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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sound of Silence

So this is one of those blogs that isn't necessarily inspired by something I saw on soaps this week. It's something I've kept tucked away in the back of my mind for awhile now, but recent events in my life brought it to the forefront this week (more on that later).

And before I continue, I know that a lot of writers I used to work with read my blog, so please know before you continue that this is not aimed at any one writer, or any one show directly. It's just an observation of the genre as a whole.

Which brings me to my point...


(insert giant sigh of exhaustion here)

This is the cross every soap writer must bear. We can never truly write scenes or dialogue in the most natural of ways, because there's always a network executive whispering in our ear "But what if I didn't see yesterday's episode? How will I know what's going on?"

I totally get that. I really do. It's one of those things you wish didn't exist, but unfortunately, it's the double-edged sword we have to live with. There's the argument that if you don't recap the last five episodes in your dialogue, then that forces people to tune in every day, as opposed to only on Fridays or during Sweeps. Then again, there's the other argument that you want to capture new viewers, and by not recapping the details of the last five episodes, you make it difficult to draw new viewers in. So either you sit through half a scene of exposition and risk alienating viewers who don't want to be talked down to... or you don't, and risk losing viewers who tune in for the first time and might potentially tune in again if it wasn't so damn confusing to keep track of who's sleeping with whom. Either way, we, as writers, have to find a way to somehow, as organically as possibly, recap everything that's already transpired.

So we have to do it. It's the way soaps have always been, it's the way they probably always will be.

But I think at some point, we went too far (and I include my own contributions in this as well)

Recapping previous episodes, at some point, turned into characters talking to themselves in order to explain their actions. And characters talking to themselves (and to other people) suddenly turned into scenes that so full of words, so full of explanation, there's no room for reaction... the only time we ever don't have words is the obligatory "Final Act Music Montage", when an affordable B-side of a hot single is used to enhance the mood.

I think that's part of the reason I loved that episode of Y&R a few weeks ago (the one I blogged about)... so much of its strength was in what wasn't said. The script writer knew that sometimes, you don't need that over-written moment. Don't get me wrong - I'm an over-writer by nature... can't you tell by my blog? But sometimes the sign of an excellent script writer is what they choose not to write. As cliché as it is, silence does speak volumes. And maybe we should give our actors room to explore their quieter sides as well.

In last week's Mad Men, uber-secretary and sex-on-a-stick Joan fired an underling. (played delightfully suspiciously by Peyton List! Congrats, Peyt!) Said underling then went over Joan's head and poured out her sob story over getting fired to Joan's boss… who promptly hired her back (mainly so he could continue to watch her "assets" at the office) by telling her to come back on Monday - Joan will be over it by then. Come Monday morning, Joan was at the other end of the office - when she saw the fired secretary at her desk. With a smile that would melt butter, she made her long, slow strut towards the desk… and when she got there, the smile morphed into barely contained rage as she said "What in God's Green Earth are you doing here?!" in a tone that I'm surprised didn't kill the poor girl.

That one line of dialogue is not a mind-numbingly original line that will blow you out of the water. But the silence as Joan walked across the office to confront her rival… the slow simmering of her rage underneath her office-cordial grin… it spoke VOLUMES. I wish we had the opportunity to give more of that to our actors. Moments they can savor, where they can explore their character, without a Top 40 song playing, or forced to talk to thin air as they explain what they're thinking.

My parents are moving next week… they finally sold the house that I grew up in. I'm heading back there this weekend to say good-bye to the home I learned to walk and talk in, the home I learned to read in, the home I graduated middle school and high school in, the home I returned to when my first bout with college didn't work out the way I had hoped… in short, this place holds all sorts of memories. Both good and bad. It's definitely the end of an era, and I'm sure I'll end up reliving every one of those moments in a span of eight hours as I say goodbye for the last time. Something tells me I won't need to talk about it though. I won't need to explain myself. I'll travel from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, without a word. It'll all be right there on my face.

That's the way life is. It's a shame we have so few of those moments in our soaps. It's those moments that really make us connect with a character. It's those moments that consider them our family. It's those moments that caused so many of us to think of them as "home".

Monday, September 15, 2008

When I'm Wrong...

...I like to know.

Thank you to the approximately four thousand people (or the people who stopped by twice) who read my little mini-meltdown on Friday. What can I say? It was a rough week, and I felt pretty cynical about the whole genre by the time I heard Victoria Rowell's interview. The post I wrote on Friday was a little... um... dark. And not very hopeful. And since I started this blog, I've tried to instill a bit of hope into those who feel the situation is hopeless. But I failed slightly in that on Friday, and a few days sleeping on it has proven that to me. As a friend pointed out to me, it all might have seemed a lot worse out here on the Internet - but we still don't know if the "average soap viewer" who doesn't surf the web even notices these behind-the-scenes changes. Perhaps I was wrong - perhaps the onslaught of web-based scandals this year isn't having the effect I think it does.

Which got me thinking - what else have I been wrong about? Lest you think I sit here on my couch in Brooklyn, passing down judgment from my elite pedestal of unemployment (), assuming I know more than others, I wanted to take this opportunity to say: I'm wrong. A lot. And I have no problem admitting it.

In no particular order, the list of things I was completely wrong about.

1) Steve Johnson gets Asylum-ed: I was thrilled with the idea of our "Patch" abandoning his family by locking himself up in a mental institution, for fear he'd hurt Kayla and Stephanie because of what the DiMeras had done to him. Throw in a return visit from Adrienne to help break him out, and I thought it was going to be a gold mine. Instead, it was a lead balloon that plummeted to the ground, amidst a group of extras that acted so silly, so ridiculous, it was an embarrassment to the mentally challenged. LESSON LEARNED: Never use camp to deal with a serious situation.

2) Bryant Montgomery's death: Okay, I give in. I've been hit with argument after argument about why Bryant shouldn't have been killed off. I admit it - you're right. He shouldn't have been. Given that I knew from Second One that killing Jennifer Munson off was a mistake, there really is no way I can defend Bryant's death. You all were right. I was wrong. :-) LESSON LEARNED: You better have at least a two-year-long planned story if you're going to kill off a legacy character.

3) Craig and Carly - My favorite couple that never actually happened, I really believed in those first few months that if anybody could rival Jack Snyder as the be-all, end-all love of Carly's life, it would be Craig Montgomery. Their fast-paced banter would easily give the self-righteous Jack a run for his money... and we were sure to sway a segment of the Carjack fans over. Did I "misunderestimate" (I love using that word! Oh, Dubya.... HAH!) the adoration Carjackers have for their couple? Hell yeah, I did! The triangle was quickly kiboshed... and thank God for Cady McClain. Her Rosanna made a much better partner to Hunt Block's Craig, and heartily approved by the fans at the time. But I was wrong to think we could even put a dent in the Carjack legend, and I learned a valuable lesson about fanbases during that time. LESSON LEARNED: If you need a storyline for your Number One couple, don't fall back on the old "Love Triangle" cliche that's been done so many times.

