To Texas!

Somehow, despite being a dedicated Another World watcher (with mom), I never became hooked on Texas.

I do seem to recall watching the first few episodes. Beverlee McKinsey’s Iris was there, of course, and I think there may have been an appropriate ooh and aah at seeing her name in the show’s opening, with the “Starring” billing.

It was summer, so I know I checked out those first few episodes, but that was about it.

I know later on, after McKinsey left, it seemed to have a very dedicated group of fans, and that many were upset at what they felt was a premature cancellation.

I also know that Guiding Light has an irrevocable bond to that show, since GL gained a producer, head writer and several actors when Texas ended.

I never had a chance to see any of the later run of Texas, or those final episodes – but I caught them recently on YouTube, and was blown away.

A few of them had me in tears. Those episodes are all heart, and all Pam Long. Truly ALL Pam, as she was writing and acting in those shows!

Her time at GL had plenty of that heart, perhaps tampered down just a bit by executives or the network – but on these episodes of Texas, it was a full on schmaltzfest (and I LOVED it).

A return of a lost loved one, the connection between mother and child, a child born at Christmas and yes, even a reading from the book of Luke (the same one that Linus reads to Charlie Brown)!

As another Texas-based show would later say: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

I watched these last month – almost 38 years after they were filmed – and it was far too late for a spoiler alert. I’d heard years ago what happens in those final episodes (well, one part, anyway, where a certain Mary-like figure returns home).

And still, the impact was quiet moving. The last few minutes of Part One had me sobbing.

To Texas!

Happy birthday, Beverlee McKinsey!

Sunday marks what would have been Beverlee McKinsey’s 85th birthday.

I knew it was somewhere in early August and just searched to see when, and was greeted in my search by a recent article, published in a newspaper in McAlester, Oklahoma – Beverlee’s home town.

The article even features Beverlee’s yearbook photo. So lovely. You can see the whole article here. 

I shared my memories of Beverlee and her work five years ago to mark what would have been her 80th birthday. Her work is remembered and her talent is appreciated still today.

The next stage for serialized storytelling

The screen may change, but the story remains the same.

I really enjoyed The Locher Room‘s session with soap writers last week. I love learning about the nuts and bolts of making a show as much as I love the end result, and it was great to see Jill Lorie Hurst, Jim Brown, Millee Taggart, David Kreizman and Courtney Simon talking about their time as GL writers.

There was a moment near the end when Alan asked the writers if they’d ever wanted to create their own soap.

They weren’t exactly stumped, but there was silence, and the general reaction was: where would it play?

Certainly, the chances that a network would take on a daytime soap again is between slim and none. (I’ll get back to this later.)

We are at around the ten year mark (astonishingly, surprisingly) from when all four remaining New York soaps left the air.

There are people working hard to take the format and make it work on other platforms.

I’m not as familiar with web soaps as Roger Newcomb, who has done a beautiful job promoting new series, and supporting creative excellence with the Indie Series Awards

In the beginning, many web soaps were getting their sea legs and finding their way in the new platform. Acting and production choices had to be adjusted or modulated. Some shows had five minutes of content and seven minutes of opening and closing credits!

I’ve checked out several shows, including Anacostia, Venice and After Forever.  I also loved the show Weight, a pilot featuring Martha Byrne.

I think writers and creators have figured out the beats, and the scope, and the engaging stories for a web series or similar format.

What no one has figured out yet…..is how to make it work, or be worthwhile, financially.

Venice might have been successful at breaking even or making a profit, since it was sold by subscription.  (Definitely welcome any information on this from those in the know.)

Beyond that, many shows have had backers, crowdfunding, or were able to be done on a wing and a prayer – and the creator’s own money.

________________________________________________________________________

We’ve been hearing a LOT about the Quibi platform lately. It launched recently – in the midst of a pandemic – and a recent Vulture article does a deep dig on the behind the scenes power struggles, as well as Quibi’s content choices.

The intended demographic is, as elsewhere, a young crowd with disposable income. Quibi apparently stands for “quick bites” and the content playing on the platform is in the ten to fifteen minute range.

I’m wondering why there aren’t, and weren’t, any soap operas on Quibi. It seems like a no-brainer to me – an opportunity to develop content that drew viewers back multiple times a week, and got them hooked on a story.

Quibi may survive its bumpy launch – the owners have some deep pockets – but it may be another platform to think about for similar stories.

Yes, I loved the hour soaps and the languid pace of its storytelling, but the same kind of work could be done, and cut into eight to ten minute segments.

