Soaps and the Family Tree, Part Two

(Photo credit: Claudio Edinger)

I’ve mentioned my love of genealogy a few times here, talking about my own experiences in this post.

In another post, I mentioned PBS’ Finding Your Roots, which had featured former ATWT cast member Julianne Moore in one of their segments.

Although the segment didn’t feature any half-sisters/cousins coming back from the dead looking exactly like Julianne but with a strange accent that sounded somewhat like a British accent crossed with Madonna…..well, it was still interesting!

But I was really surprised to see a recent episode of Finding Your Roots. One of the guests in this particular episode was Gaby Hoffmann, who’s had a long and varied career as an actress, but who I know best as Ali Pfefferman from “Transparent.”

I was very surprised, a few years ago, to learn that Hoffmann’s biological father was the late Anthony Herrera, known to soap fans as James Stenbeck from As The World Turns.

I remember learning this via a photo in the New York Times a few years ago – the photo at the top of this post – and Finding Your Roots showed a glimpse of the same photo in their segment on Gaby.

The photo shows Viva, Gaby and Gaby’s older sister…..and a TV set, tuned to ATWT, with Anthony Herrera and Colleen Zenk on the monitor. (Colleen is also in the video clip that was included.)

It’s a connection that, to be honest, I kind of pushed out of my mind. For a few reasons.

One reason, sadly, is that Hoffmann and Herrera apparently did not have a relationship.

And the second, somewhat related reason….is that in some of her earliest Transparent scenes, Hoffmann really resembled Herrera in certain expressions, and I had to sort of block that connection out, so I could just appreciate her work on its own. Which I do.

Hoffmann’s Finding Your Roots segment is very captivating, and very much uniquely Gaby Hoffmann. Her life story could be a movie of its own – her mother, Viva, is a famed part of the Warhol artist and actor community.

It was definitely a compelling story — as well as a sad and surreal one to watch.

 

NOTE: You can see the episode here.  The episode also features Tea Leoni, with an equally captivating story about Tea’s mother.

A Daytime Mystery: Guess That Day Player

Here’s a fun question for my TENS of readers, especially my old P&G friends.

As one does, I was clicking around on We Love Soaps. This often leads to a rabbit hole, so to speak – one click takes me to another link, and so on.

In this case, one of the site’s features, Today in Soap Opera History, had a GL clip from 1984. Once that played in YouTube, I clicked on other clips that had been uploaded where the air dates were just a few days ahead.

Which brings me to this clip.

There’s a day player who shows up at around 6:10 and appears through the episode. The waitress with the red hair.

That voice….it’s familiar. The face is familiar.

Could it be recent Tony winner Cynthia Nixon?

I’m kinda convinced that it is. I asked a few folks, including We Love Soaps’ Roger Newcomb, what they thought.

But no one is sure. The credits that roll on the following day’s episode don’t mention the character or list Nixon’s name.

GL is not listed on Nixon’s IMDB page.

She was in New York at the time this would have been filmed. 1984 was the year Nixon was in two plays at the same time – Hurlyburly and The Real Thing. So that puts our, uh, suspect at, shall we say, the scene of the crime.

So daytime mystery lovers, here’s a mystery to solve! Let me know if you find any leads or have any theories or clues.

Let’s just make sure this mystery is shorter than that Carolyn Crawford one in Oakdale, amirite?

 

 

The joy of the season

I haven’t had a chance to watch Sense8 on Netflix yet, but someone posted a trailer to the show’s Season 2 premiere, which in Sense8’s case, will be a Christmas special. (Thank you, Lana Nieves, for sharing.)

I’m not familiar with the Wachowskis’ work – I know they did The Matrix movies and several other films and shows.

But I was struck by what Lana Wachowski says in the first few seconds of this video. She talks about “the intersection of my life with these fictional characters.” I love her explanation of stories with a viewer’s life, just as a fictional book can sometimes intersect and resonate in a reader’s life.

Lana lists a few TV shows with holiday specials that she remembers – and lo and behold, All My Children is on that list.

I loved what she said here. The holidays are special, and it was perhaps one of the times I loved most about any of the shows I watched.

As Lana Wachowski says in the video, the holidays can deliver a sense of togetherness for some, and underscore isolation for others.

And while the holidays are “special episodes,” they can be great ways to take the temperature of where all the characters are in any story.

Another World and As The World Turns certainly had memorable holiday shows – ATWT started at Thanksgiving with the Hubbard Squash, of course!

But I have to admit, I have the softest spot for Guiding Light and its holiday shows. Especially during the Pam Long years, where the story had a lot of unabashed heart (and, let’s be real, a bit of welcome cheese, too).