4) Rewriting Jessica's back story - Of all the things that transpired during my time at OLTL (Antonio being a Santi, GLAAD breathing down our necks about the Colson story, the ickiness of finding a dead fetus in the Llantano River, Dorian setting up her daughter to be stalked), the last thing I worried about was finding out Niki Smith used to take Jessica to bars when she was little. I thought it could easily have happened off-camera, so when I was told that's what the story was by the higher-ups, it didn't really phase me. Oh, how stupid I was. The fans still bemoan that as one of the worst ret-cons in OLTL history. And no matter how hard we worked to sell it, no matter how much Bree Williamson worked her ass off to make Tess as real as possible back then, the fans would not accept it. They saw little Erin Torpey grow up on that show, and there was no way they were going to accept that Viki OR Niki did this. After all, why didn't Lois watch little Jessica? Where were Kevin and Joey? Nope. They weren't buying it. LESSON LEARNED: Never assume the tiniest retcon will be accepted. Even if it gets you great story for a few months, it also shows a great disrespect not only for the head writers and EP's that came before you, but for the fans who invested so many decades watching the show.

5) Scotland, Teens on the Run on College Campuses, the Third Visit to "Cooley Island" (all ATWT), Tinda Lau (Days) - What do all of these stories have in common? They all isolated a couple characters in stories with a bunch of day players, away from their families... and they're all stories I initially liked when I read the long stories. LESSON LEARNED: Never isolate your characters in other places across the globe, where you're forced to play them with people no one cares about for a few months. The audience wants to see them interact with their loved (and hated) ones.

And this is just a sampling - I have many more in my list, trust me. A lot of them are from shows I never worked on, but I wanted to learn from the mistakes others made on other shows, should I ever end up working on those shows. I won't print them here, because having not worked on those writing teams, I find it a little presumptuous to try and guess what happened behind the scenes when a story was being written. But I think learning from other's mistakes on other soaps is just as valuable to us, as writers.

I keep a copy of Doug Marland's soap rules open on my computer whenever I'm writing, and have since I discovered them working as a writers' assistant on ATWT. (If you haven't read them, recently reprinted them, and they definitely need to be upheld as the Commandments of this genre) But I continue to add to those rules every time I learn a lesson from a story that flops. I've added the lessons above to Marland's rules, and I know that as I continue to watch the remaining eight dramas on the air unfold, I will continue to add to it. We who do not learn from our mistakes, are doomed to piss off even more fans by repeating them.

I'm wrong. A lot. But I think (I hope) I learn my lesson from these fumbles, from these missteps, from assuming I know what's going to work and it ends up falling flat. And I hope if I ever get work again, I can use this ever growing list of what to do (and what not to do) to serve you all better as viewers. That's the best promise I can think of to make to you guys and gals. And it's a promise I hope to keep.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Darkest Before the Dawn

So I'm sure by now you've all heard about Victoria Rowell's lambasting of backstage antics at Y&R on Daytime Confidential.

The usual disclaimer - I don't know this immensely talented and ground-breaking actress personally. I got to write nine episodes for her at Y&R when Devon first went deaf. It was a story I stumbled with, trying to find the emotional through-line for the entire Winters family, both individually and as a unit. And I never had an opportunity to really explore those characters the way I wanted. But I did not meet her, and was pretty much isolated out here in NYC while the show went on in Los Angeles.

To be honest, I don't know what I think. I can't exactly argue with her. Is Hollywood sexist, racist and ageist? Uh... hi, have you been to the movies recently? Or turned on the television? (Although TV's been doing better by women than film, I'll give them that... but in terms of race and age, not so much.) As many people speak out about it daily, it still hasn't managed to affect the jobs or the thought process of the higher-ups.

But here's what's interesting... after the strike, and the Days firings, and the "Real Greenlee" and Guiding-Light-Wants-to-Be-The-Hills, and the Bryce/McClain/Byrne firings, and the Nuke Ban, and the Higley/Scott/Corday debacle, and the Y&R Is-He-Or-Isn't-He-Still-EP mess, and then the Carolyn Hinsey firing... honestly I hear a scathing interview like Ms. Rowell's? And all I can do is shrug.

"Really? The wheels are coming off? I had no idea..."

Oh, wait. Yes. I did.

So then my brain went to this question: What's really going on here? Why does it seem like the year Two Thousand And Eight is just one implosion after another. Some fans are all giggly over the scandals, but honestly, it's almost starting to be expected. Every morning we wake up and learn somebody else was stabbed in the back, somebody else did something unethical to satisfy their own ego, somebody else got spit in their face.

Here's my theory, for whatever it's worth.

When I started at Another World in 1998, I was told by many employees there that they only foresaw maybe another five years of soap opera - at best. When I went to As the World Turns seven months later, I heard the same thing (some there had even lowered it to three years). But everyone kept their heads down and their mouths shut and kept doing their jobs.

Now it's ten years later. Passions and Port Charles and my dearly departed Another World are gone. Eight soaps are left - and six-to-seven of them are below the 1.0 mark in the 18-34 demographic. The shows have lasted longer than many of my friends and colleagues even predicted. More people were fired... more colleagues stooped to even more desperate attempts to hold on to their livelihoods.... and a lot of people were left in the dust with hurt feelings. Actors, writers, producers, journalists, and most importantly - the fans. All left behind while the shows become smaller and smaller, and skeleton crews end up trying to hold on to every shred of dignity they possibly can.

That's many, many years of hurt feelings. But those left behind repressed it (except for the fans who frequent message boards. Nobody was going to tell them to keep their mouths shut, and God bless 'em for that!). They swallowed the bile because they hoped one day to find work again. To reunite with their friends and their cohorts and their shows. But it never happened.

Writers were fired during the strike. People quit or were fired from the magazines. Actors were callously let go and characters were shuffled off for purely personal reasons against the actors playing them.

And I think a lot of people finally see that it's time to just come clean. To be upfront and honest and the hell with where it leaves them. Because there's a good possibility that everyone who even has a job now will be looking for a new career before the next decade is over.Even long-time fans who hoped one day to work in the industry are instead channeling their passion into standing up against what's happening to the genre, instead of trying to break in and forced to create something they want no part of.

Cheerful, isn't it?

Actually, yes. It very well could be. If history has taught us anything, it's that eventually, you get that Renaissance. You get the Roaring Twenties, the Summer of Love, so to speak. Does this mean these shows will magically gain four million viewers? I don't think so. But the possibility of the genre living on in another formats exists, as well as coming back in a similar format down the road after the dust settles.

If all of these people (myself included... God knows I've written more than my fair share of frustrated blog entries in the last two years) finally feel like it's time to stand up and say "Wrong. This is wrong", then so be it. You piss off enough people, and eventually, there will be a revolution. I wish I wasn't around for it, to be honest. But I can't really argue with somebody's right to rise up, declare that they don't like something. It's the whole reason our country exists in the first place.It's not exactly fun to read/listen to this. If anything, it just leaves me even more frustrated, and completely unsatisfied. We should be creating entertainment, not decimating the art form.

Somewhere out there, there must be another William Bell - a man who can take all of these artists, all of these differences of opinion and creative disagreements, and channel them - funnel them into one driving force that can create the number one daytime drama for over two decades without compromising anyone's artistic integrity. I wish he or she would show up - we're long overdue.

