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).

The Hero Dies

The cover of Michael Ausiello’s new book.

Today’s the publication day of Michael Ausiello’s book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies.

Readers of sites like TVGuide.com and TVLine may recognize his name – if you’re an “Aushole” who follows his news, spoilers and updates about shows.

But Ausiello also has a soap pedigree. He was an editor at Soaps In Depth for several years, and has always been open about his love for soaps in his mainstream press work.

He talks a bit about it in a new interview posted this week on TVLine, an excerpt from the book:

My mom also shared my love of soaps. Unfortunately, since I was a child of the Dark Ages—a time before VCRs, never mind DVRs—school proved a rather daunting obstacle to my daytime TV watching. But it was not an insurmountable obstacle. If the truancy cops had paid a little more attention to my absentee records, they’d have noticed that all of my illnesses coincided with pivotal episodes of Days of Our Lives. Bo and Hope’s wedding? I was home with a cold. The climax of Stefano DiMera’s evil prism plot? I was nursing a relentless cough. The death of Roman Brady? Nasty stomach bug.

This both made me laugh and also hit close to home for me.

My mom is at least partly responsible for my soap habit. She, too, watched DAYS, back in the Doug and Julie era.

Michael’s book is about the illness and death of his husband, who died of a rare form of cancer. You can read two articles about the book here and here. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I shared a social media post about my mom’s passing, which happened this week ten years ago. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago, after a long fight with a number of health issues, including cancer.

Michael’s book will no doubt be a tough read, but a moving one.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ll note here as well the sad news that Mark LaMura, who was such a talented actor and a key part of All My Children, died of cancer yesterday at 68.  That C word again.

Eight Summer Questions

I’ve been meaning to post about so much that’s happening – Ron Carlivati’s material starts at DAYS! Sally Sussman Morina/Kay Alden/Mal Young happenings at Y&R! I still have a lot to say, and a long thinkpiece I’ve been working on for a while.

So I decided to pay homage with this post to my friend Marlena Delacroix. She’s known, of course, for her question posts, both from her Critical Condition column in Soap Opera Weekly and also at her eponymous website.

Marlena, her husband Moose and their dog Nigel have been enjoying a summer retreat at their country cottage. So while Marlena’s enjoying the summer sun, here’s my questions to the soap universe….

(1) So did DAYS really, truly let Vincent Irizarry go? And did they let him go without any meaningful scenes with Judi Evans? I know Judi’s Adrienne was already involved with Lucas and Justin. But still…..the magic of Beth and Lujack was right there, a resource for a show struggling to regain its footing. Why did they ignore it?

(2) I’ve always liked Linsey Godfrey. Truly. I’ve enjoyed her as Caroline on B&B, and thought she played both heroine and bitch equally well. But am I imagining that there’s been an INSANE amount of print coverage over her departure and subsequent return? It seemed like she had a few pages in Digest every time I cracked it open.

(3) I know that Morgan Fairchild is a soap veteran, but am I the only one having a hard time accepting her as Anjelica? Her work has been fine, and she’s very funny, but I see her and see Morgan Fairchild, not Anjelica. I know DAYS wanted a “name,” but I wish they’d have gone in a different direction.

(4) Did DAYS bring on one son for Steve (Tripp) only to let another one (Joey) go? Will Joey exit the canvas alive? More specifically, for the departed Dena Higley: Why on earth did you make one of your new, young male characters, especially one tied to a core family, a killer (Joey) and make the son of another (Chase) a rapist?

(5) Who knew a piano recital could be so exciting? I was surprised, but the whole thing turned out to be a very effective mini-umbrella story for Y&R.  It was a little gothic, a little suspenseful, and very Bill Bell, if you ask me. The question here is: who was responsible for that idea – the ones who just “retired,” or the new EP-combo-head writer?

(6) Am I an awful human being for clapping when Sam shot Sonny and then kicked him into a pit on General Hospital? And, uh, does anyone have a GIF of that sequence?

(7) I’ve been reading a lot about legendary NYC personality Rollerena lately, and after seeing a series of photos of her, I had to ask: Is it just me, or does she look a bit like Kim Hughes’ long lost sister? Or cousin?  (Hey, if it worked for Frannie and Sabrina it could work here, too.) Seriously, the resemblance is probably minor, and mostly in the fact that both have very angular facial features, but Kim was who immediately popped into mind.

Rollerena and Kim Hughes: a family resemblance?

(8) Can it possibly be 8 years this week that Guiding Light filmed its last scenes? That seems so totally impossible. YouTube knows me so well; it keeps kicking up old GL scenes for me to watch.

If you’ve got a question to pose to the greater soap universe, feel free to post it in the comments!

Product placement: making us sick?

