At a loss for words

I’ve been away from this space for a while. The official reason was that I went on vacation with my partner to see friends and family for Easter. (And it was a great trip, thank you for asking.) 

The unofficial reason? I desperately needed to disconnect from the whole soap mindspace. This is not a fun time to be a soap fan. 

There’s so much happening that makes me angry. Truly angry. Flames-on-the-side-of-my-face angry. 

gratuitous mention of the magnificent Madeline Kahn 

One of the things that really has me pissed off is how cavalier the reaction has been in the mainstream media to the news that CBS dropped Guiding Light. There were a few media outlets who had at least some respect – or a sense of the accomplishment that GL made by surviving for 72 years. Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times had fairly complete coverage. 

But one big truth is that soaps are hard to understand out of context – and therefore easy to make fun of. And most of the rest of the media has had a field day reporting GL’s cancellation. 

CBS – the very network that didn’t mind siphoning millions of dollars in profit from the show when it was a cash cow – hasn’t given the show much respect. It was briefly mentioned on Sunday Morning, albeit in a tone suggesting the show was simply about torrid sex. The Early Show made a brief mention, too, but its anchors were completely disrespectful and laughed at the clips shown, making fun of them and of Dave Price (who appeared on GL). It’s a shame, since The Early Show studio is in the same building – and the perpetually low-rated show has been the target of its own cancellation rumors for years.

But the response that really, really had me completely pissed off was the comments on the Web site WowOWow.com. WowOWow is a Huffington Post-esque site aimed at women over 50, and there are so many people involved with this site who I admire and respect. Jane Wagner! Mary Wells! Candice Bergen! Lily Tomlin! Whoopi Goldberg! 

The site’s main conceit seems to be that a news item will be posted, and some – or all – of the ladies will comment. And many of them did – negatively. The basic tone was the same one soap fans have heard for years from non-fans: “I don’t watch soaps – I have a life.” 

I was surprised to see this negativity from Bergen, who was a beneficiary of the daytime moneymaking machine when her nighttime show ran on CBS for a decade (about three years longer than it should have). But soaps apparently make her “nauseous”. 

And Mary Wells Lawrence – who was an advertising pioneer and one of the first women in that arena – also dismissed the news. I thought that was ironic, since it was advertisers and ad agencies that created and molded the genre. 

When my friends learn that I write about soap operas, they shake their heads in confusion or dismay. This always makes me laugh, since many of my male friends are comic book aficionados. What are comic books but serialized stories on paper? 

They laugh at the very idea that I’d follow characters through the chapters of their lives, all while they voraciously devour Twilight or the Harry Potter books, all serialized stories set in their own narrative universe. 

I hear people dismiss soaps as complete melodrama, yet these same people watch shows like Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy and Brothers and Sisters, all soap operas at their core. 

People watch soaps for different reasons, and amidst all of the wacky stories and tawdry sex (which is, admittedly, fun to watch), I’ve always watched for the sense of love, family and community. And yet, the network programmers keep taking those choices away, insisting that I watch forensics, death, and darkness – or worse yet, reality where the “realism” includes F-list celebrities and rich kids with an enormous sense of entitlement (and absolutely no redeeming qualities). 

It’s so frustrating – heartbreaking, even – to watch the shows we have all loved flail like a drowning man in the ocean. I’ve been a fan of GL for over 25 years, but the last six months ranks, for me, among the finest of the show’s run. How any network could cancel a show that’s so on fire at the moment is beyond me. But it’s happened. 

I’ve been an ATWT fan for more than 20 years, and I want to see that show survive and thrive. But in trying to survive, it keeps trying on new identities, and it’s been hard for me to find any part of the story I’m interested in following. 

It’s a challenging time to be a fan. I’m not sure these stories will last another thousand and one nights. 

So you’ll have to forgive me if I am at a complete loss for words.

