on-screen in the weeks and months since.

And of course, we have the brutal murder of Will Horton, arguably one of the most well-known characters on DAYS. The Will/Sonny pairing, once a cornerstone of the show and a popular pairing with many viewers, was ripped to shreds.

Paul, the third wheel of that story, is rarely seen outside of his relationship with Papa John.  (There were rumors that another LGBT story was coming to DAYS, but considering recent writing changes, that story is a big question mark now.)

(NOTE: After my initial misgivings, I do find B&B’s Maya and Rick story to be a solid one, and one of the strongest on what is still a messy, repetitive show to me. The Avant family is great, and they’ve played a number of beats nicely about Maya’s transition, and how acceptance is hard earned and a process that takes years.)

Despite a push for diversity (and with B&B being one daytime exception), we are still in an era where, to paraphrase the late Vito Russo’s graphic language, “the fag must die at the end.”  It was true of movies, the topic Russo wrote so wonderfully about, and it seems to sadly still be true in a number of corners of the TV universe.

It’s been true on many TV shows, with very rare exceptions. Shonda Rhimes can’t carry it all, and while she does have a number of LGBT characters across her shows, several of them have been curiously disconnected — or have taken a step back from the demonstrating-affection phase of the relationships — in the last year or so (Calzona on Grey’s Anatomy and Cyrus on Scandal, to name a few).

Cyrus seems to have maybe, possibly scored with a hunky ex-Secret Service agent, but it was more implied than actually spelled out. Artistic choice, or reluctance to call it what it is because of viewers or advertisers? His “husband,” such as that sham marriage is, is rarely seen.

We saw the love (demented as it was) between Cyrus and James, but since James was killed, the character hasn’t shown much of his sexuality onscreen. I know Shonda Rhimes is committed to diversity — and that Rhimes does not play — but I also wonder what battles are being fought behind the scenes (especially when ABC just changed leadership).

More recently, viewers of several CW shows have expressed their deep disappointment at the handling of LGBT-related storylines there. I admit I’m not familiar with many of the CW’s programs, but this blog post has some compelling data about how many LGBT characters – particularly young female characters – have been murdered or died onscreen.

It’s very disappointing, and I’m wondering why it’s happening, especially in the wake of marriage equality. Is it a corporate decision, as so many decisions are?

Rumors swirled around the DAYS debacle. It was letters from old grandmas watching that forced them to be fired! It was Dena Higley’s fault! (Well, isn’t everything? Another day, another post for THAT topic.)

And of course, struggles with diversity are much broader than LGBT characters. I tried to cover this earlier this year, riffing off of an earlier article by writer Aaron Foley., but in trying to cover the scope, I was probably not eloquent enough about it. (Then again, I’m a cisgendered dude who lives in a big puffy cloud of privilege, so there’s that.)

This article was in the New York Times a few weeks back, and is a great snapshot of what performers face when they are not, as the article states, straight white dudes.

All this was a bit of a long story to get back to the point I wanted to make with my opening paragraph: of all the love stories told on daytime thus far, I’ve still found the most magical and emotionally satisfying one to be GL’s story of Otalia.

There were bumps in the road, sure. There was the lack of a real, honest to goodness romantic kiss, a fact we can’t ignore. There was a bit of a bump in the story close to the end of the show’s run, with Frank and the baby (a twist that TPTB perhaps thought was necessary due to Jessica Leccia’s real life pregnancy).

But beyond all that, there was magic, more magic that I can remember from a soap couple in years (and certainly more than I’ve experience since). The exploration of the relationship, acted beautifully by Crystal Chappell and Leccia, and written with so much beauty and aching humanity by Jill Lorie Hurst, was a wonder to see. (For an earlier post about it, click here.)

It is no exaggeration to say that Otalia was much of the reason the show walked proudly into the final days of its run, versus hobbling in shame to the finish line.

So many of our writers, daytime, nighttime or otherwise, have forgotten to give us a few seconds to catch our breath, to show us the relationship instead of telling us it exists. Here, it all happened in a lush slow burn.

It may have perhaps been a reluctance on the part of TPTB to have characters say the word “lesbian,” but that lack of naming and labeling was part of its magic and beauty. Natalia and Olivia fell in love. We saw it, and we knew it before even they did. Those big purple dreams were magical, and any show worth its production budget should watch those scenes as a template for their own bibles.

Quick postscript: This rose colored view of Otalia doesn’t sweep away some of the problematic things that happened along the way. I know a lot of viewers (me included) took the lack of a kiss very personally.

