Audacious List (10 of 10): Complete loss of identity

Yes, the List is finally drawing to a close.

All of the other things I’ve mentioned have been contributing factors in what’s ailed the soaps creatively (and ratings-wise) but they all lead up to one core idea: soaps ain’t what they used to be.

That’s not just complaining by a bunch of negativistas on some message board out here in the Interwebz. The serialized drama, as presented on daytime television for many years, has changed.

And I understand some of the changes. After all, soaps today could never live by a scene of two people talking with a pot of coffee in the background. But “updating” has, more often than not, provided license for people who are in charge creatively to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Soaps have always been a quirky mix of genres that needed a special brand of alchemy to really come to life.

  • If the story did its job really well, the fourth wall would disappear and it would feel like you were reading a good book – the people in this fictional town would feel like people in your world, or friends, or family.
  • When you watched, if it were done correctly, you should feel almost like you were a voyeur, peering through their windows to see what really happened in their kitchens or bedrooms.
  • It would be like real life, but slightly more dramatic – or melodramatic.
  • The people we saw would be great actors, primarily from the tradition of theater, who could play characters that were us, or at least what we perceived us to be: individuals with hopes and dreams….people who were attractive but not necessarily models or mannequins.
  • There would be sorrow, death and evil, but – as in life – there would be love, joy, and humor.
  • The town would have elders, as well as quirky characters who added light and texture to our world.
  • Love and romance would be a main ingredient, but family ties were as important, if not more so.
  • Perhaps most importantly, narratives were woven with great care. Two-and-three-year arcs ensured a beginning, middle and end. If a show had four stories, one could view them using a stove as a metaphor: one should be coming to a complete boil, two should be simmering, and one should be newly placed on the stove.

There has always, ALWAYS been a stigma about soaps, both as a viewer and as an art form. In radio, the shows were considered “women’s weepies” and were, indeed, probably melodramatic to the nth degree.

When the shows expanded to TV, some of the “trademarks” became things to poke fun of them for – the inevitable back-from-the-dead story, or the new-face-new-actor story…..or the eight or so marriages a character might have. (Of course, these days, that’s how many times B&B’s Ridge and Brooke marry each other in a year).

And there have always been quirky things like that on soaps, mostly to answer the needs of a business that never stops and a show that must always go on. Actors get replaced, or decide to return, and reality bends a bit. But we embrace it. And frankly, I never much paid those things any mind.

I loved the towns, the families, the relationships and the friendships. During a time of particular conflict in my life, it was not too much of an exaggeration to say I was kept afloat by seeing ATWT, where Bob and Kim Hughes were the ideal parents and Oakdale seemed like such a safe place. Watching GL’s Reva Shayne fight her way back from wanting to end her life was inspiring to me.

The shows expanded in story, theme and time significantly in the 1970s, but even as they enjoyed their biggest ratings (with Luke and Laura) and their biggest show of public affection and acclaim, there was an active self-loathing of the genre happening. After all, it was no less than Gloria Monty who said, “I hate soaps,” to Anthony Geary. Her creation of GH-as-soap-hybrid was a huge success.

But as more and more shows shed those serial standards, they tried – DESPERATELY – to become anything other than the soap opera that they were.

It’s true that changing viewing habits and extended interruptions (like the O.J. Simpson trial) may have had some impact on the shows. But by the time those events were happening, many shows were doing all they could to shed their identity as a soap. And who wants to visit a show that doesn’t even know what it is?

I mean, it’s kind of like country music.

Huh? Country music? 

The clearest analogy I can make here struck me the other night, as I was watching the Kennedy Center Honors on CBS. One of the people they honored was George Jones, a legend in country music. Now, I’ve always been a New Wave/indie kid, but I do love and respect some of the “classic” country music. (Hook me up with some old school Loretta Lynn any day, or some bluegrass, and I’m happy.)

After all, country music – like soap operas – is an art form that sprung from many traditions of art, but was born here in America and is an American art form.