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14 thoughts on “At a loss for words

  1. This is a fabulous column Patrick–I feel your pain!! I too was thinking of writing about the media reaction. When GL was cancelled I was interviewed by a TV columnist from a newspaper and all he did was bullshit his way through the interview. His story had no insight, and it was clear he was could less about GL. A show with 72 years of TV history! I was mortified!

    I’ve done 30 years of my professional life with outside people saying, “ha, ha, you write about soaps.” To that– I’ve always said the truth–that I love what I do. The problem now though is that most soaps are actually as bad and laughable as the outside world think all soaps are. Save me!!!!

  2. Patrick, I hear you. I’m much more turned off by the soap print press though who have treated GL’s cancellation not with the historical perspective it deserves, but as no different than a standard weekly spoiler or rumor. Not even a full page in SOD was dedicated to the story, while NINE pages were dedicated to fake Twitter updates from fictional soap characters. I don’t get it.

  3. Candy Bergen: “I am illiterate in the Soap Opera subculture […] as they make me feel nauseous.”

    Me: I could say the same about most of her performances.

  4. Hey Patrick!

    What a great column, and you are so right, it’s hard to be a soap fan these days.

    I’m choosing to deal with this the same way I have dealt with rejection/mocking/attack my entire life. I recognize it’s meaningless. I don’t need approval from the The Early Show or Candice Bergen or anyone else to feel love and pride in my shows, or to celebrate what GL has meant in my life. Let them laugh, let them gawk, they simply cast no shadow in my emotional process…unless I allow them to.

    THAT is the choice I have, that is the choice I will maintain long after this is over.

  5. I hear you Patrick! The main stream press just does not seem to get it–I will give USA Today a nod, and even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette placed it on the front page the following day, but I am not holding my breath on SOD because it has not give GL its due on a long time.

    I was also troubled and offended by the comments published by WowoWow. I cringed as I read them.

    I will say however, that I have been truly amazed here locally by the many people who have expressed their sadness on my behalf! They have chosen not to belittle the shows importance or my involvement with it. Instead they have treated it with respect, offering to sign the petitions and write letters.

    Wow, Tracey – I didn’t realize that the PG put something about it on their front page. I saw a few snide remarks in Rob Owen’s column. I’ve tried a few times to stir interest up or have him run a mention of things, but he isn’t very interested – despite the fact that Pittsburgh is GL’s #1 market.

  6. You speak the truth Patrick! It’s easy to poke fun of soaps. But people who look down on soaps are showing their ignorance and their spitefulness.

  7. I find it ironic that Miss Bergen could feel so disconnected to Guiding Light when she has so much in common with that show. After all, they were both once very popular and then faced dwindling audiences. The one difference, of course, is that Guiding Light looks great for being 72 years old. Miss Bergen, well… not so much.

    I don’t want to start an anti-Candice Bergen campaign – she’s talented and incredibly smart and a journalist to boot. But I don’t think talking about things that she knows nothing about does her any favors!

  8. These Candice Bergen attacks seem so bitter and pathetic. So what if she doesn’t like soaps. Does she HAVE TO?

    No, Kingship, she doesn’t. And as I said to another commenter, I think Bergen is smart and talented. She’s also a journalist in real life, and I expect her to talk about things she knows. I’m disappointed that she’d be so negative and dismissive about something she knows nothing about.

  9. Patrick,

    Wonderful column here. Very sightful and excellent points made.

    I’ve been pleased that the mainstream press has given this some coverage. LA Times did a front page story that was quite insightful. USA Today also did a story (but it was the clear the reporter had no personal background on soaps). NY Times also had a nice piece.

    Can’t speak about the others papers in the country, but the fact they’re covering this at all does say something.

    I find the dismissive comments are coming mainly from TV and radio — often the anchors making snarky little remarks after they finish the story. Saturday Night Live even had to get it’s little (lame) dig in last weekend saying it was canceled because white people began to have real problems.