My point: all the LGBT stories have been problematic, in some way. All other things being equal, I still think this story was so magical. Then again, it had a defined ending, which many other couplings didn’t really get, either because the story was cut short or the show itself was. (I don’t know what we’d call the ending of Will and Sonny, other than a mess.)

An Otalia Programming Note: If you want to see Jill Lorie Hurst talking about Otalia (and other stuff – not sure from just the teaser!) check out the Lady Parts vlog that will go live on April 7th.

The vlog was launched by Liron Cohen and her wife, former Soap Opera Weekly editor Mimi Torchin. Looks like they’ve been talking (in previous episodes) about a lot of interesting issues. It all looks (in my humble opinion) really interesting and well worth a look!

Turning the page: the soap press

Could it be....a GL cover?

Could it be….a GL cover?

Many soap fans have had a contradictory relationship with soap magazines.

On the one hand, they were, for many years, the ONLY place we could read about our shows, or the performers who appeared on those shows.

On the other hand….well, how do I say this nicely? They didn’t aim very high. It was mostly recaps and, if you were lucky, an occasional interview. Many interviews came right out of the publicist’s playbook. Yes, I love my character. Yes, we are all one big happy family! Yes, yes, yes…..

I’m thinking about this and writing about this because Soap Opera Digest (SOD), the grande dame of the magazines, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

It’s the one with the longest history, perhaps, but its main history, let’s face it, has been as a promotional program guide for soaps.

It has, over its long life, featured criticism, but aside from some Carolyn Hinsey’s former column, and a few other earlier voices (Michael Logan, if I remember correctly), that criticism has mostly been whispered, not shouted.

Why do I say this?

I could have told you in 1996 – twenty years ago – that Days of Our Lives, General Hospital and The Young and The Restless would be three of the last soaps standing.

That’s because SOD, for most of the last 25 years, has had a laser focus on promoting those three shows.

It was so ridiculous in the mid-and-late 1990s that I often referred to SOD as Days of Our Lives Digest. Some variation of a handful of characters (Bo, Hope, Billie, Sami, Austin, Carrie, John and/or Marlena) were on the cover almost every single week.

There were rumors of a Digest/DAYS squabble, and a time where DAYS called a turf war with Digest precisely because it wouldn’t feature those stars all the time.

This rumor reared its head again a few years back, when the word was that a certain Y&R leading performer would not talk to Digest unless they were guaranteed a cover.  (Which explained the omnipresence of said performer on Digest covers around that time.)

This dovetails quite closely with the time period I’ve talked about before with P&G, and how the P&G shows started to falter.

Granted, Guiding Light, Another World, and As The World Turns never had that sort of sparkling promotional spotlight that the above shows had.

ABC had a fierce promotional machine, one forged in the white heat of the Luke and Laura phenomenon at GH.  Y&R had a broad audience, and DAYS had a serious fanbase that eclipsed their actual ratings performance (and often still does).

But I can say as someone who bought Digest nearly every week for thirty years that, at least in those early days, GL and ATWT (and to a lesser degree, AW) were in rotation for covers.

The chicken or egg question is whether GL started to slip, started to be moved to mornings, etc. because it stopped getting covers…or whether the move to the print magazine back burner was because GL’s star was falling.

I tend to think the magazines had a big impact on the fortunes of the shows. How could they not?

It’s telling that, outside of a show anniversary, one of GL’s last full-page covers was for the notorious clone storyline.

Even the esteemed Weekly had DAYS’ Patch and Kayla as their first cover. They knew what would catch the eyeballs at the checkout line.

Weekly was, for much of its life, head and shoulders above Digest in talking about all the shows, between the features and Marlena DeLacroix’s “Critical Condition.”

I miss Weekly’s editorial voice, and its array of stories, though I’ve encountered a small but vocal group in online communities that believes Weekly was too generous with spoilers, and damaged the shows as a result.

But even it fell in its later years into a narrower focus, and eventually became redundant to sister publication Digest.

It’s a reminder to me that, for all of the work online by bloggers and sites like We Love Soaps and Daytime Confidential (where many people get their news now),  there’s still a core, measurable audience — of the audience that still watches — who was probably captivated by those early stories, their attentions captured by what the magazines promoted to them.

And it was THAT combination of story, and subsequent advertising, masquerading as magazine content – that’s kept them watching.

For a genre essentially created by and for advertising, we sometimes forget to make that connection.

Check out more of this blog here!