And like soaps, country music was enormously entertaining as it was, but had several specific quirks that became easy targets to parody. Country music was a more rural cousin of the blues, and as such, the music generally shared tales of woe. Country crooners would have that sad howl in their voice (much like George Jones).

In the 1970s, the country industry was chugging along at a great pace. But like soaps, some of the people in it didn’t like how confined they felt there. The world thought they all sang twangy songs about throwing a frying pan at their spouse, cheatin’ or drinkin’.

And as a result, the industry went through a few identity crises. It molted that sequined skin it had, went through a few updates, and now looks…..an awful lot like most pop music.

What made country music special and unique is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY GONE. In its place is something that looks and sounds a whole lot like pop music or adult contemporary music, and the only thing that makes it “different” is that it happens to have a steel guitar playing in the song. Country music singers (and producers) are as likely to come from New York City as they are from New Orleans.

Sound familiar? Most daytime soaps have gone out of their way to mimic nighttime shows. General Hospital tried first to become an action/adventure show, and then, once The Sopranos became a hit, decided to emulate THAT show and focus on the Mob to an extreme that has nearly wiped out the show’s original focus and characters. (Alan Quartermaine? Really?)

Most shows have shed their serialized, soapy identities in the process. (It must be said here that although I was never a huge fan of James Reilly’s work, he at least understood and respected some of the most important parts of a soap. His original stint at Days of our Lives would be a great example of how to update the theme and content of a show without completely destroying its structure.)

Writers and producers need to pay attention to the recipe and all of the contents I listed above. It’s understandable, even sensible, to update the framework or the format. But the basics must be there. Tell us a story, a serialized story like so many stories told since the time of Scherezade. Tell us the story that, as Agnes Nixon says, makes us laugh, makes us cry and makes us wait. Use actors we like to play characters we care about, and keep the story going.

Soaps aren’t dying, people. We still tell stories to each other, all over the world. We just need to tell a great story, and respect the history of the story that was passed down to us – as well as the intelligence of the one who’s listening to the tale you’re telling.

Audacious list (9 of 10): Supercouples, or soap kryptonite

More than any other post, this one will get me flamed. I can almost feel the burning now.

After all, we’re in a era where “shipping” is commonplace. Many shows have couples – err, supercouples – that people focus on and vociferously debate on every message board on the Web. Zendall, Nuke, CarJack, Jeva, Scrubs – these are just a few names that avid fanbases know and love.

But I think the focus on supercouples has been detrimental to the long term health of the shows.

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Audacious List (8 of 10): Nothing matters in a vacuum

Just when you thought it was safe to read this blog – the list is baaaaaaaaaaaack…………It’s the list I’ve published of the CREATIVE issues that all the soaps seem to face.

I’ve struggled with how to put this next item on The List into words for a few months. It’s an observation that’s multilayered about a creative tool that is often influenced by multiple factors.

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Audacious List (7 of 10): Tearing apart the tapestry

In any narrative form (be it a book, film, or soap opera), you have to tell the story you’re going to tell through characters. And all of those individual people have to come together in some way. Maybe they’re related, or maybe they share being in the same place at the same time having a shared experience (think Crash).

On soaps, the stronger the tapestry is – the more ties there are to a thread in the rug – the stronger the story is. Things that happen to that one thread (or one person) affect the rest of the canvas, and make for a compelling story.

Most of the shows have followed trends over the last 20 or so years that have been counterintuitive to this concept. These trends may have caused immediate spikes in ratings or audience interest, but in the long run, I believe they’ve done more harm than good.

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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.

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Audacious list (5 of 10): The fan who knew too much

The continuing list of issues that negatively affect the creative process of soaps.

I wholeheartedly expect to have a throng of mad, angry people come after me with lit torches and run me out of town, medieval-style, for this item on my list.

But I will say it anyway. Fans (include me) know entirely too damn much about behind-the-scenes happenings. And I contend that it has a negative impact on shows.

About 15 years ago, when I had way more hair, I was a Gen-X slacker who worked in community theater. I worked with two separate theaters.