    But what I think is truly disturbing is how the soap press is treating the cancelation. As you point out, it didn’t even get a full page story in SOD.

    And if the soap press can’t even give the show the respect it deserves, why should the rest of the press?

  10. Terrific post, and it really highlights much that has been awful about the mainstream coverage of this.

    I hadn’t thought of my dismay about the SOD handling of this…but Roger’s comment put that in perspective. I am assuming that SOD plans to do more effusive and respectful coverage as (a) the fate becomes clearer, and (b) the date comes closer.

    But the reality is that SOD is trapped in the same hole as much of daytime: pursuit of the youth demographic via coverage of “current”, “young”, and “demo-appropriate” audiences. SOD gave up on GL long ago (as Roger’s frequent editorials about covers has helped to highlight). Having determined that GL doesn’t sell magazines for them, neither will GL’s cancellation.

    Truly, truly, truly: Roger and Patrick and Marlena and Sara and Michael and DaytimeConfidential and Nelson Branco and now, recently, Michael Logan again have REPLACED SOD and SOW. Those magazines…once a beacon of insight into the soap world for ordinary fans like me…have plunged into irrelevance. They are not timely; their articles are seldom insighful (most of SOD tries to spoil me on the stories coming up, so I don’t have to watch the shows). We virtually never get meaningful interviews with writers and producers.

    The online world has filled those needs, probably at great and non-profitable sacrifice. But thank goodness…

    I still subscribe to SOD, but (and this is SAYING something) I haven’t really summoned the interest to read one in any detail in weeks. Why? Lack of interest, coupled with the fact that I have seen all the “important” stuff already.

    My subscription expires this summer, I think…and…shockingly…I will not renew.

  11. Glad you had a good time away. I’m still processing all the jumbled feelings I have about what is going on to be honest. Last night your blog ate this…Grrr

    I’m horrified over what Ken Corday said to SOD about GL’s cancellation–how the show ran its course. What a nice thing to say as my voice is dripping with sarcasm. What NPR ran during Fresh Air teaming it up with the end of ER was actually respectful even if it wasn’t just about GL as the commentator talked about how programs won’t ever run for that long again.

    CBS being dismissive is not surprising. They used to do a lot better with GL coverage on their morning show in the 90s. Before reading this blog entry I never even heard of the website you are citing. Thanks for giving me the one thing new to learn today. If you contrast the way the press is handling the death of Harry Kalas (aka the voice of Philadelphia Phillies)…to how they handle anything soap related it is just a shame.

    People who never watched soaps don’t understand what they can mean to those who do. Then again sometimes you can have people who watch soaps not understand either, which I find really frustrating.

    I hope that SOD has more in the issue that is coming out this week, same as CBS:SID when they have their next one.

  12. What a great article. I agree with you on every level. I found it especially interesting your take on how The Early Show handled GL’s cancellation. After GL and ATWT, The Early Show is my must watch CBS show. I found it totally disrespectful the way they laughed at the news. Julie Chen actually tried to bring them back on task and gave closing remarks that were very kind.

    I feel like the women of today think that it is a sign of ignorance and poor social skills to be caught up in a soap. You are correct that Grey’s, DH’s, and even some reality shows are nothing but glorified soap’s that air only once a week.

    I live in Pittsburgh where GL is the daytime drama of choice. It was a very news worthy story here, but after my endless Google searches of the topic “Guiding Light” I am finding that is not the case nationwide. I was particularly offended by an article that was titled “Why Guiding Light SHOULD have been Canceled” it escapes me who the author was right now.

    I have written many letters and will continue to do so. I think the point that needs to be made is that EVERY day I watch Guiding Light and As the World Turns. Granted it may not be in “real time”, but I am seeing the show. NEVER will I watch The $20,000 Pyramid or some Dr. Oz show, let alone record and episode. CBS can save their money. Heck maybe they have another CSI spinoff in the works with the savings. That is exactly what we need??????

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