Shows are imploding, but much like Stefano Dimera rising from the ashes, I'm hopeful that once this sad downfall finally reaches its end, and the people who view this as just a job (instead of art) have long since moved on, the long-standing institution of cutting-edge serialized drama can return. Writers with integrity, actors with passion, stories with heart... where gritty realism and Cinderella fairy tales can converge and take root in one world, interweaving socio-economic studies with affairs of the heart... where powerful women of color run major corporations, where an upper-middle-class girl can bring out the best in a lower-class boy who's given up on hope without going to the extreme of raping or murdering anyone, where those with emotional disabilities are able to find love and new life, a world where men and women of different sexual orientations experience lives that don't revolve around "coming out" and "homophobia" as their only two options... a world where your stories can finally be told -- the stories you have lived, and the stories you wish you could live. And I'm not speaking of fantasy - the large castles and royalty whisking you off your feet. I speak of the stories you wish you could live that are within your grasp. That you just need that one burst of inspiration - of hope - that spark that motivates us. Matt Cory and Dean Frame wanted to build a music studio from the ground up, and they did it... and in turn, inspired me to follow my dream to move to New York City and become a writer. Drucilla Barber was an angry young woman, who found redemption in the beautiful art of ballet... and in turn, inspired women all across America to break free of the chains they believed bound them.

If they're so insistent on allowing their own stubbornness to bring about the end of the current daytime dramas, then maybe we need to prepare ourselves to say good-bye. Because from what I've seen of this calendar year, I'm not so sure 2009 will be the saving grace we all want it to be. But they say it's always darkest before the dawn, and I truly wish that if the events of the last nine months have taught us anything, it's that if you push enough people down, they will eventually find each other, and rise up again.

And it won't be pretty.

Wherever you are, future Bill Bells, and future Agnes Nixons... please let yourselves be found. Because the Titanic is sinking, and we're all too busy beating each other over the head with deck chairs to do anything about it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I wrote a whole blog last night about the Victoria Rowell interview at Daytime Confidential, with the intention of posting it this morning. But I'm putting it on hold for twenty-four hours, because as I started editing, the somber beat of drums outside my window gave me pause... the marching of so many New Yorkers through lower Manhattan, across the bridge, and down Flatbush Avenue outside my window... it brought me back to seven years ago this morning, and where I was at this exact time.

Yes, it's a 9/11 blog. If you're not interested, by all means, stop reading. I won't be offended. And no comments are necessary. This is one of those "I need an outlet" blogs. If you guys wanted to comment, by all means, go ahead. But this isn't really one of those "We need to have a discussion" entries. Part of me wanted to flip the switch and turn these feelings off on here, but the other part of me that had something to say won out. As I watched the march outside my window, and the reading of names on my television screen, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of love and friendship that surrounded me, in spite of the fear that morning, out at the Midwood studio where As the World Turns is shot. So instead of blogging about Rowell, I wanted to write about the amazing spirit that helped support me on that morning, in Oakdale.

My apartment is directly across the water from lower Manhattan... so when I woke up alone that morning to sirens, and faced a growing mound of ash on my fire escape, all I could think was that I had to get to the studio. It was a Tuesday morning, which means we were having our weekly breakdown meeting where the network gives us notes on the outlines we wrote last week. My assumption at 9 AM was that there was no possible way we were going to have our meeting, but all I cared about was getting to the studio. Mainly because I remember thinking if this was an all-out attack, and if I couldn't be with my family, it was the good folks at As the World Turns that I wanted to be with if it happened. I can't explain the logic behind it, but as I was leaving I grabbed my laptop and my keyboard. The "eighty-eight keys" kind of keyboard, not the "typing" kind. I have no clue why. At the time, I wanted it with me.

When I got to the studio, a handful of production folk and actors were there - only the ones shooting their scenes first up that morning, and were in the middle of dry rehearsal when it happened. Hogan was visiting a sick friend in Los Angeles and was supposed to fly back that morning, but obviously he didn't. Jean Passanante, Tom Reilly and a couple other writers were there. And one representative from Procter and Gamble/TeleVest was there.

Once we were out there, no one knew how any of us were going to get home. The D-Train (which is now the Q-Train) stopped running by mid-morning. I spent about an hour trying to track down two friends who worked at the World Trade Center (one of whom hadn't gone to work yet, the other whom we thought was lost, but was found twenty-four hours later huddled in the doorway of a West Side bodega, in a state of shock), and then we crowded into the writers' room. The television set in the room, usually tuned to the studio feed so the writers can watch what's being taped, was now on the news feed. And in the middle of all of this, our Execustive Producer and the representative from P&G... they decided to go ahead with the notes meeting.

Reilly, Jean, myself... we sat there completely floored, as they flipped breakdown pages, giving us notes on Paul persuading Carly to help come up with new designs for the NYC fashion show, since his mother Barbara, driven insane by the disfiguring burns on her face, had failed to deliver. We sat there stunned, as pages were flipped, notes were given, we hastily scribbled the changes in the margin, and the towers fell on a muted television above us. At the time, I remember thinking how cold and insensitive it was... but now, I realize people deal with tragedy differently. I needed to carry a forty-pound piano with me, and they needed to pretend like it was business as usual, and note our breakdowns. Strange, but true. I was angry then, but we all did strange things to deal that morning. Who am I to judge?

But what I remember most from that day, above and beyond anything else, was the feeling of love and support from everyone else in that studio. We didn't know how long we were going to be there... we were all either going to end up walking hours back to our apartment, or we were going to sleep in the studio. And I remember thinking if that's what ends up happening, it's okay. I can't think of a group of people I'd rather spend the night with than the good people behind the scenes at Oakdale. The Production Coordinators, the the Production Assistants, the Directors and Assistant Directors, the Hair, Make-Up and Wardrobe folks... everyone in that studio that morning.

When I finally did get home that night around eight o'clock, the mound of ash on my fire escape was now a mountain. I called whichever writers I could get in touch with to give them the notes on their breakdowns - but their first concern was for whether or not my two friends had been found. And I remember trying to hold it together - for Chris and for Hogan. After all, the show must go on. But Carolyn, Susan, Courtney, Judy... they were all too quick to tell me not to worry about it. This came first. Life came first. I then proceeded to sit on the bathroom floor with my roommate, sob my eyes out, and promise not to sleep, in case there was more to come and this was the last night for both of us.

This day has a powerful meaning for so many of us. But for me, seven years later, when I look back on it? I remember the amazing people who work at As the World Turns. In the midst of global tragedy, in the midst of being forced to take notes on a week of episodes about a fashion show, what I remember the most are the hugs I got when I walked into the Midwood studio. The cleaning woman... the security guard... the boom mic operator... the few remaining writers and the handful of actors trapped there. I remember sitting on my floor in the office and consoling (and being consoled). I remember Tom Reilly saying to me "What the hell are you doing here? Why didn't you stay home?" And I remember saying "Because I didn't want to be alone. This is where I wanted to be."

Grabbing my keyboard was a bizarre reaction I look back on now, and think "Huh?!" But finding a way to get to Midwood? I don't regret it for a second.

This morning, I salute the thousands who were lost that day... I salute the millions of New Yorkers, all of whom have similar stories to tell, similar remembrances... and on a personal level, I salute the friends who were there for me, the bonds strengthened that day. Michele and Alex, Jessica and Gloria, Jenn and Jen, Brett and Lamont, Mary Clay and Kate, Theresa and Kevin, Chp and Maggie, Vivian and Carole, Pete and Chris and Tommy... and the most incredible, down-to-earth, friendliest cast and crew I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

Tomorrow is another day. For today, I thank you for indulging me and letting me go down the old "Where were you when it happened?" path. I'll get back to the soap world's latest scandal in the morning. Today is about remembrance.

To the NYPD.

To the VNYFD.

To the souls we lost,

And to the souls who lifted us back up,

I shed a tear and raise a glass to you.

Thank you..

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


You know what would really be classy?