Remember when we got a little irked when Margo Hughes talked about touching up her hair with Nice ‘n Easy?

Or when Dinah Marler craved a package of Pringles? Remember?

We didn’t know how good we had it, kids.

General Hospital recently told a story that involved a real company doing real product placement.

And like much of what Sonny Corinthos does, it was questionable at best and perhaps misleading.

Arstechnica summarizes the nitty gritty details here. 

I found some of the comments amusing (among them, “Luke would have NEVER let this happen”) but this trend is disconcerting.

In general, it raises my anxiety that, in the Trump era, we don’t know who’s behind the messages we’re getting in media or what their goals are.

And when it comes to daytime, our shows are discounted and disregarded already. Yes, everyone has to make a profit these days. But stories should help people, not just treat them as human ATM’s, targeted only for their marketing value.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to stop by the store and score a canister of Pringles. Can’t stop at just one, you know.

A glimmer of light

Wow. I really didn’t think I’d be posting about The Bold and the Beautiful two posts in a row.

But I also never expected Donald Trump to be president. Or for the Battle of the Network Stars to make a comeback. And yet, here we are.

I’m way overdue in making this post. 2016 has come and gone. The Emmys have come and gone.

But I remembered seeing this scene last year and thinking that it was so fantastic. It was a glimpse of what can be when a soap weaves in its history to inform character as well as plot.

This. This is the layered storytelling and acting I know and remember.

Heather Tom did Emmy-deserving work here, to be certain.  (And while I can’t be sure, the words sound like the work of dialogue master Patrick Mulcahey.)

The scene is from around 9:00 on. The last two minutes are the emotional punch in the gut.

Hello, Sheila

Sheila reports for duty – but not at Y&R – she’s in LA again.

I’m not a fan of stories that repeat themselves, especially when it comes to super villains.

Mostly because it makes for lazy storytelling. You can do just about anything and blame it on Helena Cassadine or Stefano DiMera. And they never die (well, almost never), which just makes the stories they touch less and less believable.

But B&B has my attention with the return of Sheila Carter.

Frankly, I never imagined that Kimberlin Brown would ever return to either of the Bell shows. It had been over a decade since her last appearance, and her story had gone relatively off the rails before she left.

There was also that whole business with Phyllis being Sheila or Sheila being Phyllis or Why Does My Head Hurt This Makes No Sense, whatever that was.

And oh yes, the Republican National Convention appearance.

It didn’t enter my mind that she’d be back on either show. But I’m interested in seeing where this goes.

I’ve never quite “gotten” B&B as a show, but there are periods where I’ve tuned it, and it looks like I’ll have to check in on the new Spectras, too.

And of course, my blog post title is an obvious call back to another surprise return. Still and always my favorite.

 

Genoa City Neighborhood Watch

neighborhood-watch

The shocker of the year in soapland had to be the announcement that The Young and the Restless was welcoming back Sally Sussman Morina as head writer (as well as Kay Alden as a consulting writer).

It’s a big roll of the dice to go back to the future, especially in this era, where soaps are on shaky ground. Will the new-old-new team be able to strike the necessary balance between the show’s past and its future? Will we finally get a sense of where Mal Young is leading the show?

I did watch the first episode from the team, and thought it was fantastic – a great way to re-set the tone of the show.

I’m making a commitment now to watch every day in January – full episodes, no FF – to really immerse myself and see what’s happening.

And I’ll be doing a snapshot of all four shows – and why I “can’t even” with some of the others.

2017 is (almost) on! Let’s do this!

The Phoenix at rest

A tribute to the Phoenix - in flight, and at rest.

A tribute to the Phoenix – in flight, and at rest. (Internet image) 

2016 has been a brutal year in the arts community, and in the soap community. We’ve lost many artists, all with work that resonated deeply for us.

Earlier today, we learned of the death of actor Joseph Mascolo, who was best known as the invincible Stefano DiMera on Days of Our Lives. 

Mascolo, who died at 87, had a long and varied career in nighttime and film. He proved his versatility with the role of Massimo on B&B – where he was a welcome alternative to the wall of Forresters (and where his departure was a total mystery for many fans).

But it was Stefano that most people remember. I can’t tell you how many Tweets and Facebook blurbs I’ve seen today that said something like: I didn’t really watch or know soaps, but I know THIS guy. I know THIS name. 

As readers know, I’m more of a P&G fan, but Days was among the first shows I ever saw – it was, along with Another World, my mother’s “story.”

I remember when the DiMeras came to town. I would have never guessed that the family would still have a foothold almost 40 years later.

The twists, turns, deaths and resurrections of “The Phoenix” are too numerous to list here, but Mascolo tackled them with bravado. He made a lot of really crazy stories fly, because he believed and he made you believe.