One was a community theater led by a larger-than-life man, a big, loud, bossy guy named David who was a teddy bear inside. He was Dom DeLuise and Harvey Fierstein combined! I did some acting for him and I’ll admit, I was not a captivating presence on stage; David mockingly nicknamed me “Captain Energy”.

I did some backstage work for him as well, through some very emotional shows (“Falsettos” being one – if you can get through that without bawling, you’re either dead or not human). And I remember one rehearsal where he sat quietly in the first row, talking to some actors who just were not getting it.

And he said: Theater is the art of making us believe. We must block our movements and pay attention to lighting, but don’t overwhelm yourself with worry about those things. Live the words and make us believe. Don’t tell us, SHOW us. Your character is a mystery – unfurl that mystery slowly and beautifully. Take away all of the technical distractions around you and make it happen. Pretend everything around you is a black curtain and you must make everything come alive.  Magical words I have often thought about, because all theater is the art of making us believe.

The second group was a group of more seasoned technical people in a theater with a bigger budget. This theater did cutting-edge work (if there were naked men in a play on stage in this city, it was likely at this theater).

They were good at what they did, and our shows were amazing. And yet, something was off.

As I observed these people at other shows, I realized what had happened: They were unable to leave their roles as directors, stage managers, and crew. They had lost their ability to believe, to enjoy, to ride along with the performance.

It was lost under a mountain of criticism from them. It may not have been their show, but they had notes for actors, lighting and costume directors, and sound technicians in their head.

We see this with filmgoers, with people out to dine…..an inability to take in the experience without taking it apart as it happens.

Now, this blog and many others wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have these behind-the-scenes things to talk about, so for me to say all this must come across as fairly schizophrenic. I’m not suggesting that we should be kept in a cone of silence . Especially at this stage of the game, when daytime is literally fighting to survive, knowing what decisions TPTB are making, and WHY, is important.

I just wonder if knowing all of this hasn’t made many of us jaded. Listen, I’m not suggesting that the shows are masterpieces right now. Many of the shows are in creative limbo trying to redefine themselves, and all of them have had jaw-droppingly bad story. But I think we as viewers have become very cynical. We tear even the tiniest parts of the show apart for examination and criticism. I think a legitimately good storyline sometimes gets lost in the mix. We’ve become so conditioned for disappointment that I don’t know that some of us are still open to the beauty of a great moment – a romantic kiss, a great plot reveal, a family reunion, a villian taking action.

I am making the effort these days to ignore the artifice, to not worry that I might be able to see the strings Peter Pan flies on, or that the door on stage doesn’t quite close. I am trying to be open, to listen to the words and the actors showing me what is happening in their character’s mind and heart. I am trying, very hard, to BELIEVE.

Audacious list (4 of 10): Not pruning the tree

I hope no one out there thinks I’ve invented all of the ideas I’m talking about. I’m a very good thief. (Which is one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to write for a soap opera!)

I have seen this idea discussed in several places, but I believe I owe credit to Michael Logan for this idea. Mr. Logan is a respected journalist and one of the first people to cover soaps on a regular basis. I think we see a lot more celebrity profiles and the like from Michael nowadays, but he’s made many wise observations over the years, particularly when he was on the staff at Soap Opera Digest.

And this one is his. Basically, in a nutshell, it’s this: Soaps for many years became very, very bad about having characters take their natural courses – which sometimes led off the canvas. In many cases, soaps kept actors on longer than the story needed them to be there.

Personally, I like the analogy of pruning the tree. When a tree starts to grow, it’s a beautiful thing. But at some point, you have to prune the tree to shape it a little. Tending to the tree in this way will make its trunk much stronger, will give strength to the existing branches, and will encourage new sprouts and growths.

When soaps were 15 minutes or a half an hour, they had much smaller casts. You always had your basic pillars of the show (the tree trunks). Whether it was Bert and Bill on GL, or Steve and Audrey on GH, you had the characters at the center. There was usually the town vixen or outside irritant (Lisa on ATWT being a prime example), and perhaps a few children or siblings of the central characters. Every year or two, a new character might be brought on to make trouble. It might be a new lawyer, or doctor, or some crazy neighbor. Those characters tended to make trouble for a while, and then they were gone. Usually, it was like being an understudy for a Broadway show. You didn’t end up sticking around forever unless someone else left the show or died. Dramatically, those roles had a specific shelf life, which usually worked for the show. (This, of course, was when bad guys got what they deserved and good prevailed.)

