Audacious list (6 of 10): Bad apples redux

As some of you may know, my new day job is in an industry that talks about how you recruit the best and brightest people, give them some boundaries and guidelines, and then let them be total rock stars at what they do.

In that world, results are a big barometer of success. If you don’t deliver, you lose your job. And though you might be lucky enough to find another job in that field, it’s rare to keep a whole, sustained career path going if you’re a bad apple. Eventually, you get the hook – and a loud message to pick a more suitable career path.

Daytime is different, I know. It is, in many ways, like theater. And theatrical productions sometimes change hands, or change directions. Producers and writers like to switch gears and try new things with new productions. I think it makes sense in daytime to try to introduce new writers and/or producers every so often.

But there are several writers and/or producers whose stories have NOT been popular. Their creative efforts have shown a fundamental lack of understanding as to what soaps are about. They exhibit a complete disconnect to what the audience wants to see. And they have been fired, early and often. But they keep being rehired. Again, and again, and again.

The most high-profile example of this is probably Megan McTavish. This is not meant to be a personal attack on Ms. McTavish; I’m sure she’s a lovely person, an asset to her community and a fine, upstanding citizen. I bet she’s a BLAST at parties!

As a writer, however, she tends to write very plot-heavy stories that are gimmicky. In many cases, she’s written stories and then shoehorned a character into that story – with no connection to that character’s history. (The list is too long to count, though you are welcome to list any of your least favorites in the comments.)

She’s had runs on OLTL, GH and, in particular, GL that I thought were very damaging to those shows. Her first AMC gig seems to have been possibly the best match she’s had, but she has not been good for the show on her subsequent visits.

Which beggars the question: How did she get re-hired? And specifically, how did ABC and AMC come to decide to re-hire her so many times?  I wish someone who really has a fundamental understanding of the legal or financial reasons for this would explain it to me. (I don’t believe there IS a good reason for her rehirings from a creative standpoint.)

There are others, including Dena Higley, who’s the eye of a storm that’s raging at DAYS. (More on that in another post soon.)  Ms. Higley had an enormously unpopular stint at OLTL, so it was a surprise when DAYS rehired her earlier this year.

I realize that daytime is a different animal, so to speak, than nighttime or film. But it’s a stretch to think that writers don’t understand the format, since nearly every scripted drama or comedy on television has co-opted or completely adopted a serialized storytelling format. (Also the subject of another upcoming post.)

This is NOT a new problem – critics and fans have been complaining about this for years. Hogan Sheffer is one of the few new talents to come through from outside of soaps. We’ve seen Ron Carlivati be promoted from within at OLTL, and he’s been great for that show. (Far more so, in my opinion, than David Kreizman at GL, who was also promoted from within.)

Writing isn’t a simple task, and developing and executing storylines is a complex process with a number of people involved. It ain’t easy (and I’m sure Tom Casiello could tell you more about the process than I could). But when I see someone with Tom’s ideas and energy, I wonder why he isn’t part of a writing staff.  You look at someone like Roger Newcomb, who has had two audio soaps to his credit, plus a film, and you have to ask: Why the hell isn’t this man head writing something?

I can’t underscore this enough, but I think this is a huge reason why daytime is dying.

NOTHING is growing. No new writers, no new creative juices, no new ideas or perspectives. And no new SHOWS.  Old shows are dying, and no new shows are replacing them.

Unfortunately, this is a vicious cycle. And as in the real world, when times are tough and you tighten your belts, you keep the mediocre employees you have and you try not to shake the boat. And the flow of ideas and fresh blood gets even weaker, and so on.

3 thoughts on “Audacious list (6 of 10): Bad apples redux

  1. Patrick, you humble me. Thanks, my friend.

    Response: You’re welcome, Tom!

    I really don’t get why more new talent hasn’t been put into leadership roles. Especially when fans have responded to the situations where that HAS been the case.

  2. Well written column about the state of daytime. I always wondered how the industry expects to grow without new faces or new ideas. Primetime seems to better with pushing the development of new ideas, probably more so with cable television than network. There are always new shows popping up and shows pushing new ideas forward in the prime time world.

    Ironically, it during a time when the industry is slowing dying that we have all these new outlets to express your opinions on the shows. With soap opera oriented radio shows, podcasts, and websites popping all of the net, you think that the TPTB would listen to what the fans have say, but no they are shunned and dismissed.

    Little sidenote: When you compare GL’s Kriezman and OLTL Carlivati’s, you are coming from two very different perspectives. I have read/heard that Ron grew up watching OLTL and was a soap fan while David Kriezman had never watched a soap opera in his life before he joined GL as intern.

    Also I have tendency to believe that new head writers are only good in their first year, and after that they are completely burnt out.

    Response: Chelsea, thanks for the clarification on Kreizman and Carlivati. I appreciate knowing that deeper history. I do know that career-wise, they did have similar trajectories at their shows, starting as staff writers and working their way up.

  3. ITA with everything you wrote! It amazes me that people with truly awful track records are hired time and again, despite similar results each time.

    Recently, I read one possible explanation for this phenomenon. In Nelson Branco’s “21 Most Influential Players” he listed James Sarnoff/The Sarnoff Co. (Talent/Literary Agency) at #5. If it’s alright, I’d like to quote the entry:

    Why: Because he represents every executive producer and head writer — and their mother —on daytime TV.
    Power Plays: Representing One Life to Live’s Emmy-winning head writer Ron Carlivati and director/exec producer Frank Valentini.
    Liabilities: It’s too incestuous for one agent to rep 90 per cent of talent when this industry needs new blood. There are talented writers in his Rolodex who are unemployed, yet he’ll usually pitch untalented but proven scribes and producers to a network (he reps such “talent” as Josh Griffith, Dena Higley and Hogan Sheffer) because then no one’s held accountable if they fail. Reportedly strong arms shows to hire only within his client roster.
    Outlook: Deadly. No new blood means dead air.”

    Reading this was like a revelation to me…finally, there was some sort of clue as to why the same people are recycled within the industry.

    Do you feel this could be a major factor?

    Response: Hi Melanie – good to have you visit again!

    I think the situation you’ve quoted about could be one contributing factor. I’m sure daytime is a very small industry when we talk about representation, so that could be one reason why the same names come up.

    I think another is that daytime doesn’t stop – it’s 5x a week, 52 weeks a year. And if one writer leaves, another one has to be ready to go. In that scenario, the networks seem to go with the devil they know versus the devil they don’t. And I can see that being a difficult choice…”do we hire a mediocre writer who understands the content and pacing and can get us shows that are ready to tape? Or do we hire a brilliant outside writer who is great at what s/he does, but who we’d have to teach all of the tricks, twists and quirks of daytime to?”

    There are plenty of talented people who have also soap-hopped, too. So this makes the issue a bit muddy. I would beg to differ with Mr. Branco that Hogan Sheffer is “untalented”. Bill Bell, Agnes Nixon and Douglas Marland – the trinity of fine writing if there ever was one – have all written for multiple shows. We know Nixon and Bell created some of those shows, but they both also wrote for Irna Phillips.

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