If a soap opera chose to honor the anniversary of September 11th by having a known terrorist (who held an entire hospital hostage at one point and got away with it), blow up a clinic with people trapped inside the day after our Day of Remembrance.

That would be really amazing. And so touching. What a tribute.

Really, GH?


Monday, September 8, 2008

Therapists and The Rapists

I suspect this won't be the only soap blog you read today that touches upon this subject. I also suspect there will be a ton of people going on the offensive this week.. not to mention some defensiveness.

I'm not sure why rapists became such complex character studies on soap operas - but at some point, it became common practice in daytime to delve into the psyche of these men who commit this atrocious crime. Practically every soap on the air contains at least one of these male characters: Starting with Bill Horton on Days, then moving on to Luke Spencer on GH and Roger Thorpe on GL... then Jack Devereaux on Days, Jake McKinnon on AW, Todd Manning on OLTL, EJ DiMera on Days (Geez, Days... somebody just can't seem to stay away from this story, huh? )... the list goes on and on.

I grew up on soaps in the 80's, so for awhile, a rape storyline to me just meant good drama. Once I hit late adolescence, and I understood the sheer viciousness of this crime in reality... the horror it inflicted, and the scars it left behind... the "deliciousness" of a rape story quickly dissipated in my mind. This was not subject matter to be treated lightly. If you're going to make a commitment to tell a storyline where the rapist is a contract player and not a faceless, nameless monster (i.e. Liz's rapist on General Hospital), then you damn well better make a commitment to your audience too - because far too many (far, FAR too many) in our audience have either been a victim of this crime, or is close with someone who was a victim of the crime. A commitment to not only make sure the story isn't whitewashed... but that the man who committed such a heinous crime not only pays the consequences, but goes through years of guilt, shame, self-loathing, and eventually, redemption... but never forgiveness. It's not an ideal story to tell. I'm seriously over the lightning-speed one-eighty with these guys from rapist to hero. It's unbelievably irresponsible, especially to young girls in this day and age. But if you find yourself in the position of writing this kind of story, you damn well better not shove it under the rug, and you better play out all of the crucial emotional beats. And in situations like this, you absolutely are obligated to take a second or third look at every word you write, and make sure it's exactly the correct language. Because one misstep, and you can turn a ground-breaking story into a firestorm of rage from an audience that feels betrayed.

Just ask One Life to Live fans who were left heading into their weekend with the final mind-searing image of Todd and Marty in a passionate kiss on Friday.

I'll be honest - I have been thoroughly intrigued by this storyline from the beginning. Because even though WE know a woman is falling in love with her rapist, the woman herself (a victim of amnesia) does not know. And the rapist in question - after losing his wife, his children, his whole life - is desperate for a "do-over". To prove he's not this horrible person everyone thinks he is. And somehow, by winning the respect and affection of the woman he brutally attacked fifteen years ago, he thinks he can somehow wipe the slate clean... and by "erasing" the one event that sent his life into a downward spiral, maybe he can be validated at last as a worthwhile human being. So in a character sense, it's both horrific to watch... yet the viewer is unable to turn away. There were so many levels to play here, so many interesting angles, the kind of psychological warfare and subconscious emotions that make us all rant and rave and scream and yell... and still keep us tuned in day after day. Todd is looking for a therapist, and Marty is looking for her savior, and the reward we get (one hopes) is that when her memory finally does return, hell will seem like a vacation compared to what Marty will do to Todd. I may feel slightly queasy at their scenes now now, but the soap fan in me believed that all would redeemed when the explosive reveal finally happened. (Perhaps in time for the all-important November Sweeps period?).

So when early spoilers (and a somewhat exploitative TV promo from ABC) revealed there would be a Todd/Marty kiss on Friday, there was definitely a lot of buzz in the air... and not all if it good. But can you blame the dissenters? It's well known Roger Howarth had issues with the romanticizing of Todd Manning, and fans screaming "Rape me, Todd!" gleefully at a fan event only cemented that distaste. Other previous head writers also toyed with the idea of a Todd/Marty pairing (without the conceit of amnesia though)... and were shot down everytime. So for Ron and Company to take this plunge - it's not like they didn't know they were in for a world on controversy. But this is a show that has succeeded (ratings-wise) telling stories about gay serial killers, and Scott Peterson-esque murders of pregnant women, so the jaw-dropping audacity of this story, combined with the psychological possibilities and strong actors being able to play emotions that are both stomach-churning, and truly fascinating from an actor's standpoint -- it all adds up to a storyline arc that could wind up being voted the worst story of the year... or the best. Unfortunately, there's no way any of us can make a decision at this point, because we have no idea how this story will play out. If Marty ends up pulling a Sami Brady and puts a bullet in Todd's family jewels, thereby making sure he can never sleep with or impregnate another woman again? This could all be turned around quite nicely.

In any case, we all knew Friday's tag would happen sooner or later, so it wasn't so much a question of "Are they going to go there?" (Of course they're going to go there!), but "How will they handle it?" It's not what you're doing, it's how you do it. And in the end, it boils down to the last three words in the script of Friday's show - three words that will make or break it.

"Todd kisses Marty"


"Marty kisses Todd"

Because there is a vital difference between the two. And OLTL had me glued to the TV until Trevor moved in for the kiss before Susan did -- and suddenly the rapist was making the first move agains the woman whose life he so severely violated. Had Haskell moved in for the kiss first? The whole tag of the scene would have changed from a man taking advantage of the helpless woman he once tied down to a bed and raped, to being about a frustrated woman expressing gratitude to the kindness of a stranger. Two entirely different tags, both ending with a kiss that implies two very different things.

Is this a writing decision? A directing decision? An actor's decision? I have no idea, so the purpose of this blog isn't to point fingers. I've been a part of way too many of these kinds of polarizing storylines to start placing blame. These shows are produced by committee, so you can't always assume you know what really happened. It's too late now - the scene has aired and the best you can do is find a way to salvage it... and what do I know? Maybe it will be salvaged in the pick-up of today's episode! But that's not really why I wanted to write this.

The top two shows for most of the summer in the Girls 12-17 demographic were One Life to Live (Number ONE for over seven weeks!) and Days of Our Lives -- the two shows featuring women falling for their rapists as their front-burner storylines. I congratulate both shows for having such astounding rises in their ratings, but when you're at the top, don't you have a responsibility to your young, impressionable teen viewers, to not subconsciously imply that this kind of behavior is acceptable? That one or two scenes of somebody expressing guilt and shame for a mistake they made one night years ago makes it all right to give in to their desires? That it's okay to go jump into bed with someone as long as they say they're sorry? Wracked-with-guilt apologies does not erase such a monstrous crime. There's a fine line between telling a fascinating character study of this kind of brutality, and just throwing something on the air for shock value. It's not that these stories are being told that's the problem - it's how they're being told.

Soaps are passed down from generation to generation - everyone I know who watches soaps got into their routine because of their parents and grandparents. But what mother would want to encourage their daughter to watch a show that might plant the suggestion in their minds that the bad boy can always change, and sometimes all it takes is one or two moments of "I feel terrible for what happened for you" to make everything okay? EJ and Sami's struggles to be around each other, in spite of the positive and negative parts of their pasts, supplies story for years... not to mention that EJ's sexual crimes should definitely have an effect on the other object of his affections - Nicole, who herself is a victim of men taking advantage of her sexually for their own selfish gains. Even more story possibilities if it was taken advantage of! Todd, the rapist, looking for a therapist in his victim, has endless possibilities as well. And even though he's not a rapist, I'm also looking at Grady and Daisy on Guiding Light. He's a murderer, but he's "really, really sorry", so it's okay?