I mean, Saint Nick was a character. HELLO!

In 1988, Holly had just returned to town, and Phillip was trying to help Harley with Alan-Michael.

(The Phillip/Harley scenes were among several from that year where many of us saw chemistry between the characters and actors, a decade or so before they were actually paired.)

And then there’s the episode from the following year. Pay close attention to the end of the episode (from around 53:30).

Times change, styles change, and people change, and that’s undeniable. It’s been a rough year, and an angry one.

I wish we were telling more stories that didn’t turn to violence or ugliness as a default setting. I wish we had more stories with vulnerability and heart. Even if it’s a little cheesy.

At the holidays, we could all use a little cheese, and a lot of warmth.

Happy holidays, everyone!

POSTSCRIPT: For more holiday clips, check out this blog post from Alina Adams. Adams was a part of the P&G team for years, and wrote the Oakdale Confidential book, as well as several other P&G show-related titles.

Hank Eliot and Oakdale

I hadn’t thought about Hank Eliot for years. He was part of the first gay storyline on As The World Turns (indeed, the first openly gay man on ANY soap).

I was reminded (as I often am) by a mention on We Love Soaps.

Oh, my. This was even better than I remembered in my memory! And the scene at the end gets me, in the Snyder kitchen. I really miss those people.

I remember Hank (Brian Starcher) coming out to Barbara and Shannon as well. (I wish I could see THOSE scenes!)

The beginning of the story was wonderful. There was some very realistic reactions from Paul and Andy.

It got weird at some point, with Hank’s path somehow crossing James Stenbeck, if I recall.

Hank’s arc on ATWT was one that defines the word “abrupt ending.” It was all very CLICK BOOM BYE. He was gone, quick as a flash, and almost never mentioned again….after nearly 18 months of us seeing him onscreen nearly every day.

Here’s a link to an interview with the late Douglas Marland and his writing team about this story.

Straight outta….soaps?

There’s a new movie, “Straight Outta Compton,” that tells the story of rap group N.W.A., a story that includes an album that share’s the film’s name.

The film has an iconic, well, icon, and they’ve shared it on social media. Predictably, that logo has been added to thousands of photos. If you have a Facebook or Twitter feed, this is not news to you.

Not that I was sucked into this or anything.

11831682_10153085636873424_8395231838064194473_n

Because I hadn’t exhausted the depths of silliness, I had to dig deeper. Of course.

StraightOuttaAndorra

StraightOuttaKim

StraightOuttaCompton (3)

StraightOuttaCompton (4)

If you have any good suggestions — or any creations — share them here!

Still missing the Light

What would appear in YOUR viewfinder, dear reader?

June 30th is the day, in 1952, that Guiding Light began its long, continuing story on television (after 15 years on the radio).

It’s been nearly six (!) years since it ended, and nearly five for As The World Turns, but I still miss watching those shows, and seeing those people.

And though my love for ATWT and GL is pretty equal overall, I’ve been drawn to GL clips on YouTube a lot lately.

(Not that this would be obvious if you looked at my Twitter page or the header at the top of this blog or anything….)

ATWT, particularly under Douglas Marland, was no slouch at telling stories with a lot of heart and a lot of love.

But what I often loved the most about GL was how it wore its heart on its sleeve.

So I’m serving you up some Christmas in (almost) July realness today.

If you don’t want to watch all of this clip, start at around 42:00 and catch the very end. (And the credits, too.)

I know that this is an era that is bygone; that this type of show is no longer made in New York City, that we’ll never see anything of that scale again, that the money and the sets and the cost of everyone involved is far out of reach.

Perhaps.

But the heart, the optimism, at the core of this story is what I’m missing these days.

Bring us all the darkness in the world, and an unlikeable antihero, if you must, but know that we’ll care about him, and all the people around him, if you have one person who sees the good in him, and believes in him, as Maureen Bauer saw the good in Roger Thorpe.

In this age of nihilism, I keep craving stories that show me the shared connections we have, the things that make us a little less lonely.

And I know those stories can be told, because I watched it happen for years.

It makes these words – appreciated by some, derided by others – take on a new resonance for me.

There is a destiny which makes us brothers; none goes his way alone.

All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.

(Oh yes, I went there!) 

Cautious optimism

Gramma's been messing around with Photoshop again!

Gramma’s been messing around with Photoshop again!

I’m cautiously optimistic about some new developments we’ve been hearing about over the last few weeks, all from veteran creative forces in daytime.