I don’t think that the expansion of the shows to an hour was an issue per se. But it certainly gave the shows more of a need for content. And most shows did a great job for many years getting the balance right.

But I think some shows were guilty of not pruning the tree in two important ways. They were reluctant to shift characters off canvas, even for a time, even if it was clear the character needed a rest or a change of venue. This was especially true if the characters were popular. And the shows often confused “popular” with “viable storytelling”. Also, in many case where shows had villains and other characters meant to be short-term catalysts, too many of the shows ended up twisting plot or character to make those energy-filled characters stick around. (Which, ironically, zaps them of their catalytic energy in most cases.)

Now, I’m not suggesting every show start killing off every bad character or irritant. Then they’d be killing off everyone in the cast, left and right. (We have that show, anyway. We call it “General Hospital.”)

A recent example of the second point would be the character of Jonathan on AMC. Jonathan killed a major character and was well on his way out the door. The actor (Jeff Branson) is undeniably talented, but there was no way that Jonathan should have been kept around. AMC thought otherwise and twisted the story around to make Jonathan be sympathetic to the audience. The character never really seemed to hit the heights of popularity that the show hoped for him, and was finally written off this year.

Many of the shows have been guilty of point #1. And this is where Michael’s comment comes in. As much as I love many characters, some of them had outlived their usefulness from a dramatic point of view.  Have you ever seen what happens when someone doesn’t clip their shrubs for a long time? They get tremendously overgrown, and then you have to basically hack at them, sometimes down to the branch. It looks horrendous, and you wonder if it will every grow back. (And sometimes, those shrubs die.)

I think a lot of shows kept on a few too many people for a long time. And don’t get me wrong, I love, love, LOVE my veterans. But sometimes, characters need to take a break. And I think when shows don’t make a decision wisely to cut down their casts or rotate them out every few years, then they reach a point that, either creatively or financially, they are forced to hack those bushes down to the branches (*ahem* GL in 2005 *ahem*).

I admit: I know jack all about contracts (SAG or otherwise). I wish that somehow, there could be more of a repertory company in daytime. For some of the recurring characters? Sign them all to 26 week contracts. Play everyone in one section of the year – part one or part two – and have ten days or so of overlap so everyone is seen in the Thanksgiving and Christmas shows. Everybody wins – the actor has a definitive salary and times when s/he works (with time off to do other stuff) – the show gets 4 actors for the price of two, and the viewer gets to see their favorites.

(And just as I stole Michael’s concept, if anyone wants to steal THIS one from me? Go right ahead!)

Audacious list (3 of 10): Fear the Frankenshow!

To some degree, the first two things I mentioned on the Audacious List are things that have affected, or are affecting, other genres. (Primetime TV has gotten much better at diversity, though its treatment of female characters is schizophrenic.)

But the next issue on my list? Well, I think it may be completely unique to daytime. And let me say it again:
FEAR THE FRANKENSHOW! IT WILL FRIGHTEN YOU! SCARE YOU! IT WILL CHASE AWAY ALL FEMALE VIEWERS 18-49!

What do I mean by “Frankenshow”? In a nutshell: Almost every show on the air has been on for more than 30 years. In that time, those shows have operated under myriad writers, producers and network heads. And the older the shows get, the more those different creative forces begin to show. And when you have a show that tries to please fans from different eras and different storytelling styles, you have a show that doesn’t gel in a cohesive way. You have a schizophrenic narrative woven together from different fabrics. Ladies and gentlemen, the Frankenshow.

