Stage three: bargaining

Our soaps are living, breathing stories, so I can appreciate a recent comment by Brian Cahill, a vice president at Telenext Media. He said that Guiding Light was not “a museum piece” in reference to Telenext’s and P&G’s interest in shopping the show to other networks or other distribution platforms. 

Although I’m preparing for the worst, I’m also trying to be optimistic that a new home WILL materialize (and that the show would be recognizable at its new address). 

My house, despite its dusty appearance, is not a museum. But it does contain a growing library of books, including recent acquisitions of daytime-related titles. I’ve recently added to that library (damn Amazon; it’s so easy to add books to an order in order to qualify for free shipping). And as I’m trying to make sense of last week’s news, and find an answer or an idea for the future, I delve into history. 

And you can’t get much more historical, and more appropriate, than the autobiography of Search for Tomorrow star Mary Stuart. Her book, Both of Me, was written almost 30 years ago for a show that launched nearly sixty years ago. But I found some content that is just as relevant today as it was then. 

19576_mary-stuartWhen Search launched in 1951, the sets and the costumes were barebones (sound familiar? ) and he inital audience was 5 million, which by today’s standards would make it number one. That audience would grow, in just a few years, to FIFTY million. Jo (and later Meta) would become a familiar face that we all knew and loved. 

Stuart was an eloquent writer. Some writers, no matter how talented, miss the point of soaps and think that they’re all sex, bitchslaps and betrayal. Those things can be very fun, but taken out of context, it becomes laughable. (Which is why the CBS Early Show, a show not exactly known for its own ratings stability, derisively laughed during its recent “tribute” to Guiding Light.) But Stuart has, in a few spots, captured my thoughts about soaps more eloquently than I can. 

On the day-to-day nature of the story: “You can make something good out of a scene that says almost nothing. I’ve always called those scenes a very thin slice of life, but when you infuse them with the feeling of the people for each other, and their relationship, which is the specific reality of that moment, something does happen. Out of those moments, we begin to build a history.” 

I think Stuart’s written the finest explanation of what a soap is really about, and she did so in a speech to fellow cast members and crew at the 25th anniversary party for Search. 

sft811“Where there had been nothing, we built a town. People came to live here, they married and had children. They built businesses, kids went to school and grew up. People moved there from other towns, and it grew into a city.”

“Oh, you can’t find it on a map, and at night the houses and the shops come apart and are stored in scenery docks, but it is all real. If you don’t believe me, ask millions of people all over the country and they will tell you it is real. Maybe a special kind of real that is a little gentler. It is a place to share a fantasy, an idea, a friend, or an emotion. If that is not reality I don’t know what is.”

“We are a happy never-ending. We are a lovely place to go, and where I want to be.” 

We as an audience may be disillusioned with those towns from time to time (especially when strangers come in and make those familiar onscreen faces disappear or act out of character) but they are still lovely places to go. And I hope there’s a way to continue to visit Springfield, and Oakdale, and Genoa City.

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3 thoughts on “Stage three: bargaining

  1. What a brilliant statement by Stuart regarding what a soap is! She was a very thoughtful actress, whether she was playing Jo on SFT or Meta on GL. (Those were her only two daytime roles, right? I don’t have my copy of Schemering’s Soap Opera Encyclopedia handy).

    I guess I’ll have to beat the bushes for a copy of her book…I would love to read it! 🙂

    Hey Matt, it’s pretty readily available on Amazon as a used title, and my copy cost all of $5 plus shipping, so it should be easy to find. She had a brief role on One Life to Live as a judge after SFT and during the Rauch years, and it was Rauch who was at the helm of GL when she came back.

  2. Mary Stuart’s “Both of Me” is a wonderful book. I would also highly recommend Harding Lemay’s 1981 memoir, “Eight Years in Another World”, which has great behind-the-scenes stories of his years (1971-79) as that soap opera’s head writer.

    Thanks Marc – I’ve actually read the Lemay book before on loan from the library. I’ve found it on Amazon but unfortunately, most copies are going for between $75 – $150 because it’s a rare, out of print book. I’m bound and determined to scrouge every used bookstore I can to find it far cheaper!

  3. I watched SFT along with GL growing up, and Mary Stuart was a beautiful face and voice (singer/songwriter!) I loved. Her words about the genre are exactly what I’ve been trying to say to those who laugh at me for being so worked up about GL cancelation. To them, “soap opera” is phrase to deride and dismiss. To us who live in these worlds, it is an extension of our own lives that we cherish.

    Thank you for posting Ms Stuart’s words. Now I think I’ll have to make a visit to Amazon.com. ;o)

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