Agnes Nixon: In tragedy and triumph

We learned Wednesday that Agnes Nixon died.

There’s not much I can tell you here that hasn’t been better said elsewhere. The New York Times published an excellent obituary.  Daytime Confidential and We Love Soaps have also paid tribute to Nixon. Many millions were impacted by the stories Nixon told, by the characters she created.

I had two thoughts when I heard about Agnes.

One was to really think about, and deeply appreciate, what she accomplished as a writer, as an artist. She rose from challenging beginnings and family tragedy and strife to become a successful working woman in the 1950s and 1960s, when such a thing was not common. Nixon was not just successful, but completely rocking it at a level that was unheard of at that time.

Even setting all the characters and creative achievements aside, she had few equals in ANY part of television. You had Lucille Ball, who owned Desilu for a time, and then you had people like Irna Phillips and Agnes Nixon. They may not have owned their shows per se, but their services, their creative abilities, became a company and an empire.

Agnes Nixon and her work became so popular because, like the best writers, she wrote what she knew. You can look at an uber-modern 2016 show like “Transparent,” with its core family, the dreams and hopes and disappointments of those people, created and written by someone spilling much of their own life onto that canvas, and you can see the DNA of a writer like Agnes Nixon in those strands. Erica Kane was long rumored to be based on Agnes herself.

Agnes got the balance right, the magic alchemy that gets people involved in a story. So many of her characters – Phoebe, Myrtle and Opal come to mind – were people we all knew, and also, at the same time, people who were just a little bit bigger, broader and brighter than our neighbors and friends.

The other thought, of course, is that it truly is the end of an era.

Her legendary work moves toward memory, the same memories so many of us have as children when we first saw these shows.

I heard the news on Wednesday and heard the first notes of this music, and I got goosebumps hearing this. It took me back to the opening of that book, to the telling of that story, and of so many others.

The words that Nixon wrote for the show, which appeared in the photo album in the show’s opening, hearkened back to the days of Preston Bradley, and the spark that Bradley ignited in Irna Phillps – to entertain people, to inspire them, to comfort them. Agnes Nixon did all that and more.

The great and the least, the rich and the poor

The weak and the strong, in sickness and in health

In joy and sorrow, in tragedy and triumph

You are all my children. 

Game, set, match: Head writer roulette

"We can't return we can only look // Behind from where we came" But where are these shows going next?

“We can’t return we can only look // Behind from where we came”  But where are these shows going next? Round and round, nobody knows for sure……

I meant to comment on the latest Plan to Save Days ™ sooner, but really, what is there to say?

For whatever reason, both NBC and Corday Productions thinks Dena Higley has the magic touch, that she’s the only one they can trust (or afford) to lead the show and crank out the very specific action-adventure hybrid stories that DAYS requires.

It doesn’t matter who her co-writer is or what else is happening. As long as Dena’s at DAYS, it will continue to be an unwatchable mess.

We also heard that Y&R will soon have a new headwriter.  This announcement is THE most curious announcement I’ve ever heard, because it was enveloped, like a rain-wrapped tornado, in the news that Chuck Pratt will be headed to another job with a primetime show.

Interesting that the spin machine worked so well for Pratt, as all of the media outlets covering him – save Daytime Confidential – framed it with the focus on his new job.

Of course, fans knew what time it was, and didn’t restrain themselves in the comments.

Pratt was utterly bad news for All My Children. I don’t know if he was an utter disaster at Y&R overall. I didn’t see a huge difference for some key characters during his regime. Aside from the Marco/Jack debacle, the repercussions from the various explosions and disasters never seemed to last.

But then again, there was the whole shady Avery story, where she was originally supposed to cry rape and falsely accuse her ex, Joe Clark. There was the murder of Sage, and the decimation and murder of Kelly. Perhaps Pratt has issues with blondes, a la Alfred Hitchcock?

The longer I sit in the peanut gallery, watching and thinking about shows past and present, the more I understand that as much as we love to reach for the “X has ruined the show!” narrative, fans seldom see the whole story. One person simply doesn’t have that kind of power, at least not these days.

What we see on the screen is the result of so many fingers in the pie: writers, the network, the advertisers, the production company, and so on.

Which makes you wonder: why do they think we want to see stories like this?

Why does Corday Productions still hire Dena Higley, a writer I’ve seen referenced in public several times as “Dena F*^&%ng Higley?” Why hire a writer who was universally loathed for her turn at One Life to Live?

It may just be a case of The Devil You Know. I saw a script from the 80s a few weeks back, and there was Dena’s name (her maiden name) right there on the script.

Perhaps there’s a side to all of this we’re just not seeing. Maybe she’s affordable. Maybe she speaks the big picture, splashy plot language that advertisers, Sony and NBC need to hear.

They may all be patting themselves on the back for a choice well made, a job well done. Everyone is happy – that is, except for the fans and the viewers, who watch as yet more characters are killed, either by violent means or metaphorically via character assassination. Who watch as yet another set of young women are raped, or physically attacked, with no real repercussions or remorse, with no resonance beyond the next sweeps period.

The Bell soaps have been moribund for years, with Y&R in a purgatory between its past and future, and B&B in a weird hamster wheel of triangles and quasi-incestuous relationships that never, ever seems to change (not for long, anyway) and is so predictable at this point as to render actual watching of the show unnecessary.

Of the remaining four shows, Y&R has taken the biggest risk in the last few months, hiring British soap vet Mal Young as executive producer. Will they take another risk with a writer? Will they reach back to their past, as is rumored? Will they bring on someone with new blood?

Or will the Head Writer Roulette just pick from the remains bin, as it so often does, and select another familiar face, praying that somehow, lightning with strike this time?

As they say, tune in tomorrow…….

Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before…..

That’s the name of a Smiths song, and now also the name of this post.

(I was going to title this post You’ve Absolutely Got To Be F$%&*ng Kidding Me, but that seemed rather harsh, even if it is appropriate.)

And yes, I did say that very phrase when I saw this on the racks at Target today.

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I can’t even pretend to pose the question “Is Ken Corday trolling us?” because it’s super clear that he IS, in fact, trolling us with this.

More on the actual article once I read it…….

Almost paradise, indeed

I can only tell you what I know: Grant Aleksander was on the DAYS set, and Vincent Irizarry (GL’s Lujack and Nick, now DAYS’ Deimos) posted the receipts on that visit on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.52.15 AM

That warms the hearts of many Guiding Light fans, I’m sure. If we squint our eyes, we can pretend that Phillip, Beth and Lujack are enjoying a moment on the front porch of Company, right?

But then the question becomes – who, exactly, is Beth with? Phillip? Lujack? The plot thickens….

It appears that Grant may also be appearing on DAYS, though we haven’t heard official confirmation yet. Since DAYS films a hundred billion years in advance it’s unlikely to air until early 2017.

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.