I swear, I do watch all of the shows. But I talk a great deal about “Guiding Light”, and it may be a perfect example of what I am talking about here. GL was especially guilty of being a Frankenshow a few years back. There was an odd division of the show: the traditional characters and stories in one segment, the Santos/mob stories in another segment, and San Cristobel in a third. It felt very much like three different shows, and many of us traditionalists hated it. (GL isn’t as guilty of this now. But then again, it’s because they fired half the damn cast and put everyone left in a field in New Jersey. The stories, such as they are, are at least creatively similar now.)

Most shows have had to serve these different masters. Most of them have not been hugely successful in doing so. But when I thought of the “Frankenshow” name for this syndrome, one very interesting piece of data leapt out at me. If you look at the shows with the least writer turnover, least turnover in production, and most consistency in terms of character, story and atmosphere…..you also have the two highest rated shows on the air (Y&R and B&B).

This would seem to be all the encouragement that creative forces at other shows would need to tweak their cast and their stories and try to make those different eras and different aspects of the show coalesce and work together. What several shows have done instead is take on a COMPLETELY new tone. Hey, it’s easier from the writer and the EP’s point of view to throw out the baby AND the bathwater and start fresh.

The obvious example here is General Hospital. GH tried to balance action/adventure and traditional soap for many years. The current writer and producer have largely abandoned that concept and have dramatically changed the TONE of the show. It is now a dark drama somewhere between film noir, The Sopranos, and Law and Order. (Closer to The Sopranos, no doubt, since the lawmen never prevail on GH.)

I think this will continue to happen as the shows continue to age. Some shows have managed it better than others. And it seems to be most noticeable when a cast member or member(s) leave and storylines shift. And I admit, this is just a theory – I have no data showing that this concept has decidedly affected ratings. But I keep thinking, how would you as a reader react if you were reading Gone With The Wind and suddenly, just as Scarlett was about to marry Mr. Kennedy, the book turned into On The Road? Or Watership Down? Bloody hell, you wouldn’t like it at all.

Audacious list (2 of 10): As if feminism never happened.

And now, the continuing story of 10 creative pitfalls that have affected the daytime industry. Previously on the Audacious List: Complaining about the lack of diversity in culture, age, and personality.

This post was originally slated for later in the series, but I mentioned an awesome blog entry of Cady McClain’s yesterday. It’s a natural segue to talk about this as the next issue on my list.

In a nutshell, it’s this: Somehow, in all of the changes that have happened over the last decade or so, most of the smart, independent women onscreen have been banished to the far corners of the canvas or run out of town. It’s as if feminism never happened!

Yes, I know: “daytime drama” and “feminism” haven’t always gone hand in hand. This genre has always been about marriage and family and a very traditional sense of what the nuclear family should look like.

But I would argue that soaps experienced a great creative renaissance in the 60s and 70s, where the topics and subject mirrored what was going on in the country. And as a result, it opened up what could be played out on screen.

In the earlier days of soaps, we had dependable heroines like Jo on Search for Tomorrow, Bert on Guiding Light, and Nancy Hughes on As The World Turns. The flip side of that was the bad girl –ATWT’s Lisa being the template for many years of the Bad Man-Stealing Hussy. You might get a few minor variations on the theme – a little more crazy, or manipulative, on the ‘bad’ side, and maybe a little bit of a martyr or a complainer, as Bert was, on the ‘good’ side. But these were usually the only women you saw on the shows.

But starting in the late 60s, the women we saw onscreen got more complex. We still had melodramatic twists and turns, but the characters were smarter and wiser. At the very least, they were more cognizant about what they were doing, or not doing. Rachel on Another World was a great example of someone who grew and evolved before our very eyes. There were characters like Holly and Rita on Guiding Light who made foolish choices, but we saw their innate intelligence at work even when their bad choices overwhelmed them.

And of course, in the 80s big-business frenzy on the shows (inspired by Dallas and Dynasty) we saw the introduction of several female characters who were every bit the relentless tycoon as their male counterparts. You didn’t mess with women like Lucinda Walsh or Alexandra Spaulding.

So why am I saying feminism never happened? Well, a lot of these kinds of characters have been pushed to the wayside (like two of my favorites, ATWT’s Margo and Lucinda) or eliminated all together (AMC’s Brooke, GL’s Holly to name just two).