In stories like these, every sentence... every word.. needs to count. One wrong move, and your audience will revolt. Only time will tell how these stories play out, and it won't be for another year or two, when fans can look back in hindsight at these stories as a whole from beginning to end, that we all will be able to say whether they were successes or failures. But at the moment? They're tottering dangerously close to the abyss.

And a simple change from "Todd kisses Marty" to "Marty kisses Todd" can make all the difference in the world.

Tread carefully, my friends. No one can afford to lose more viewers at this point.

Continuity Police Reporting for Duty (One Life to Live - Part 2)

Yeah, I'm posting twice in one day. This is an addendum to the earlier post, Therapists and The Rapists.

Call it a continuity error, or a miscommunication between directors, or just a small snafu that unfortunately changes everything.

In Friday's tag, Todd caught Marty, and was looking down on her (in a position of definitely being superior to her, and leaving her underneath him)... and then made the first move to bend down and kiss her.

In today's pick-up, Todd caught Marty, and then lifted her up to his level. (A very different tableau from Friday's tag.) And then they both came together into a kiss.

I see myself typing up these words, and I realize how ridiculously nitpicky I'm being about blocking and actor positions. Man, I used to hate when I got these kinds of notes on my breakdowns - when every little detail gets picked apart. But this is a story that every fan will hold a magnifying glass up to. It's so small and subtle - the physical positioning of Todd and Marty for this kiss.

Maybe I'm being anal. Maybe I'm being caught up in a detail that doesn't mean anything to anybody else. It wouldn't be the first time I was in the minority when it comes to my opinions... . But the image of Todd standing over Marty and leaning over to kiss her passionately on Friday left such a bad taste in my mouth... whereas today's pick-up seemed like they were both willing participants. And they both made the first move at the same time.

Tiny, minute differences... but when you have a rapist kiss his rape victim, I think you need to pay attention to these things. But maybe that's just me.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Not yet...

At the moment, my blog is still up here. But keep checking back - I'm in the process of moving it.


Baby Therapy!

Baby Therapy!
Current mood: excited

Hey kids!

I'll make this quick and easy on the brain, since the last few blog entries have been pretty heavy. And really, who wants to ponder the difficult questions of life and love on the weekend?

Got up early to go down to Jersey... The Beau and I are visiting his cousin, and her twins (one year old in two weeks!!). They're adorable... the boy (Brendan) is that baby shown in my default MySpace photo for awhile there. Blond hair, big blue eyes... and his twin sister is dark hair, HUGE beautiful brown eyes... and they're just fantastic. I'm head over heels in love with both of them, and can't wait to spend the day playing "Uncle Tommy".

But it got me thinking today - between packing up all sorts of toys to bring to them, and the recent news that peri-menopausal Reva is about to have a baby on Guiding Light - when was the last time a baby brought tons of joy and hope to a couple on a soap opera?

You'll have to forgive me - I haven't showered or had my coffee yet, so I might forget somebody in all of this. But I was thinking about baby Sarah on GL, or twins Johnny and Allie on Days, or Katie and Nick's baby on B&B, or all the fights and tears over the ATWT baby switch (where ONE baby and the mother of the OTHER baby both ended up dead in the end), or Cane and Ka-loe's baby on Y&R, or Nash finding out about ten seconds before he kicked the bucket that he was going to be a father again on OLTL, or the never-ending saga of Tad and Dixie's daughter Kate on AMC, who's had, at last count, at least eighteen or nineteen different sets of parents since she was born to a dying woman. (I exaggerate... kind of)... Or even the saga of baby Tommy/Starr's baby on OLTL - all of these babies these last few years, and not a single one one of them conceived and/or born into love and hope - but instead, scandal, deceit and/or tragedy. Or any combination therein.

I remember growing up, there were plenty of juicy unplanned pregnancies on soaps. You need those on a soap opera. An unplanned pregnancy, or a baby born out of wedlock? Always good for a few decades of story. But at the same time, I also remember babies born into loving homes - nine months of nervous fathers, and expectant mothers, and then a beautiful child coming into the world and brightening up everyone's life. Sure, Stephanie was kidnapped about a second after she was born to Steve and Kayla on Days - but wow, that pregnancy was beautiful, and did wonderful things for the character of Steve Johnson. On Another World, the nine months leading up to Charlie's birth to Cass and Frankie Winthrop were adorable (which is good, since Frankie's first pregnancy was overflowing with tragedy). And who delivered the baby? Not the "other man fighting a husband for the wife's affection"... but the baby's uncle and his girlfriend. An adorable family affair... really sweet. Yeah, these pregnancies all carried their own inherent drama. It's a soap opera - it can't all be perfect and happy and wonderful. But what happened to showing us some happiness? Some hope? The joy a baby brings into the world?

It just occurred to me as I was typing (don't you love these stream-of-consciousness blogs? I told you I'd forget somebody) that the only pregnancy being told with any kind of uplifting message is the Scrubs baby on GH. Sure, there's been plenty of drama - between Patrick's fear of fatherhood, Robin's fear of Patrick's committment, and the whole HIV aspect, there's been plenty of drama. But that's the only example I can think of right now where where we're treated to human and relatable scenes of parents' hopes, their fears, their insecurities, and the joy that comes from the personification of two people loving each other. (Oh wait! I forgot about baby Finn on Y&R, who manages to show a softer side of Michael Baldwin I always enjoy seeing... just as long as he continues to show us the more devious side at the office. Who didn't crack up at the sight of shirtless shark Baldwin folding freshly washed onesies from a laundry basket. See? You can tell the caffeine's kicking in - my memory is returning. )

I love a good custody battle or a baby switch as much as the next soap fan. But sometimes, it's also really nice to believe in the future - to feel warm and mushy inside after an episode, rather than ripped up at watching families fall apart. I hope our shows can find ways to find a balance between the joys of parenthood, and the struggles. Because when it's all a struggle, it's just exhausting for the viewers. A baby should bring people together, not evoke more tears and tragedy than a viewer knows what to do with.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play peek-a-boo for a good six hours straight. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Truth in Blogging - Wikiality in the Soap World

Have you noticed that lately I tend to be couching my opinions with statements like "This is only my opinion" or "This person is a friend of mine, but that doesn't mean I like all of their storylines?" or "Yes, I may be biased, but I'm trying to look at this objectively?"... some preface that makes it seem like I'm petrified of what I'm about to type.

That's because I am. But not for the reason you might think.

It's probably assumed I don't want to piss anybody off in the industry, for fear of never getting hired again. That's a fair assumption. It's also not my biggest concern. Why? Because any head writer or executive producer could google my name, and find numerous posts from the 1990's, where a young Tom graduating high school and going to college, debated the hiring and firing of head writers and EP's, griped about stories he thought were stupid, and made assumptions about behind-the-scenes goings-on based on what the magazines printed. (I recently found a long exchange between me and DonnaB from RATSM where upon learning Roman was returning to Days right around the time Susan showed up on the canvas, we pondered if Roman was the father of Susan's baby! HAHAHAHA!!!!)

Back then, I dreamed of one day working for soaps, but you never know if it's really going to happen. But yeah - all of that stuff is on the InterWeb someplace, archived away, and I can pretty much guarantee I probably made some incorrect assumptions about writers I never met, based on absolutely nothing... and one day ended up working alongside them and really digging them as people. If I could go back, I don't know if I would censor myself - I was a fan, a web surfer, and I did what the rest of you do every day on here.

