And now, a word from our producer

Earlier this week, I posted some thoughts on As The World Turns, and some ideas on how the culmination of 54 years of storytelling could be orchestrated.

The next day, a very interesting interview with ATWT’s executive producer, Christopher Goutman, appeared on TVGuide Magazine.com.

The interview, written by veteran soap reporter Michael Logan, gave some insight into Goutman’s mindset.

Here are some of the quotes from that interview:

  • “We still have exciting stories in the works and we’re sticking to them. We’re not ready to start inviting back old favorites and do the nostalgia thing.”
  • “We just continue to tell good stories and we’ll see how the efforts go in terms of shopping the show around.”
  • “The identity remains. The families are still with us. When other shows have been cancelled they’ve sort of turned themselves inside out and become something different. They’ve tried to reinvent themselves or they have huge turnovers in cast. ATWT has been true to itself and that’s why it feels like, wait a second, this show is still vital! I know we’ve been [vaguely] threatened by cancellation but it didn’t feel like something that could happen at any second, which GL unfortunately had to live with for a number of years. What happened to us felt so sudden.”

When I first read this interview, I was really angry and disappointed.

But I respect Goutman’s optimism. And I agree with some of what he says. ATWT has been very weak in story for several years, but I’d agree that it has not had that long, slow decline that weakened Guiding Light so much. There are characters who are still recognizable.

There’s still a HUGE gap from where he and Jean Passanante (who was quoted elsewhere as saying that she’ll continue “great stories”) believe the show is, and where viewers and fans like me are actually seeing it. I don’t disagree that, in general, the stories and the focus is much better in recent months than it has been for some time.

But folks, if you snagged the Emmy-award winning Tom Pelphrey, and the ONLY thing you could think of as a story for him was to resurrect James Stenbeck for the ninth time, this is a significant indicator of how empty the well is creatively for your show.

I also took a moment to re-examine my own outlook. My earlier post did, after all, include a photo of ATWT circa 1986. Am I stuck in history? Is it impossible to please a fan like me unless we pressed “rewind” and went back to 1986?

The answer is “no,” and here’s why.

One of my favorite books is The Same River Twice by Alice Walker. It’s a autobiography/memoir of sorts of a specific time in her life, but the title says it all: You can never stand in the same river twice. (And expecting that you can catch lightning in a bottle twice? Is a sure pathway to disappointment and disillusionment.)

I don’t expect the shows that I watch to be the same as they were twenty-three years ago, nor do I discount newer characters and actors who are wonderful and exciting to watch.

But both P&G shows clearly made a decision a few years ago that history was not a rich minefield for story, but an albatross that complicated the narrative and was to be avoided when possible. If they did remember history, it was often history that was less than five or ten years old.

And this is where, as a writer, I disagree with their approach. Of course, younger characters are immensely important for demographics and ad rates. But the whole of the tapestry of a story becomes stronger when all of the threads are interwoven and tied tightly.

This show has a number of amazing older characters whose history would be an awesome springboard for story – story that would virtually tell itself.  Of all the veterans, Margo has had the best lot of it, struggling with her sons’ choices and figuring out what those choices mean to her and what she believes in. (Though I still am in disbelief that she chose to support Adam after his near-rape of Maddie.)

Tom and Margo otherwise exist as a backdrop for mopey son Casey. Apparently, Kim, Bob and Nancy can only appear at holidays or if they’re on life support. Eileen Fulton is so rarely on the show I’m convinced she actually left three years ago. This is Lisa we’re talking about here!

And the most egregious backburnering of all is Lucinda Walsh. It’s shades of how the once-great Alexandra Spaulding at Guiding Light was taken from a woman to be reckoned with……to a drug-dealing dolt.

Apparently, if you’re over 50 and a woman on soaps, you can only be Grandma or Crone. (A memo that other entertainment forms haven’t gotten – nighttime TV has many strong female characters in their 50s and 60s, and Meryl Streep, looking glorious at 60, is on the cover of Vanity Fair this week.)

I realize that ATWT, more than any other show, had a much larger cast of veterans and has had a difficult time pleasing everyone. But I wish they’d try a little harder. I respect Mr. Goutman’s drive, and I respect his willingness to keep ATWT alive for a possible new home. But the team at ATWT also needs to realize that the show could end for good in September. They are stewards not only of the story at ATWT, but the last of Irna Phillips’ solo creations and the last of the Procter & Gamble soaps.

This show can’t end with a splash and a bang, Mr. Goutman. There is much more to honor – and much more at stake. If this show (and this genre) is truly dying, let the fans – the ones who have invested in the show and believe in its theater and its heart – mourn its passing properly.

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3 thoughts on “And now, a word from our producer

  1. I doubt that ATWT will find a new home, therefore Goutman and company need to start planning now how they are going to end the show. Otherwise, it will be one hot, jumbled mess at the end. ATWT and its fans deserve better.

  2. Your thoughts and insightful commentary have provided some relief from the grieving process for me, a 25+ year ATWT viewer. I’m 36, but my mother and grandmother watched this show – so my earliest memories of television involve ATWT.

    Although I am a public school band director, I have never given up the dream of writing. I write a weekly newspaper column in the town where I work and live, which provides that outlet. But my dream? Writing for ATWT. And it’ll never happen.

    But, since the show will most likely end in September, I am with you on tying up loose ends in an ‘organic’ way, via the veteran characters. Nobody watching the show from here on out will care about anything new. ATWT needs to honor the P&G heritage of soap operas and do it RIGHT …

    You mentioned John Dixon’s character. This is a fine example of how the show has managed to find itself on the slippery slope – a main character like John doesn’t just disappear. Lisa is the same way — this character had her own prime-time spinoff! So, I hope the show doesn’t disrespect the audience (not to mention the actors) by not featuring the veterans in these final days, or worse yet, writing lame stories for them to play. THEY, AND WE, DESERVE SO MUCH BETTER.

    Another interesting point you made had to do with looking at history as an albatross. I think it’s fair to say that the past year or two, there has been a lot of negativity floating around in the ‘real world’ and not enough consistency to anything. ATWT has stuck pretty close to Irna Phillips’ original vision through all these years, and I would hope that the writers and producers will survey the message boards, listen to the fans, and prove that they are the class act we’ve always known them to be.

    I guess what saddens me most is after two decades of collecting ATWT memorabilia (I have a copy of Charles Paul’s original organ theme!), soap magazines, and watching time-shifted episodes … I will not have a soap opera to call home anymore, because mine is gone. I hate feeling so sad at Christmas.

    But the world turns on and on.

  3. Even though I no longer watch ATWT, I agree with you. The show ending on CBS should try to satisfy both the viewers who came into the show in the last few years and those who’ve watched for decades. Dot the “I”s and cross the “t”s let everything be wrapped up because even if the show would continue in another format, those who watch now should get closure. It is hard for me to imagine a world without an Irna Phillips solo created soap.

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