I know, I sound like a bitter old negativista stuck in a haze of misty water-colored memories. But it’s just sad to see such a regression in the way women are written on the shows.

I don’t believe this is just a daytime issue – we have so much entertainment these days where the “entertainment value” is watching people being depicted in the harshest, ugliest light. We have women being depicted as catty and competitive (America’s Next Top Model) or vapid and silly (The Simple Life, The Hills). There ARE wellsprings of intelligence in scripted shows on the networks and on cable, but sometimes those voices are overwhelmed.

One of the biggest trends on daytime has been to simplify, simplify, simplify – in the hopes of attracting new viewers without overwhelming them with silly things like, y’know, history and complex personalities. And I think rounding out younger female characters and making them more than arm candy or catfight participants can’t happen with budget cuts and the drive to simplicity.

And honest, I’m not on Cady McClain’s payroll, but I think she’s the poster child of this particular entry for me. Why? Because I’ve read interviews with her and heard her talk, and I see an incredibly bright, compelling person who is creative and smart and funny – not to mention a person who seems like she could take care of herself (and maybe kick your ass, too).

But for some reason, writers and producers on daytime have seen Cady and what THEY walk away with is: Cries. A lot. Baby crazy, baby fever, must have baby. More crying. Helpless, needs a man to save her. And, in the rare moments they haven’t had Cady playing those notes? She was Demonic Monster Beyotch.

I hope Cady doesn’t mind, but I want to summarize this entry with some quotes from her essay on this. She says it better than I ever could, and with the authority of someone who has played the words and storylines on the soundstage.

I know so many of the women on daytime are total victims waiting to be rescued by their man. Can you say barf? Whose fantasy is this? How dated is this? I don’t understand how writers in this era can think stories like this are anything but insulting to their audience. Even in the breadbasket of America, the Christian right-est must be asking themselves, “what the heck is going on with my stories?”

It’s not the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. It’s 2007, soon to be 2008 and more women want to know how to TRULY love, HOW to chose between revenge and forgiveness when they are hurt, want to see women who can be tough like only a woman can be tough, not copying a man’s behavior. Women, I think, want to see beauty that doesn’t look like either a skeleton or a weightlifter, to see characters that struggle with their LOOKS, even if they are pretty, because it’s this endless pervasive comparing that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Writing female friendships is NOT easy, but there are a lot of stories out there that don’t have to be about the man and the baby, for god’s sake. Why does melodrama have to include endless focus on the uterus? How about a friend stealing another friends money? How about the friend that borrows your stuff to an annoying degree until you come home one day and she’s helped herself to your whole life? How about the jealousy that can live for a lifetime between two women that really care about each other, be they sisters or friends, that comes from having different abilities?

RELATIONSHIPS. It’s not rocket science, soaps are about RELATIONSHIPS and CURRENT SOCIAL ISSUES we are having these relationships in.

Am I wrong? I’m not saying men and babies and love and all that aren’t going to be a part of the whole she-bang, but it just seems like the stories start there, like “Ok, she loves him and they want a baby… go.” WHY does she love him? HOW do they stay together? These shows don’t have to be MILDRED PIERCE anymore, they really, really don’t.

NOTE: I really didn’t delve into a deep debate on specific storylines (my aim is to talk about the big picture in this blog) but clearly, some of the soaps have had storylines that are misogynistic. General Hospital is often cited, as well as some other shows. Check out the excellent post by Jennifer Gibbons in her blog, which talks about the last days of Passions, a show that had several troublingly misogynistic story arcs.

Audacious list (1 of 10) – A lack of diversity

Diversity on daytime, or the lack of it, is hardly a new conversation. OLTL is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and it was new and bold in 1968 specifically because it did have ethnic diversity (much more diversity, it should be noted, than the show has today).

The shows do suffer because of a lack of diversity. And I’m not simply talking about diversity in terms of what we all associate that word with.

It’s very, very true that African-Americans are woefully underrepresented on daytime. Latinos are only slightly more visible. Asians are almost non-existent on daytime outside of a few recurring roles, and other cultural or ethnic minorities are almost never featured.