Writers Janet Iacobuzio and Nelson Aspen are launching a series, and the list of talent is impressive: Colleen Zenk (Barbara, ATWT), and Anna Stuart, Stephen Schnetzer, David Forsyth and Alice Barrett Mitchell (Donna, Cass, John and Frankie, AW), to name just a few.

That’s one project, with platform and viewing opportunities yet to be announced.

And then there’s Sudsville.

From what we know, Sudsville is a brand that will be dedicated to fans of soaps, and it’s led by former daytime writer Meg Kelly.

There’s a mix of content, from a proposed trivia show with Guiding Light’s Michael O’Leary (Rick Bauer) as host, to a soap called Year Rounders.

I’m really intrigued by what I hear so far.

I’m not exactly thrilled by the Sudsville name, though it does a great job in terms of short-handing what the network’s about.

And, OK, I don’t want to be Ebenezer Soap Scrooge, and I get that at this stage of the game, the money is going to production and talent. But this graphic for the website – oy, vey. This is very 1995 GeoCities.

But the idea of Sudsville? I am totally on board.

The “caution” with new shows, of course, is the very recent experience with Prospect Park, and the ways that the crash-and-burn of One Life to Live and All My Children’s 2.0 versions may have scared other production companies away from attempting new shows or reboots.

I’m also very intrigued by the company behind Sudsville: Conklin-Intracom.

Conklin-Intracom is not an entertainment company. Its “About Us” page includes a description for an arm that is a “global telecommunications systems vendor.”

On their website, they list one of their products as “Intelligent Personal TV” (IPTV).

This seems to be the likeliest possibility for where the Sudsville content might live.

So this makes me still “cautious.” Like Prospect Park, the company launching this has new and potentially great ideas, but also doesn’t have experience with serialized TV.

Granted, the runs of these shows, especially the first seasons, will be much shorter (I believe a handful of weekly episodes, instead of 40 episodes off the bat).

The lack of experience at Sudsville might be helpful if they get out of the creative team’s way and let them do their job.

With the Iacobuzio/Aspen project, their collective experience, and Nelson Aspen’s ability to promote the show, could be the shining jewel in the crown.

I’m not sure how this is being funded, or if any of the same contract/union issues will emerge with such a low-budget enterprise.

But I’m hopeful. If The Powers That Be, 2.0 Version, can figure out a space and a way where we can create content, get it to the audience and monetize it to the point that everyone makes money…..? Then we might see some really, really great storytelling again.

Picking up the threads

1975 GL

This is essentially a “Part Two” to my previous post, about reboots and revivals of our favorite soaps.

A reboot’s on the wish list of many Guiding Light fans, as well as fans of other P&G shows.

I mean, in this era of procedurals, could anything make for a more obvious reboot than The Edge of Night? With a fabulous update of that theme song, of course.

And there’s certainly been interest in these shows.

Supposedly, someone’s been trying to sell GL as a property pretty consistently since it left CBS for That Game Show That Shall Not Be Named.

This post suggests that before Paul Rauch’s death, he’d been working on getting some version of GL back on the air.

There were several attempts that centered around GL head writer Jill Lorie Hurst; the early attempt to form a production company (A New Kind of Light) with several GL stars and, more recently, the teaser video showing many GL stars together.

I am a fan of Hurst’s work and was hoping (and still hope!) that one of the ideas would catch a wave, that something of these ideas would come into bloom.

The plot thickened this week with the announcement of “Sudsville,” a platform for soaps that may be similar to Hulu or Netflix. There’s scant information so far (and I’m not loving the name), but it’s a promising sign that interest is still there.

The raw materials are there for a reboot of these shows, but before moving forward, we have to acknowledge the wreckage, too: the failed reboots of All My Children and One Life to Live.

The cost of those failures goes far beyond fans missing their shows. There was a substantial financial loss to Prospect Park (one of their own making, it could be argued, but a loss nonetheless).

It may have cast a cloud of fear over other producers and companies, scaring them away from rebooting other properties.

The AMC and OLTL reboots are pretty interesting to me, because in terms of content, I think there were great lessons to be learned there.

I think AMC 2.0 nailed its landing far better than OLTL 2.0, mainly because AMC 2.0 did the very thing I would want to do for a GL relaunch – weave in the foundations of the past, but also use as a launching pad for the next generation and a time to clear out some of the more worn pieces of story.

AMC 2.0 tried to chart its own rhythm and its own path. The Miranda/AJ/Pete story featured three characters the audience knew and loved, and it was one of the most realistic and root-worthy portrayals of young characters I’ve seen in a while.

The show used some veterans, too, and pulled some surprising characters out of mothballs (Dimitri and Billy Clyde).