As I mentioned above, the networks are riding their existing soaps to the finish line. It is unlikely any new soaps will ever be seen on network TV. I mean, broadcasting TV like NBC, CBS and ABC may themselves drastically change in the next decade; it’s likely that all three will stop broadcasting or limit programming, and send viewers to a streaming channel with a monthly fee.

Soaps were running on a strict model of same time, same channel for so many years, but I look at something like HGTV, where so often, content is repeated frequently before unveiling a new episode. It’s what networks should have been doing with soaps for years, re-running them at night or on weekend omnibus airings, like EastEnders does in the UK.

The industry is STILL tinkering with some of the technical and financial elements to continue this kind of storytelling into the 21st century.

There are ideas like Quibi floating around, but there are still other pieces of the puzzle as well; as we learned from the Prospect Park production fiasco, content providers also have to, y’know, PAY those writers, actors and crew members.

Let’s hope we can still have programs with intelligence, heart and love – not just romantic love, but the love of close friends and of family, of knowing that you’re home….or knowing that, when you’re lost, that light in the window will guide you to where you need to be.

 

Irna Phillips: All hail the queen

I didn’t see this when it originally appeared a few months back – I’m grateful to my friend (and Phillips expert) Lynn Liccardo for sharing this with me.

Appropriate that in a view of 100 women over 100 years, Irna Phillips would be recognized for her contributions.

The article (well, a short summary) can be found here.

And what a great illustration!

Irna Phillips in TIME.

Soaps and sources

A lovely library magazine rack – unlikely to feature Soap Opera Digest.

Dedicated soap fans can be real pros at discussions – from the old RATSC boards at Google to the controversial boards at Television Without Pity and beyond, there always seems to be discussion spots for soaps (classic and current).

There are a few really popular ones out there, especially at some of the bigger soap blogs and news sites.

I still occasionally check out an LGBT themed message board I discovered a few years back, when I saw a lot of visitors to this blog from that site.

It often has a dedicated thread related to P&G shows, and a few weeks back, one poster was arguing with another about a claim neither could substantiate.

“Where are your sources?” the accuser asked.

That particular person was a bit of an ass about their argument, and didn’t endear themselves to any of us reading the discussion.

But the whole thing got me thinking about how hard it is to substantiate things that we’ve seen and heard.

I read every copy of Soap Opera Weekly that was ever published, from first to last, and almost every copy of Digest from around 1985 or so until a few years after GL and ATWT ended.

But there is no comprehensive online archive of either magazine. Some Tumblr accounts exist that share photos or covers, sure. A few transcripts of articles are out there, but it is a tiny number compared to the number published.

The kindest thing I can say about Digest’s existing website is that, well, it’s anemic. (To be fair, Digest is likely just trying to keep the doors open and the presses running, so it can’t take on a project like archiving its entire existence.)

I think there may be a small, small handful of libraries that carry some span of published issues, some kind of archive of one of those magazines, but they are few and far between.

Years ago, before I ever wrote for the Marlena blog or posted here, I read a piece in Digest about a writer at GL. It was a bit (in one of those middle of the magazine “roundup” type interviews) where he shared a small fact about his parents and their family tree.

That fact was, I thought, an interesting one to know based on a story GL had playing out at that time, and so I tried to add it to Wikipedia. But one of the editors there (also a soap fan) refused to allow its addition.

I understand why – I had no verifiable source. And I didn’t even have an issue number or approximate time frame to narrow down in locating the issue.

“Hello, Digest Back Issues? Can I borrow six months’ worth of…..Hello? Hello?”

Yeah, not happening.

I’m sure there are sources from private collectors and a library here and there. It’s a topic I should discuss with a few of the wise soap academics I know when I get a chance.

But the fleeting, temporary nature of a lot of the soap publications goes hand in hand, I suppose, with the way the suits at the networks saw soaps – fleeting, temporary space fillers.

The REAL story of soaps

The “real” Genoa City

Dear ABC and People

Hello! Hope you’re all safe and healthy.

How nice of you to think of us soap fans when you created The Story of Soaps special.

An A for effort. You tried, and we appreciate it. Some bits of it were nicely done.

But overall….well, I’m reaching for my most diplomatic language.

It might have been a fun Buzzfeed listicle-style schedule filler for you folks at ABC, but for some of us, it didn’t really hit the mark.

Or come anywhere near it.

But hey, next time you want to craft content about the history of soaps?

You should reach out to a journalist named Rose Schmidt.

She’s not a megastar reporter – not yet.

Rose isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, a big soap fan. I mean, it’s possible that her mom, grandma or aunt might have memories of their “story,” but she doesn’t say much about soaps on social media.

She’s relatively new in her field. She graduated from high school in 2013, attended journalism school, and has been working at TV stations in Wisconsin for the last few years.

