The storytellers

THIS HAS BEEN……Guiding Light!

Things have been silent here for a while (coping with the heat here in the desert). I’ve been busy with several projects and haven’t paid as much attention to the soap world – I’ve missed a lot of Locher Room episodes.

But of COURSE, I could not pass up the opportunity to watch and talk about two highly anticipated sessions – with Jill Farren Phelps (aka JFP) and with writers Nancy Curlee and Stephen Demorest.

I have notes, people. Grab a refreshment and settle in.

FRIENDS OF JILL

I know this episode was hugely anticipated. JFP has worked at a half dozen shows: AW, GH, GL, OLTL, SB and Y&R. And of course, many of the Locher Room’s fans are fervent P&G watchers.

It was an interesting discussion, but I’ll say upfront that I don’t think Phelps really answered anything that she hadn’t answered before. Her print interview with Michael Logan a few years back covered much of the same territory.

I knew Phelps had been involved as a music producer, and I thought the most interesting comment she made there was how shows used small snippets of music, under the impression that it wasn’t a rights issue (similar to making a “free use” argument today).

She also said that in those days, music labels were HAPPY when soaps featured songs, because it always promoted the music. I agree wholeheartedly and have been saying this for years. The obvious examples were from GH (Herb Alpert’s Rise, Christopher Cross’ Think of Laura and Baby Come To Me, to name a few) but I bet many teenagers bought a copy of Almost Paradise after hearing it as Beth and Lujack’s theme.

GL featured music in a number of scenes over the years: whether it was Barbra Streisand’s version of Somewhere playing as Reva attempted suicide (a scene close to my heart), or Sonni Carrera dancing to Peek-A-Boo by Siouxsie and the Banshees (or was it…..Solita?), I remember them well. (Streisand and Donna Summer’s song Enough is Enough was famously the background for the Roger/Rita Hall of Mirrors.) When Sarah and Reva reunited, I can still see those scenes in my head with the Pretenders’ Hymn to Her playing in the background.

As for other parts of the chat – it was fun to hear about how she cast Mark Derwin on OLTL, and some of her experiences at OLTL and Y&R. She clearly did not have the support she’d had at other shows at Y&R, and it showed.

She repeated much of what she said about the choices leading to Maureen’s death in the Logan interview, but I think she did explain a bit more of the nuances. (She didn’t come out and say it, but reading between the lines and from other interviews, it does sound like the network pushed for that character to be off the canvas.) As for Beverlee’s departure, she had compliments for her work and otherwise sort of pleaded the Fifth!

SOUTHERN CHARM

It’s been years since I’ve read or heard anything from Nancy Curlee and Stephen Demorest – I remember reading an interview in someone’s blog around the time GL ended.

I just went back to read it this morning and…..well, it could virtually be a transcript for the things Nancy and Stephen talked about in their Locher Room session.

If that sounds like a gripe, it’s a small one, because Curlee is a charming storyteller, and it was lovely to hear her voice.

The Curlee/Demorest era (with assorted co-head writers, including James Reilly) is often terribly underappreciated, when their work should be considered in the same context as Marland, Long and others.

Of course, Patrick Mulcahey was also there, and he remains the finest dialogue writer any show has ever had. (I still really need to find out if he wrote Alexandra’s takedown of Roger at the country club.)

No big revelations here, either – they apparently fought for Nia Long as Kat over another choice, and had some pushback on the Bridget/Hart story, but that was the extent of tea poured. And I was surprised to hear that she was at one point in negotiations to write GH (!).

But something Nancy said in that 2009 interview, and again in the Locher Room, made me tear up a little, and I think said beautifully why so many of us were affected by Maureen’s death.

We did care about Maureen of course, but Nancy’s comment about the Bauer porch light being the light of GL hit home. No matter how awful the world is, if you can just make it to that porch, everything will get better.

But what happens when you get to the porch, to that light….and no one is there?

WHAT’S THE WORD?

I wasn’t exactly disappointed by these interviews, but I feel a bit like Charlie Brown vs Lucy with the football with my expectations.

One thing I’ve noticed as we continue through so many of these Locher Room interviews is that while actors are willing to be very forthcoming with issues or grievances about something that happened during their tenure on a show, writers and producers are not.