There were some mistakes; Celia was mostly a “who cares?” character, and the perennial pain parade that was inflicted on the Hubbards got very old after a while. But overall, it was a strong showing.

OLTL 2.0, on the other hand, was an attempt to do an exact transfer of the old show over into the new space. It had many strong moments, and most of the same cast, but it simply wasn’t as watchable.

It hadn’t changed the pace and the mapping in necessary ways. And some of the stories just felt stale and uninspiring.

And that leads me back to the question I posed in my prior post: What would a reboot look like? How would we adjust the focus on a reboot of, say, GL or ATWT, to capture its essence, but adjust it for a shorter episode length, or a limited series arc (13 episodes a season)?

I’m still thinking……

 

The rich tapestry of Mad Men

Mad Men at its beginnings, circa 1960.....

Mad Men at its beginnings, circa 1960…..

In case you’ve missed the other 3,876,941,092 online mentions of it, the AMC drama Mad Men is ending its run this week, at the end of its seventh season.

I launched this blog in 2008, but I have to admit, I was late to the Mad Men party. I missed the first few seasons and then got so far behind it was hard to catch up. But I finally did, and it’s been the most rewarding serial drama experience for me in years.

It’s a mixture of the serialized elements, the fact that the show is a period piece, and the way that it actually tells a story that I find so engaging. It’s not for everyone; I often hear how “boring” the show is from people who expect a big event or plot twist at the end of every episode.

My fellow soap fan, analyst and writer Lynn Liccardo and I have talked about the fast-forward culture in soap watching, and I’ve said to her before that I tended to enjoy shows more when I watched them beginning to end, catching every nuance and every bit of story.

That certainly proved to be the case with Mad Men; except for these last seven episodes, I watched them all sequentially over the course of a few weeks.

But I think there are two things I’ve loved most about Mad Men. They’re related, and they’re also part of the parallels I draw to the halcyon days of daytime.

(1) They explore characters and relationships so well, so deeply and outside of grand plot movement, and 

(2) They spend a significant amount of time on small moments, like painting a portrait that eventually becomes clear as the art is realized.

It’s not as if Mad Men is plot free, of course. Things have happened. John Deere tractors have been unleashed. People have come and gone: Bob Benson, Lane, Sal, Miss Blankenship.

The central story is as old as Shakespeare: the dueling identities of Dick Whitman and Don Draper – one and the same, played by Jon Hamm. It’s fueled so much of the show’s narrative. It’s both a very meta story (Who are we? Who do we present to the world? Are those two different people?) and very specific to these people and this place. Don and Betty’s marriage was blown to smithereens by Don’s secret, both in the keeping of it and its revelation.

It’s also refreshing, and hugely ironic, that in an era when I’m still complaining about sexism and tired old representations of women on daytime, that a character from the 1960s — Peggy Olson — has given us one of the fullest, best portraits of a modern woman ever seen on TV. (And she’s only up to 1970!)

The relationships on this show are so rich, and it makes it so easy for the story to evolve organically from those connections. While Peggy mostly interacts with Don and her staff and coworkers, the scenes with Peggy and Roger (including the most recent one) are divine. Don and Joan have had a complicated relationship, but one with affection at its core. Peggy and Stan have challenged each other since they met, and have managed to become quite a team without becoming a couple.

The things that I take away from this show are the broad questions that soaps used to ask. Who are we? What do we believe about ourselves and the world? 

It’s the Harding Lemay question: Why? 

Or maybe I should look at it from the journalist’s questions: the who, what, when, where, why and how.  Daytime covers the who, what, when and where, but it’s not always paying as much attention to the why and how.

I know that Mad Men‘s where is an admittedly big part of my appreciation for it. I was born a decade after the show’s primary setting, but I recognize these people and their surroundings. My father worked for a computer company, not unlike the one that made that big, hulking machine that drove Ginsberg crazy. (It was a well known company, but it made the bet in the 1970s that no one would want a desktop computer. We all know how THAT story ends.)

He often worked in an office where his coworkers were very Sterling Cooper. I’m not sure they drank in the office, but there were many nights they hit the bar together after a long day. He had men like Don and Roger around him, to be sure.

I knew a lot of Bettys, women who were trained to focus on appearance. My mother certainly shared some of her disappointments about the limitations of the role she was expected to play.

The show captures both the feel of the city and the feel of suburbia perfectly, and the unease that was starting to creep into both at that time.