But the times, they are a'changin'... and sadly, none of us were given the rulebook.

We live in a world now where primetime television showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Joss Whedon blog all the time - about their experiences working on their shows, and what other shows out there impress them. Diablo Cody and Stephen King write monthly columns for Entertainment Weekly about other authors and screenwriters they like (amongst other things). Maybe they're talking about their friends, maybe they're talking about people they never met. But the fans are reading every word. Sara Bibel posts a soap blog three days a week where she interviews actors, gives her opinion on what's going on out there on various soap canvases... and all the while, juggling her future endeavors with her love of all things soap (I can relate... hoo-boy, can I ever!) Dena Higley opened up her personal life to Days fans everywhere a few months ago, letting them in and showing them a side of herself the fans never had access to before. Internet poster "MarkH", a longtime fan of the genre, regularly posts his thoughts. I'm on MySpace anywhere from three to six days a week, doing the same. And it expands to other genres as well - Harry Knowles over at AintItCoolNews was the subversive element in "geek Hollywood" for years. AICN was one of the first movie sites I discovered years ago on the Internet, and back then, he was like this mysterious figure in the entertainment industry, leaking secrets right and left. Fast forward to today, and he's well-known as a guy living in Texas who schmoozes with all sorts of big Hollywood types. Suddenly, the subversive element is hobnobbing with the L.A.-elite, but that doesn't stop him from running a site that thousands of people flock to every day to get scoops on what's going on in the Lucas/Spielberg/horror/sci-fi/superhero pockets of La-La-Land. He's commenting on the people he might now consider friends.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine recently, who has long made their career in journalism. It's a touchy subject, but you guys know me - I love trying to look at a situation from all sides, and try not to jump to conclusions until I hear all the angles. And this person expressed concern, especially after the Hinsey incident and that vile thread on jossip, that when soap writers/bloggers like me and Sara give an opinion on a soap, we have an inherent conflict of interest, as we have so many personal relationships with these people. And therefore, we have a difficult hurdle to overcome - and you, as readers, have a difficult challenge: To understand that just because we say something, it doesn't mean it's the truth. The same way somebody posts something under a pseudonym on the web, and it might not necessarily be the truth. And yet... somehow? It automatically becomes the truth to so many people, just because it was in written on the Internet - and my friend isn't wrong. That's not a good thing.

Stephen Colbert refers to this as "wikiality". Meaning if you write something on Wikipedia, no matter how untrue it is, to a large segment of the population it just becomes canon... a tidbit of information tucked away in your brain, and you don't know where you heard it, but you're at a bar, talking to somebody, and you say "I read somewhere that...", and suddenly it's out there in the world. Colbert and his writers actually did an experiment on the Colbert Report, where they said elephants in Africa were no longer an endangered species on a wikipedia page... just to see how far it would go before people thought it was "The Truth"... and within hours, Wikipedia had to lock down that page on elephants because so many people logged on. I'll admit - part of me giggled at the time, but it's fascinating how much people really do want to make their own Truth, that may or may not be the reality. It's gleefully rebellious to many people, but to others who built their careers on true journalism, it's disheartening and dangerous. More and more people read a sentence in Times New Roman Size 12, and it becomes The Truth, whether we want it to or not. Tabloids and Reality TV have turned the entire world into "Heroes" and "Villains", "Cliffhangers" and "Reveals".

I've pondered this for a while now, and honestly? This is an issue, and one that probably needs further discussion. I don't want to contribute to this kind of mentality, but I don't think that's really in my control. People are going to take away from my blog what they're going to take away. Somebody on SON that nobody's met posted a rumor about a head writer installing a bar in their office, and suddenly, months later, people are still referring to this writer with quips about their drinking. Now I've never written anything in this blog even remotely personal about any of the writers I've worked with, but I certainly said some things during the strike about power plays and back-alley deals, and while that may not be as "scandalous" as the rumor that somebody built a bar, it still contributes to that mentality - and not in a good way.

So obviously, the best thing to do would be not contribute - to close the blog down and never post again. But selfishly, I don't really want to do that. I've been able to make a connection to a lot of people through this blog who want to work in soaps themselves one day... who want to have intelligent discussions about storytelling... who genuinely care and aren't this "lowest common denominator" TPTB tend to gear their shows towards. And I love responding to the e-mails I get from you guys, and building this network online of writers, journalists, fans and bloggers who don't want to see this genre die, but instead discover a newfound renaissance! But I also know that anything I say, I can read on a message board a year from now "Tom Casiello said this....", and they may have gotten what I said completely wrong.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but the more I think about it, the more I see that there are whole new worlds opening up that have no rules, no guidelines. We're making it up as we go along, folks... and sometimes we drop the ball and we screw it up. But it's an interesting debate to have, and one I think is important to view objectively (if that's even possible for us, anymore).

This is a discussion worth having, and one that involves all of us, whether you're a blog writer or a blog reader, whether you're a print journalist, or you faithfully follow print journalism. I didn't shy away from money issues or race issues on daytime, and I certainly don't think I should shy away from this. I'd like to open the floor and hear what you guys think!

Do you think we're all helping or hurting?

Are our inherent conflicts of interest as we write about the shows we once worked on revealing the truth, or twisting it?

In the long run, do you think people will remember this trend of treading into unknown Internet territory as ground-breaking and important, or gossip-mongering and harmful to an already dying industry?

Are we contributing to the light of hope and fondness for our soaps, or contributing to the dark world of rumor-spreading and tabloid journalism?

Where should we draw the line as bloggers, and where do you need the draw the line as readers?

As you surf and read, how do you decode the Truth?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Soap Art

Remember that week in May I ran to my MySpace page day after day, praising the one-two punch of the BE takeover and Nash's death on One Life to Live?

This is going to be one of those blogs.

Last night, I caught up on about four episodes of Young and the Restless that I came this close to deleting (only because, as Sandy Cohen said in Season One of the OC "A Clear Tivo is a Clear Mind")... but a sudden case of insomnia left me sprawled out on the couch, immersed in Genoa City.

All was good - cliffhangers all around - Chloe is Kate! Nikki finds Victor! Just your average, run-of-the-mill Friday episode, filled with gorgeous men in tuxedoes, great veteran divas, and enough secrets revealed to get you back after the weekend.

But then... then there was Tuesday's episode.

There were three different threads running through the episode - Nikki confronting Victor after finding out he's alive, Victor's children reading the letters he wrote them back in Genoa City, and Jill, Kay, Cane and Esther reeling from the news that Chloe is really Kate.

First up, the structure of this episode was beautiful. I don't know who wrote the breakdown, but the seamless flow from Victor and Nikki in Mexico to the reading of the letters back home (alternating from one letter to the next in Victor's voice-over flawlessly, even though all three letters held very different messages), and then somehow folding into the juicy scandal of the Chloe/Kate story without it being jolting... just perfect.