And for every story where a character eases onto the canvas naturally and has a story that is genuine and real – Jesse or Angie (AMC), Jessica Griffin (ATWT), or Carla and Sadie Gray (OLTL) – there have been countless other stories where attempts to introduce non-WASPy characters have fallen flat and been terribly awkward.

Daytime has been trying to feature more LGBT characters, but outside of the controversial Luke and Noah story on ATWT, most of the stories we’ve seen so far have followed the same script:

(1) The LGBT character is just short of sainthood. (e.g., Bianca on AMC) In addition to being presented as an example of moral fortitude for the entire town, the character picks up litter, saves stray puppies and pulls people out of burning cars and buildings.

(2) S/he helps other characters and/or is the catalyst for an epiphany in a major front-burner character’s life. 

(3) LGBT characters are so busy being virtuous that they don’t see a lot of action. Whereas most characters in their age bracket are seeing more action than Pamela Anderson’s divorce lawyer, LGBT characters’ action level hovers around the “Nancy Hughes” level.

(4) S/he is there for a few cycles, and then mysterious disappears or is sent out of town, to be brought back at Christmas (if at all).

These are all examples of where daytime misses opportunities to keep our interest with a diversified canvas. But that’s only part of the picture.

I’m also talking about the kind of diversity we had when our shows had multi-generational casts and storylines. And more importantly, when characters had POINTS of VIEW – viewpoints that didn’t change every 13 weeks, along with the head writer.

Cady McClain is a notable actress, but she’s also incredibly intelligent about the industry. Some of her comments in her blog make me wish she would give up acting and come over to the dark side to become a writer or producer. She made a great comment (in an amazing post) about shows needing a character like the local storeowner who disapproves of the young, pregnant teenage customer. (Look towards the end of the post.) That’s the kind of character where you can put four or five of them in a room and the story writes itself.

I think the lack of diversity (both cultural and personality-wise) hurts daytime for two very specific reasons:

(1) With leaner, more streamlined casts, the characters shows keep are often so similar to one another it’s hard to tell them apart. On GL, Reva, Cassie, Harley, Blake, Beth, Dinah and Olivia are all, to some degree or another, the same damn person. On ATWT, most of the female contract characters under 40 are the same – they’ve all been painted with the same brush.

(2) When everyone is the same, and everything is the same, a very simple, logical result happens: THERE ARE NO SURPRISES. There is also no burning need to tune in tomorrow. Why? You know what will happen. Not because of spoilers, but because there are no surprises.

Can this be fixed? Creatively, it seems possible. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy are doing a great job of making diversity both a fact of life and a non-issue. But financially, I’m not sure this can ever become a priority for daytime. When we have shrinking budgets and disappearing vets, it seems less likely for a show to introduce a new character of family.

But I’ll make a point here as to why they might want to think about it. I would argue that the two most iconic soap stories of all time – the ones that even non-soap fans will know and acknowledge – are (a) Luke and Laura, and (b) the life and times of Erica Kane. Those actors and stories have made a lasting imprint on people. More importantly, they also brought a lot of non-soap fans – NEW FANS, which the format desperately needs – to their shows.

There’s something just like this happening right now – Luke and Noah on ATWT. Now, I’m not a Nielsen expert, or an industry insider, and I can’t verify the figures and the viewers and write all of this in stone for you. But we do know this: Their first kiss has had nearly half a million viewers on YouTube. ATWT went to #3 during the period when Luke and Noah were first playing front-burner. More importantly, people who did not watch before are watching. EVERY DAY. The site AfterElton.com has people liveblogging episodes of the show.

Part of that success is probably the new technology, but part of it has to be creative. ATWT is playing a new idea, with character “types” we haven’t seen before, in a very old-fashioned way. Every show would be wise to keep diversity in mind when they try to give us something “never before seen on daytime TV.”  (And hopefully they’ll do a better job managing it than P&G, who seems to support the Luke/Noah story but hasn’t capitalized on the story publicity-wise as much as they could have. )