It hasn’t been completely perfect, of course. The pacing has for the most part been right on the mark, but some stories have dragged on a bit too long. I wasn’t one of the Megan haters (there’s a contingent who loathes her existence) but I definitely felt her story could have ended sooner. The whole Diana thing was a huge WTF moment, though I suppose it fits into Don’s habit of finding a new focus for his energies (as Dr. Faye once said, he only loves the beginnings of things). And, well, Glenn was an odd story then and an odd story now — though probably a bit realistic in its messiness and the uncomfortable weirdness of a kid and his crush on a grownup.

It certainly inspires the same level of fandom, of living in the story. Nearly every week of Mad Men will generate stories about that episode — not just recaps, mind you, but stories about what that episode means.

A recent article examined a Don Draper road trip. That fact is notable both for the level of attention the show gets from media (and fandoms), and also for the road trip itself. Mad Men takes advantage of the kinds of storytelling arcs that daytime has in the past — long side trips that allow a character to escape, to refocus, to resurface, to find themselves — and also lets writers stretch out and savor a story before it reaches its end.

Don’s journey may be the bookend at the end of the series, but it’s not the first time he’s bolted and made a trip to reboot and restart his life. Just like Lily Walsh running off to Wyoming, or Alexandra Spaulding contemplating her life while on an island, a journey can give a character and a story time to catch its breath and think about where it’s going next.

I’ll definitely miss Mad Men when it leaves next week, and I wish we could find more ways to reclaim this kind of storytelling in all of our shows – web and daytime. Grand plot reveals, wig snatches and Oh No She Didn’t moments have a welcome place in daytime, of course, but a few more scenes in that corner bar, a quiet chat between two friends, the romance of family — whether it’s in the Francis house, or at SC&P, or in the Bauer kitchen — would be a welcome return to form, and a reminder of why we watch, and why we still watch.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, we can’t let a MM post go by without mentioning the As The World Turns connection. While it was only a few minutes onscreen, we saw an early grab at the brass ring by Joan when she became engrossed in an early ATWT story, and brings it to the attention of Harry Crane.

We also see a brief bit of ATWT when MM shows the famous clip, interrupted by the news of President Kennedy’s shooting. Harry is a TV ad guy – one of the guys who thinks soaps are the things that fill up space between his ads.

And Mad Men now, circa 1970. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

And Mad Men now, circa 1970. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

Sixty days

Ech, it really sucks to be doing the death watch countdown for a second year in a row.

But I can’t make this fact any prettier than it is, so here we are: In approximately 60 days, the final episode of As The World Turns will air.

Over these next two months, I’ll be talking primarily about ATWT as we say goodbye.

Here’s a few quick ATWT-related thoughts:

IT’S ABOUT TIME: Hats off to Time magazine for their profile on the last days of ATWT. They kept the whole aren’t-soaps-filled-with-adultery-and-evil-twins snarkery to a minimum, and actually noted the important things. Like: This is the end of an era (at least, the P&G soap era). There were some bittersweet comments from Kathryn Hays (Kim). All in all, a fitting tribute…..

WTF: ……much more so than the 54 seconds ATWT got at the Daytime Emmys for its 54 years.

MARTHA, MARTHA, MARTHA: There could be a book written about the questionable story and casting decisions made at ATWT over the last decade or so. But a recent Soap Opera Digest revealed a truly stupendous fact: Martha Byrne (Lily) asked to return to the show – even if only as Rose – and they said no.

Readers, there are no words in the English language that can express the mixture of shock, rage and WTF-ery that knowing that brings out in me! Clearly, someone is holding a grudge. (Wonder who?)

The doctor is in!

THE DOCTOR IS IN: The Reid Oliver storyline is both the best story I’ve seen on ATWT in a while….and also a clear example of what was out of whack in Oakdale.

Reid is such a well-drawn character from day one, and Eric Sheffer Stevens has played the hell out of him (and should be recognized with an Emmy nomination). Reid was a gust of fresh air in the stale, incestuous cesspool that is Oakdale.

I’ve loved the Reid/Luke coupling (sorry, Nukies – no offense) and have really liked the scenes between Stevens and Van Hansis.

Um…when they’re on. Because it seems like at least for a long time, they were on perhaps once a week. Or once every other week.

I’ve had to catch up with their romance on YouTube, because it seemed like every time I watched ATWT, it was Carly, Jack and Janet. I love all three of those characters and actors (yay to Maura West, Michael Park and Julie Pinson for their Emmys) but holy cow, were they overexposed this spring.

But Reid is keeping me tuned in as things wind down. His Gregory House-style awkwardness is endearing, and the fatherly interest Bob Hughes is showing in him is the sort of emotionally real, wonderful moment that I used to love about ATWT (and could count on in the Marland era).