And those letters! Look, if I was writing scripts, and somebody handed me a breakdown where half of my scenes were letters being written in voice-over for the entire scene... now that's a challenge! How do you make that compelling? How do you keep it suspenseful, when it's just a person standing there, reading a letter? When we wrote the Santo/Colleen letters on Days, we always cut away to Ireland. Trying to pull off a whole scene of just reading a letter is deadly. Y&R pulled it off though, and did it so theatrically, I really thought I was watching a play performed on stage. Intricately cutting off the voice-overs at just the right moments (Sharon interrupting Nick by bringing Noah in, Heather surprising Adam when he was in mid-sentence), only whetted my appetite to hear the rest of the letter further in the episode. They also managed to break up the letter-reading by giving some of the most important moments to Victor's voice-over... but then at just the right time, Victoria read a passage out loud to JT (the passage about her strength and her graciousness), or Heather sneaking Adam's letter out of the trash and reading aloud the passage that angered Adam so much earlier in the episode and made him throw it out in the first place - that Adam should inclue Victoria and Nick as part of his family. And these moments... Victor's soul opened up and left raw, revealing things his children have always wanted to hear... their quiet, wordless reactions, as they hung on each and every word their father wrote. It struck me on so many levels, moved me to tears frequently.

To intercut this with the terribly sad and frustrating scenes where Victor told Nikki he will continue to remain "dead", and no longer feels his home is with his family... after you've heard how much he loves his children in these letters? It gave me shivers. What was so magical about Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott's scenes was how little dialogue was involved. There was so much focus on the silences... on the reactions (Victor's stone-cold stare into the distance when Nikki admitted she fell off the wagon over her guilt was terrifying)... it wasn't about exposition, or melodramatic scenes being over-written. And book-ending the episode with two location scenes - the first when Victor found Nikki lying in the sand, and the last where Victor left her in the exact same place, as she cried and screamed his name, only to get no response from him at all as he walked away with his head held high... it was just simple, gut-wrenching, elegant, masterful.

But lest anyone think this all sounds too heavy and too morose... there was just enough soap with Kay, Jill, Cane and Chloe to bring a smile to your face. Jess Walton fired barbs right and left in her evening gown, while Jeanne Cooper tapped her carefully manicured nail against her cheek, absorbing the news that Chloe was her maid's daughter, and may or may not have carefully orchestrated the plot to get Jill's son pregnant. (EDIT: Okay, I have to keep that last sentence as I originally wrote it this morning before my coffee because it's just SO DAMN FUNNY. Obviously, you all know what I mean. I can't stop laughing. Thanks, Rashad, for pointing it out! No wonder I'm an unemployed writer!) For the first time since Cane was introduced I almost... almost ... forgave them for resurrecting Phillip. I still think it's a retcon that's nearly as bad as Erica's Reverse Abortion on All My Children... but the possibilities of Jill and Esther's kids sharing a child almost makes up for it. Almost.

There was such a sense of balance in this episode - of soapy camp that reined itself in and wasn't too over the top on one side of town, and gut-wrenching honesty and realness over on the Newman side. It was theatre at its finest.

Thanks, Maria and Hogan... and the entire cast and crew of Young and the Restless. When Tuesday's episode ended, I felt like I'd just been moved by an incredible painting in a museum. I encourage everyone who didn't see it to check it out on Soapnet this weekend during the marathon. Even if you don't know the show, and don't know its history, you'll still be affected. The Kay/Jill story is one any soap fan can connect with (let's face it - it's a soap story that's been done before many times, although I can't remember the last time it was done this well)... and the Newman story is about emotions we all understand - whether you're a Y&R fan for thirty years, or just for thirty seconds.

In a month where most soaps are throwing out purple gas, killer black bears, demons in swimming pools, and gay scandals in made-up foreign countries, it was refreshing to see thirty-nine minutes of entertainment that can only be described as art - plain and simple.

UPDATE: I've just learned Tuesday's breakdown was written by Maria and Hogan themselves, and the script was written by Janice Ferri Esser (Welcome back to Genoa City, Janice!) Congratulations to everyone on a truly beautiful episode, and on a stunning display of just how wonderful the art of collaboration can be in this industry. It's definitely one that will be remembered when 2008 is all over.

UPDATE 2: In case there was any question, I give praise when something really hits home for me. Be it Nash's death on OLTL, Jesse and Angie's wedding on AMC, or Tuesday's episode of Y&R. Again, this is just my personal opinion, and I do try and remain as objective as possible. However, you guys also know that I've worked with a lot of these people and know them as friends (and some, not-so-much-friends). So while that can certainly color one's opinion, I do try and keep an open mind. And none of these entries where I praise a show should be taken as me kissing ass so they'll hire me. In fact, to be fair: 1) On OLTL, I don't like all the camp going on, 2) On Y&R, I think Victor came home WAY too fast and we missed out on a lot, and 3) I didn't like AMC's musical beds sextet that dragged on during that great Hubbard wedding. See? I don't necessarily like every storyline my friends write. :-)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You'll Never Work In This Town Again!

Okay, 'fess up -- is there anyone out there who hasn't googled their own name to see what comes up?

I used to do it once every few months, just for fun. In the last year though, I've been doing it more often. Not to satiate my own narcissism. (Hardly.) But mainly because sites started popping up with my name where fans would "quote" something I said in an interview or online... and they either didn't quite understand what I was trying to say, or I didn't phrase my meaning clear enough in the first place. And it's given me an opportunity to correct myself, or explain what I truly meant, but couldn't find the words in the moment to explain satisfactorily.

For example, I helped my friend Superposter on an Emmy Nominations review back in the spring for his AMC page, and made a comment about Van Hansis winning because of all the press surrounding his storyline. (I was wrong, by the way. Van didn't win. Goes to show how often you should listen to me. ) A Google search a few days later brought me to Van's message board, where some of his fans had taken offense, assuming I meant he didn't deserve the nomination on talent alone. Re-reading the three sentences I had written originally, I could totally understand where they got that impression - I had not explained myself properly. So I registered for their board, apologized for not being clear, and explained that I thought Van was extremely talented, and certainly did deserve the nomination, and I was just pointing out the somewhat flawed thinking Emmy voters can have sometimes (especially when they publicly announce that many of them didn't watch the tapes and were voting on other criteria). The Van fans couldn't have been more respectful, nicer, or more understanding... and never once backed down just because I responded to them directly (and big thumbs up to them for standing their ground as a fanbase!). In the end, I learned a valuable lesson about how I word things on the Internet, and I think (I hope) the Van fans stopped building an effegy in my likeness to set on fire in front of my building. And no harm was done - it opened the lines of communication, and I couldn't have been happier with the end result. What do you know - actually talking to a fanbase got me a step closer to understanding what they love about their favorite character, and got them a step closer to understanding where I come from as a writer. Everyone wins. Shocker. Thank you,, and thank you, Google.

My last google search this weekend brought me to a message board (SON) where people were talking about one of my blog entries (I believe it was the "Drinking the Kool-Aid" entry), and one fan wrote a simple two line response:

"He's still at this? Wow, he really doesn't want to work again, does he?"

That stopped me pretty much dead in my tracks. I honestly had to think about that, and in fact, it's been weighing on my mind for a few days now (in a good way).

I have received numerous e-mails from my colleagues since I started this blog, congratulating me on having the guts to come forward and say the things they've wanted to say for years. I have yet to hear any negative feedback from anyone that this blog threatens my future employment (although I'm not stupid - I don't think for a second it's actually helping my job situation) - either from network friends, or from agents, or from anybody else. I don't feel I use this to rake anyone over the coals, or spill any secrets I shouldn't. I congratulate those I feel are trying to bring greatness back to daytime, I defend those I think are getting a raw deal behind the scenes, and sometimes, I constructively criticize from a fan's perspective, the same way anyone does on a message board.

But do I ever want to work again?