He walked an INCREDIBLY fine line in his performances. He had a twinkle in his eye, an Easter egg of sorts to the audience letting them know this was all crazy. And yet, he didn’t play scenes for camp (well, unless it involved Susan Banks, of course). It’s easy for actors to descend into camp when all else fails, but he had a strong sense of his character.

Like As The World Turns‘ James Stenbeck, Days used – or misused – a compelling, complicated villain and piled on a plethora of fake deaths and new children until the plot twists no longer packed a punch.

And like Anthony Herrera’s Stenbeck, Mascolo’s Stefano was a renaissance man. Both were men with sharp intellects and a sense of the dramatic; both were lovers of fine art, fine wine and fine women. Both men used those brains for manipulation and havoc, instead of being  positive forces.

Mascolo, who’s been described as the polar opposite of his character in real life, will be missed by many Days and B&B fans – as well as that casual viewer, the one with the wandering attention. Mascolo made quite an impression on those viewers, a special talent in any era.

The edge of darkness: depictions of violence on daytime

Appreciating the former doesn't mean that a show - or its viewers - should forget the latter. (Roger and Holly, Guiding Light)

Appreciating the former doesn’t mean that a show – or its viewers – should forget the latter.                                (Roger and Holly, Guiding Light)

Variety’s TV columnist Maureen Ryan just shared a column she’s written about the depiction of rape on nighttime TV.

I’ve been a big fan of Ryan’s work since her days at the Chicago Tribune, and Ryan is one of several women – including her colleague Sonia Saraiya, and writers Emily Nussbaum, Linda Holmes and Margaret Lyons, to name but a few – who are doing great work talking about TV and the ways that it represents us.

Ryan’s column got me thinking about daytime, of course, which has a long and mostly problematic history with the topic of rape.

I was especially taken by these paragraphs:

Television isn’t any safer for women: there’s no doubt that rape is one of the small screen’s most frequently used dramatic devices. Whether writers think it adds “edge” or connotes character depth — and both of those assumptions are fraught — rape is prevalent in prestige vehicles, procedurals and genre shows alike.

“It’s become shorthand for backstory and drama,” says an experienced female writer who didn’t want her name to be used. “Everyone knows rape is awful and an horrific violation, so it’s easy for an audience to grasp.”

I read those sentences and immediately thought: “Ciara and Chase on DAYS.”

DAYS brought on a whole new generation, and proceeded to ruin one character (Chase) and damage another (Ciara), all while portraying a pretty ugly series of scenes.

That’s just the most recent example, of course.

Longtime readers know I am not a fan of “darkness.” That’s the case for a number of reasons, and one is that we see enough ugliness and frightening things on the news and in our daily lives. I want to escape from that onslaught, and I imagine many viewers do, too.

Another reason is because it has, indeed, become a lazy way to tell story. And daytime becomes most problematic when it does the thing daytime has done so often: played out a story where a female rape victim is attracted to/has a relationship with her attacker.

It’s the obvious DNA from the legacy of General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. It’s been done a number of times since, from DAYS’ Sami and EJ to, perhaps most disturbingly, OLTL’s Todd (or at least, who we THOUGHT was Todd) and Marty.

There have been compelling, well written stories about rape on daytime. GH revisited its story a few decades after the initial rape, which we were then told was a “seduction.”

Michele Val Jean did amazing work mapping out the complicated feelings between Luke, Laura and their son Lucky, working through the repercussions of the violence of that act.

The gold standard, in my humble opinion, was Guiding Light’s Roger and Holly.

It was also one of the most complicated, because it did show that while Holly was damaged by what Roger did, she was, indeed, drawn to something about him, or perhaps to the drama that he brought to her life.

But even THAT story required a bit of revisionist history, because most viewers of 80s and 90s era GL didn’t know that Roger had actually raped several women during his first go-round in Springfield.

What Ryan says about rape in her column really captures the way I’ve felt about all violence on soaps, and what I’ve written about over these many years.

And yet, the crutch of fast, attention grabbing story is still used by all the shows. After a few promising years, GH is back to being a pit of darkness. They sacrificed a legacy character that had huge potential – Paul Hornsby – by making him first a mobster and then, out of the blue, a murderer and a serial killer, at that.

(A character like Paul and an actor as charming and handsome as Richard Burgi and THIS was the only thing they could come up with? Really?)

GH viewers have, over the last several months, been treated to several murders, a possible suicide (Morgan), the complete decimation of Alexis Davis, now a shadow of her former self, and a resumption of mobster warfare between Julian and Sonny.

Its latest centerpiece story has a young twentysomething woman pretending to seduce said fiftysomething mobster – a person devoid of any moral compass but who proves over and over to be irresistible to every woman in town.