And yet?

Somehow, with little knowledge of the genre, Ms. Schmidt turned in the best, most respectful piece of media on soaps I have seen….well, possibly in my entire damn life.

Somehow, against all odds, she turned out a piece of reporting that

  • Didn’t make fun of soaps or the fans who watched/watch them
  • Had a respectful tone
  • Didn’t connect the entire worth of the genre to nighttime shows, or who acted on a show before they won an Oscar, etc.
  • Didn’t ask unrelated figures for comment
  • Didn’t pass opinion on the genre or call a time of death for soaps

I mean, she even tied a local historical element into the story.  Milwaukee, you see, is near a little Wisconsin town you may have heard of: Genoa City.

(As for the soap connection to Lake Geneva, another nearby town about 90 minutes from Milwaukee, you’ll have to watch the video.)

There’s also a guest appearance by the always-excellent and knowledgeable Elana Levine, who released Her Stories earlier this year to great acclaim.

I’m being snarky, but it almost makes me want to cry how damn good this piece is. And at the risk of repeating myself, this reporter was not an expert.

And yet.

I’m sure ABC and People spent thousands to clear clips and produce a ninety minute (after commercials) special. It’s a shame that in just over 6 minutes, they got their asses kicked by a young journalist (and her much smaller production team).

Reunions and celebrations: the Locher Room

The Locher Room, on YouTube

I met Alan Locher twelve (!!) years ago, in December 2008, when I was one of “THE” bloggers who were invited to the set of Guiding Light.

We caused a bit of a fuss – writers from non-traditional news outlets coming in to meet writers, actors and producers and see the studio in NYC as well as a day in Peapack.

Alan was our leader, and couldn’t have been kinder or more generous to us. I was unfortunately off my game as I’d just been laid off three days before (it was 2008, kids) but he kept things calm among the madness.

It’s why I am completely unsurprised by the generosity of spirit that led him to start The Locher Room YouTube channel, and organize several reunions of actors from various daytime shows – especially the P&G shows, of course.

For those of us who loved those shows, it’s been years – a decade for ATWT and GL, and, shockingly, twenty years for AW.

So what an absolute GIFT to be able to see the performers and hear them talking about our favorite characters again.

The world outside feels like it’s burning, to be honest. Between the pandemic and the unsteady political news of the day – and now, the necessary but painful reckoning with our country’s racist infrastructure – there’s been a LOT to process.

Visiting old friends feels like a moment of self-care, a blissful moment of calm.

I’ve loved so many of these reunions, but one of the more meaningful ones was seeing Don Hastings and Kathryn Hays.

Way back in the 00s, when this blog was first launched, I wrote about how Bob and Kim were sort of substitute parents for me at a time when the miles between my own parents and I felt insurmountable. So it was quite meaningful to see them again.

These are joyful reunions, focused on the positive. When there has been criticism, it’s been aired in a respectful way. (And it’s been refreshing to see some of the actors validate the frustrations that we, the audience, were feeling from the cheap seats.)

I’m very appreciative to Alan for this gift. I know he’s probably had a million comments about who he should feature on the channel next.

Alan, if you’re reading this, that FedEx package with the names LISA BROWN JOHN WESLEY SHIPP VICTORIA WYNDHAM written inside? That was totally NOT from me.

Ha, ha.

But seriously – it’s been a gift. Thanks, from all of us in the audience.

It’s lovely in and of itself, but I hope it’s a catalyst for something.

For someone to appreciate all these amazingly talented performers (and Alan, too!) and put them in roles where they’re a great match.

For networks to realize that, contrary to what a certain recent documentary might say, soaps are NOT dead, and that there’s still life in the format and in many of these characters.

In 2020, when “hit” nighttime shows are drawing a 1.1 rating, having an hour long soap five days a week is not sustainable. But we’d like to see stories rooted in reality, and made with a realistic scope and budget for today. Hoping someone, somewhere, realizes there’s still stories to be told (and money to be made!) from this format. (more on this in an upcoming post.)

PS: As someone who’s always been interested in backstage happenings, I’d love to see discussions with some of the writers/producers etc.  I, personally, would love it, but I also see the risk of comments getting ugly opinions about X or Y ruining their show. 

The Story of Soaps: the good, the bad and the ugly

I had high hopes for The Story of Soaps, the special aired late last month on ABC.

I was cautiously optimistic that the special would be a more thorough look at things, and not suffer from the same fate of most media coverage of soaps. You know the ones: the hair flipping. The explosions. The discussion about characters who have returned from the dead ten times, or been married more often than that.