I've asked myself this so many times in the last few months. The savings account is running low, unemployment is running out, the residual checks have slowed down, I finished putting the final polish on my bio and resume last week. At some point, I may have to say goodbye to this dream, and move on to the next one.

I have a lot of issues with how soaps are run right now. Being able to just get the job done without rocking the boat takes precedence over being an artist. Flying through repeated storylines is more important than building long-lasting character arcs and evolution. A sense of total community is ignored in favor of isolating three or four storylines from each other. (Thanks and a shout-out to Y&R, GH and OLTL for still finding ways to interweave their storylines... and Pratt's AMC looks to be taking a cue from them as well, based on the handful of his epsiodes that have aired.) But let's face reality - if one of these shows called me tomorrow and said "We'd love to have you on the team!" - come on. I'd be insane not to say yes.

This is in my blood. It's what I do. It's when I'm up to my eyeballs in scripts and breakdowns and research and old episodes on DVD that I feel the most alive.

But if it never happens again? That's okay too. Because then I'll do something else. I'll write a book. Or I'll go back into production (I always loved editing in film school... I had no idea it would interest me until I was forced to take a class in it... but it truly is a form of "writing"). Or maybe I'll go to culinary school and learn how to be a chef, or law school to be a lawyer (The Beau knows how much I love to argue.) Does it make me a failure? Hardly. I spent ten years living my dream, and have two Emmys and this blog (and all the friendships it produced) to show for it. I drank a glass of wine with Harding LeMay, had a brainstorming session with Carolyn Culliton, exchanged e-mails with Thom Racina and been given a welcome bear hug to Oakdale by Tom Eplin, got to write words for Stephen Nichols, Mary Beth Evans, and Judi Luciano, stood on stage at Radio City Music Hall and given a chance to write with Bill Bell's proteges. I've accomplished more in ten years than I ever thought I would in thirty years. If this is the end, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I'll never stop writing. I'll never stop hoping I can make a career at it again. But there is a possibilility that life will take me on a different path for awhile, and that's okay too. I always look to my dear friend's blog for inspiration. Now there's a woman who spreads her wings and flies!!

So I started to put my ears to the ground last week... I start wondering "What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?"... and in the meantime, I try and keep hope alive. I continue working on my personal projects, hoping something good will come from them. And in the meantime? I hear rumblings about friends of mine... writers I respect and feel are the best in the business... people who have been away from daytime far longer than should be legally allowed... suddenly getting job offers again. And it renews my spirit.

Is this blog doing me any good? Absolutely. Is it doing you guys any good? I hope so. Once it doesn't, I'll stop writing it. Is it doing the industry any good? I don't have a clue. Is it doing my career any good? Probably not. But that's okay. Maybe this is exactly the path I'm supposed to be on.

So to answer the fan's question: Yes, I'm still at this. And yes - not only do I want to work again, I consider what I'm doing right now as "still working". And I'll continue to work, whether it involves my name in credits or not, whether it involves working in this industry or not, whether you see me as a success or a failure, I will continue on the path, play the hand that was dealt me, mix as many metaphors as I need (Hee!!!) to become the person I'm destined to be.

There's been a lot of anger and betrayal and frustration this year... but out of all that, comes growth and education and evolution... and finally, peace. Until the next crisis. And in the end, isn't that what really good soap opera should be all about? Isn't that what life should be all about?

Monday, September 1, 2008

When did we say we weren't interested in a long-term relationship?

I've been tossing this one around in my head for a couple of weeks, but an e-mail from the divine "MsT" really got me thinking about it.

One of the joys of the daytime genre (as a viewer or a writer, or both!) is the slowly evolving, gradually simmering interweaving of the stories. That feeling of walking alongside a character you grew up with, as they reveal new aspects of the personality, amidst new challenges for them to overcome in their lives - some of which are really over-the-top (Who among us hasn't been trapped in a Secret Room by her arch-rival?), and some of which we can all relate to (Heartache, A New Baby, beating back a debilitating disease). But whatever they're suffering through or reveling in, we (as viewers) know we're in it for the long haul. For their triumphs and for their failures, we are in this relationship. We are ALL IN. And we knew our soaps felt the same way. They were in it for the long-haul, mapping out a year of story at a time. And we were secure in the knowledge that every scene we watched served a purpose - maybe it wouldn't be clear now, but it would be clear down the line. And we would be rewarded for our careful viewing.

So at what point did we ask for some space? When did they decide that all we wanted were a few flings?

At some point, many soaps rejected that idea of plotting out any storyline longer than 13 weeks (the length of your standard contract cycle). And no, I'm not talking about the Port Charles telenovela experiment (although that might have contributed to it). I'm talking about soaps and Head Writers/Executive Producers deciding they're only going to think a few months in advance, in terms of storylines. I look at GH's Mafia-Villain-of-the-Season, that seems to change once every three months (usually around the end of Sweeps), or ATWT's Psycho-of-the-Season (Eve Coleman! Colonel Mayer! Rick Decker!) and think to myself "This is just a fling - why should I settle in long-term, when I know this is all going to be over in a few months?"

Now that isn't to say stories can't change midstream, or characters can't take off in ways you didn't expect - Alicia Coppola on AW and Trent Dawson on ATWT are prime examples of characters that were created to serve a brief purpose, but developed such fan followings, that they stuck around. And sometimes, story needs to be rewritten to accommodate that. There's nothing wrong with it - happens all the time. But you don't bring Scott Bryce back to the role he created... only to put him in the same merry-go-around with three other actors for a few months and then fire him. And you don't cast a heavy-hitter like Vincent Irizarry on a show to play a nobody... and then rewrite who his character is every few months to suit your storyline purposes. I'll cut Y&R a little slack because of the numerous writer transitions that took place while David Chow was on the canvas - but still, it never would have come to that had he been introduced with a firm, network-approved long story that could be adhered to. Why else cast such a strong actor, unless you have plans for him?

Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe that EP's and HW's need to pay attention to the ratings, and change stories if they're not working. I worked with one head writer who actually had three different game plans in their head for the second arc of a storyline, depending on which coupling the audience liked the most. Now THAT'S long-term planning. Three different laid-out endings to a story based on audience reaction. Brilliant! (Not to mention that all three different endings then launched into brand new organic storylines... which is what soap should be!) You should always have a back-up plan, under the assumption the storyline doesn't play out the way you wanted it to because of actor chemistry/maternity leaves/etc. But that's why you get paid the big bucks - to have a few different plans in place, depending on your ratings, your actors, the storyline potential in each choice. I've also worked with a head writer who summed up a year's worth of story in three sentences. I'll give you one guess how well that "long term planning" worked out for the show.

This isn't to say that all soaps are making it up as they go along. I know of a few head writers who are thinking six/eight/sometimes twelve months in advance with some of their storylines. But I've also heard of head writers who are given the order that they are to write quick, neat, three months stories from above because "that's all the audience has the patience for". And that's when my blood starts to boil. To imply we're all a bunch of lazy, hero vs. villain morons who can't appreciate nuance and clearly have television ADHD doesn't exactly endear me to a soap. In fact, it makes me want to change the channel. Gee - I wonder if that's one of the reasons for falling ratings?

I keep hearing over and over that these shows want long-term viewers, who invest in the future of their shows. But how can they invest in the future - when the shows aren't thinking past thirteen weeks from now? Take away your long-term plans to entertain the viewer... and we might as well take away our long-term plans to keep watching.

(And thanks, Ms. T! You really inspired me on this one!)