In all seriousness, WHO IN THE FUCK WOULD POSSIBLY WANT TO WATCH THIS?

I apologize for the language – it’s neither scholarly nor good journalism – but I am at a loss how to underscore my utter confusion as to why the remaining shows like GH tell these stories.

DAYS isn’t much better. After killing what seemed like half of the cast – including Will Horton, a character many people either grew up with or cared about a great deal – the aforementioned rape story played out, along with a return to the character of Ava, which was as painful during the second go-round as it was the first time.

Joey, like Chase and Ciara, has also been damaged – it’s hard to root for a murderer, even one that may have been justified in his actions. Oh, that reminds me – hey, Hope! Hard to be a credible cop after you murdered the town’s crime kingpin.

The Bell soaps, to their credit, seldom use violence as a story element, and have generally told stories with violence at their core with great care, including Brooke’s rape, Jake’s abuse, and the story of Stephanie’s violent childhood.

B&B has its own issues (the weirdly incestuous vibe on this show is getting REALLY threadbare and worn) and Y&R has been a show without a clear identity for a few years, but it’s good to see them avoiding violence as a cheap ratings grab – a choice that is probably influenced by their positions at #1 and #2.

It’s high sport for many soap fans to claim that X writer or Y producer “killed” a show, but I’m of a mind that many of the NYC shows suffered because they turned so often to violence and darkness.

Playing the forces of good versus evil? Hell, that’s as old as the Bible and as revered as Shakespeare. A good story needs a source of conflict.

And sometimes life truly IS ugly. It can be a revelation when a show depicts the ugliness, the struggle and the aftermath.

But it should be an exception, not a rule.

Visiting old friends: P&G shows on “The Talk”

(Picture courtesy CBS)

(Picture courtesy CBS)

If you haven’t already heard, the big news is this: Both As The World Turns and Guiding Light will be showcased on The Talk on Wednesday, October 12.

A recent Entertainment Weekly article provides some details – we know that Grant Aleksander, Beth Chamberlin, Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer will be representing Springfield, while Martha Byrne, Ellen Dolan, Elizabeth Hubbard and Colleen Zenk will be on point for Oakdale.

I’m excited to see what everyone’s been up to – all of these performers are favorites of mine, and I was lucky enough to meet Aleksander, Chamberlin and Zimmer on that blogger’s trip back eons ago, so this will be awesome to see.

It’s my understanding that it’s a celebration of 30 years of CBS being Number One in daytime, so the Bell shows will also be on this episode. I wouldn’t hold my breath for more than five minutes with each of the P&G shows. But still, five minutes is better than zero.

I saw a reaction to this news online and while it was understandable in some ways, it still surprised me. Basically, the response was this: “I swore I’d never watch The Talk because it replaced ATWT, and I never will!”

I get it. I still make a point of not watching Let’s Make A Deal for the same reasons. Unless I’m stuck in the doctor’s office and have no choice! And it’s not like that show killed GL. It just happened to be its replacement.

My point is this: I hope everyone watches. And Tweets about it, or writes about it on Facebook. Or hey, pick up a pen and write Angelica McDaniel at CBS. (Or Tweet her – she’s all about Twitter!)

I get that the likelihood of us seeing  GL or ATWT – or both – back on our ad-supported screens for an hour a day, five days a week is somewhere between “not even” and “none.”

But a warm and positive response to the reunion could encourage them to think about more content like it.

For example, there’s CBS All Access. You know, that’s the streaming thing CBS is doing. It’s on Apple TV (and Amazon Fire, I think) among other places.

It’s some flat rate a month that gets you access to a set of CBS shows, including streaming of shows DVR style.

They’re beginning to create content specifically for this platform. Like the upcoming Star Trek show, and the spinoff of The Good Wife.

They have to offer some interesting content that’s exclusive to that platform. The fact that it’s subscriber based probably has them thinking of content with specific, focused and dedicated audiences.

Hmmm, sounds like soap fans to me.

So a great reaction to these reunions might make them think about, oh, a whole hour reunion for each show. Or maybe….just maybe…..a reunion movie. Or a limited series. Transparent is ten half hour episodes.  We could get caught up very well in five hours with our friends, couldn’t we?

Of course, we do have to remember that this loopy brainstorm of mine also involves Procter & Gamble/Telenext, and with all due respect, this is a team that in the past has, metaphorically speaking, driven a one car funeral into a ditch.

But it’s a possibility. And it starts with supporting these reunions, talking about them, and dropping CBS a note or a Tweet to say, “Hey, I enjoyed this content. I’d like to see more of it.”

And hey, if nothing else, we get a few glimpses of old favorites. Sounds like a win-win to me.