Those hopes were dashed – pretty much shattered – during the opening of the show, which featured a montage of various images – including those over-the-top elements of soaps – playing over an outdated shredded-guitar soundtrack.

But I thought the special mirrored today’s soaps, and recently cancelled soaps, in a very weird way: there were bits and pieces of the real reasons to watch, blended like a Dairy Queen Blizzard, into the larger mix of what TPTB *thinks* the audience wants to see.

I’m late in writing this up, so excuse me for being brief, but here’s my two cents on it.

THE GOOD

A number of talking heads had interesting things to say, both as participants and fans. I appreciated hearing from Bryan Cranston and Chandra Wilson. It was nice to see a few faces like Mark Teschner (GH’s casting director, and the type of industry professional we seldom see or hear from).

I was glad to see Abigail de Kosnik’s comments, as well. (Full disclosure: de Kosnik was one of the editors of Survival of the Soap Opera, where an essay of mine is featured.)

There was historical footage that was new for many of us.

The first hour managed to lay out some important pieces of the story: that it was a genre primarily aimed at women and created largely by one woman, Irna Phillips.

THE BAD

The relentless push to tie together daytime and nighttime got very, very tiresome after a while.

The editing was truly Short Attention Span theater.

Very light on the P&G shows, for sure.

THE UGLY

No. Just No.

I’m at a complete loss to understand why an enormous chunk of the show was handed over to Andy Cohen’s commentary.

He’s certainly had a ton of soap stars on his show, and reality shares a BIT of the same DNA so sure, let him say a few words.

What he did instead felt like driving nails in the coffin (and then dancing on the top of said coffin) of a patient that – in true soap opera form – isn’t all that dead.

Soaps are still a valued form in many other parts of the world. And if they would have been allowed to change and grow (or in the case of some of the hour shows, shrink back to the right size), we’d probably have more shows on the air, and perhaps still have some shows being made in NYC.

It’s been so evident, especially during this pandemic, that the audience for a simple, compelling true-to-life story with well-drawn characters and solid acting? Has never gone away.

But it’s kind of fitting, I suppose, that so much of the special focused on the 1980s soap heyday. The networks (and production entities) seemed to be stuck on the rocks, unable to see beyond those years to see the wonderful, rich tapestries that soaps could still be, and so it’s perhaps no surprise that the producers of this special had a hard time seeing those possibilities, too.

What soaps deserve is a multi-part contemplation, from inception to….well, wherever we are now. Two hours is not enough. Soaps are Americana, and they deserve that kind of examination from a team at PBS.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I owe all twelve of my readers the proper follow up posts that are in the pipeline, which I’ll share soon.

But I saw this today and thought, in a world of chaos, soaps are really coming to the forefront as the comfort they are for many.

I mean, we’re watching classic shows, seeing all of our favorites on Zoom chats, and…well, look who’s once again on the cover of a certain magazine.

It’s so……nice to have him back where he belongs?

(sorry, it amuses me. I just had to.) 

At last…..we meet again!

Plot twist

More light…..

When I put this blog into limbo (again) in early 2018, I didn’t think there was much else to say about those shows I loved so much. And while I still watched some of the remaining shows from time to time, I wasn’t hooked enough to get deeply involved on that day to day basis.

I feel a bit foolish dusting this blog off again. After all, coming back from the dead is only really a surprise once. Then you become James Stenbeck or Stefano DiMera, returning from certain death as if it was a round trip ticket!

But a few interesting things have happened recently.

Earlier this year, the brilliant Elana Levine released HER STORIES, a rich volume capturing the history of soaps. (It is a slow read for me, but that is a high compliment – every time I read a few paragraphs or pages I end up falling down a rabbit hole and reading or researching THAT tangent!)

We’ve had this dreadful pandemic, and people have been looking for ways to connect and I was floored when Alan Locher launched a YouTube channel to facilitate reunions of many of our favorite actors, particularly from the P&G shows (where Alan was part of the PR team for years).

It’s been moving and meaningful to see so many familiar faces (more on that later).

And now, tonight, as I sit a few feet from my TV, there’s a two hour special about to play on ABC about soaps. On ABC! (Somewhere, Brian Frons is shaking his head.)

I have always taken a wary view of any coverage of soap opera in the media or any nighttime special. It’s so hard to capture out of context, and most news coverage, if they manage to cover it at all, covers the over the top elements of soap at the expense of the seconds and minutes that tie it all together.

But I am hearing good things and am optimistic, especially after reading a few previews…..

So, there may be a few fresh posts here and there for a while.

Not sure if this blog is “back” officially, but hell, who knows what the search for tomorrow will bring in THIS time? Very strange times indeed. Let’s just take it one day at a time……