I’m guessing that most writers and producers have a non-disclosure or non-defamation clause in their contract, and really CAN’T say much.

And the inability to be authentic about the ups and downs isn’t limited to Zoom shows and podcasts. For every EIGHT YEARS IN ANOTHER WORLD, we’ve seen dozens of autobiographies from actors that all seem to stay away from anything that isn’t we’re-one-big-family.

One recent great book is Elana Levine’s HER STORIES. (I’m STILL exploring it – I get through a few pages and have to start researching a tangent and fall down a rabbit hole.)

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I seriously considered writing a book about GL. My template was Jeff Giles’ Llanview book, which I thought did a wonderful job of just letting the actors speak for themselves (it was more of an oral history, lightly edited to establish a chronological order).

I didn’t pursue it, because while I felt confident that I could manager the research and organization such a project would require, I simply don’t have the type of personality to “sell” the idea to the participants and convince people to participate (a lesson I keep learning in my professional life). I also lack the connections to reach out to those people. But I certainly wish such a book existed.

The OLTL book was great because it did have some authenticity and honesty. Not Pollyanna-ish, nor deliberately tabloid-ish, not to be gossipy for gossip’s sake, but more the approach of “We did this, we made this show. Sometimes it was great, here’s how. Sometimes it was tough, here’s how. Sometimes we got along and sometimes we didn’t, here’s what happened.”

But those books are the exception, not the rule.

It’s perhaps truly a moot point to argue with four shows left, but still, we don’t always take ourselves seriously, or hold up the indistry – for recognition, or for an honest examination. Soaps seem to be forever relegated to the space under the stairs.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I had to chuckle a few times during both sessions. We all love these stories and some of us (ME ME ME) are as nerdy as a baseball fan is about dates and stats.

But I remembered that yes, the events we’re talking about here are between 30 and 40 years ago, and these fine people don’t always remember dates and details. God knows my memory isn’t what it used to be!

Jill had a few names/dates wrong – but the thing I most obvously heard her say, if I understood her correctly, was that they needed to immediately fill Bev’s shoes and cast Marj Dusay immediately to keep story running. They actually waited a year to bring back Alexandra, because they wanted to give the role some space after Beverlee’s sudden departure.

Nancy confused a few dates just a tiny bit. She had Pam returning for her second stint in 1988 or 1989. Pam actually returned in the fall of 1987. September. The third week, I think. (So I’ve heard…..)

A week that I truly wish was on YouTube or DVD, by the way.

Like I said, I’m a nerd.

2 thoughts on “The storytellers

  1. just remembered i had jotted some thoughts after jfp’s interview. never got around to writing them up properly, but the gist should be clear. . make of them what you will.

  2. can’t believe i forgot to paste the text:

    where oh where to start…

    there’s drw50’s observation in the doug davidson thread:

    “The likes of Hogan, Guza, JFP, Logan, Hinsey, etc. could never get past their inherent disdain for and shame for soaps, shame that they had to cover or work in the genre. And this shame and self-hatred helped to kill the work of generations of artists.”

    but it’s more than disdain and shame, not to mention contempt. so much of what jfp said to locher revealed a profound lack of understanding of why many viewers watch soaps. but, i’m only going to mention a couple.

    she talked about how she liked baby showers and all that, but viewers didn’t care about baby showers unless there was a bomb under the bassinet.

    well, no…

    i took ‘baby shower’ as shorthand for the one reason many viewers do watch soaps:

    to spend time with familiar characters over years, if not decades — characters who develop and grow a bit, who change and age — sharing scenes that don’t necessarily move the story along, but are great moments of character revelation, humor, and yes, sometimes sadness. no bombs necessary.

    which brings me to her comments equating ‘friends of jill’ with the late steven bochco’s fondness for finding roles for actors he’d worked with when he created new shows.

    again, a lack of understanding about how fundamental familiarity is to soap fans. not to say shows shouldn’t change. but change doesn’t mean refocusing the show on, for example, the rappaports on oltl, leaving fans angrily wondering what happened to the rest of the characters.

    who knows — she might have done well creating her own show. but to not understand how what she did differed from bochco…

    Great observations, Lynn. JFP didn’t value those simple moments, for sure. And the bit about the self loathing (soap loathing?) of so many involved gets it exactly right.

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