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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mythbusters, Soap Style - Part Three

I'm jumping in and tackling the third myth I think soaps need to bust open...

The C-Story Myth

Even if you don't know the term "C-story", you've seen hundreds of them. They're the least important story on the show at the moment, and it's usually used as a cutaway from the big heavy-hitter storylines. Examples from shows I've worked on include Touch the Sky on Days, Dorian hiring a real stalker to faux-stalk her own daughter on OLTL, and Isaac and Bonnie go to Scotland and get stuck in a castle on ATWT.

Do we sense a trend forming here?

They're usually the stories that involve the characters least important to the canvas at that time. The characters least developed. And they're usually (but not always) the stories that get the least amount of focus by the writers, and have the least amount of depth.

There seems to be a myth that if you just play this story one or two days a week, and just get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, you've accomplished your goal. I've been as guilty of feeling this way about a C-Story as the next writer, and I'm a lot of fans feel stuck with the C-story, and use it as easy exercise for their fast-forward button.

I've been thinking a lot about C-stories lately, and how usually plot-heavy they are, usually involving day players from outside the show's regular cast of characters. Forgettable villains, stories with a beginning, middle and an end, and no real evolution in the character's lives to spin them off into their own B-or-maybe-someday-A-stories. But not always. Look how well Ron Carlivati moved Rex and Adriana from C-story-land to A-story-land, and pretty organically as well. Sometimes they're with characters no one's able to get a handle on, and other times they're characters the audience loves, but the show doesn't have a long-term plan for them.

So while the writers are focusing on the show's big umbrella A-story that's building to a climax, and kick-starting the B-story into its second act... there's the C-story. Getting only a quarter of the attention it should, and usually falling like a lead balloon to the ground.

I wonder if maybe instead of inventing some non-sequitur of a plot for a show's C-characters, maybe the idea should be scrapped in favor of some good old-fashioned character moments for them, while the show's writers find a way to incorporate them into the other stories better. Frankly, I'd rather learn more about a character's dreams, desires, fears and regrets, then wonder if they'll escape the day player prostitute holding them hostage on a plane over Las Vegas, or if Isaac will beat the Scottish Duke in his sword dual.

These stories almost never work, so instead of the writers beating their heads against a wall trying to make a story like this work, and the fans scratching their heads wondering what in the hell the writers are smoking, maybe the C-story should be retired for awhile, and these characters just given room to breathe, and the audience time to see how three-dimensional they can be. Their deepest insecurities, their ambitions, their quirks... these are the moments that make us fall in love with characters, as flawed as they are. These moments make us want to keep watching them, because they feel more like us - like human beings. Not when they're being picked up by Bruce, the Psycho-Stalker on the side of the road.

We want to fall in love with all of these characters, so maybe instead of filling their guaranteed episodes each week with cookie-cutter stories meant as throw-aways, we can better use those scenes to give us real human moments with the characters who need them most. We understand the Carly Tenney's and the Sami Brady's and the Todd Manning's of these shows. We've been given an unending wealth of information about who they are. It's the C-characters who need the most work, and that work can't be accomplished when we're playing them in stories with little emotional depth as a plot filler for a summer teen story, or a comical adventure meant to balance a dying baby story.

C-stories don't have to be meaningless. In fact, they should be the exact opposite - they should surprise us be getting us to care about characters in ways we never thought we could.

Tomorrow, I'm throwing one at the fans - the biggest myth fans need to overcome, as opposed to the executives. (Crikey! Get your flame-throwers ready, kids!)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mythbusters, Soap Style - Part Two

I'm taking a look at a different myth in the soap industry every day, and today, I'm focusing on a rampant trend in daytime that only seems to be getting worse...

The Quick-Cut Myth

Ten years ago, there were approximately twenty to twenty-five scenes in each episode of a soap opera. I remember the episode where Grant Harrison died on Another World had about thirty scenes in it, and that was considered a LOT at the time.

Fast-forward to 2008, and it's a completely different story. Most shows these days have about thirty-five to forty scenes, and some shows are even flirting forty-five or fifty scenes per episode. Why? Because there's this myth that in this fast-paced, "MTV-style" age of editing (and frankly, I don't understand what MTV has to do with any of this, and I think they'd be happy if the phrase "MTV-style" disappeared from our buzz word lexicon forever... but I digress...) ...there's this myth that viewers these days don't have the attention span beyond anything longer than a two-page scene.

Now here's the thing - anybody who's taken Screenwriting 101 knows that quick scenes intercut with each other is a really cheap, easy tool to build suspense. So when you're talking about something like the tornado sequences on AMC, or one of General Hospital's famous shoot-outs, or John's plane crashing with all the Bradys inside on Days of Our Lives, then by all means - quickly cutting from one section of a set to another, in fast-paced scenes underscored with tense music - well, it's a great way to build to something. Something like this probably goes without saying... but I want to make it clear that I'm not always against this style of storytelling. I wrote the day the prison riots broke out at Statesville on One Life to Live, and even though I wasn't a fan of the storyline (it's a soap opera - why are we writing prison riots?), I remember really wanting to do it justice. If The Powers That Be want a real prison riot, let's give it to them. I watched action movie after action movie the weekend before to get my head in the right place, and devised a "24-esque" count-down in the episode, where it unfolded in real time, and Carlo, John, Hayes and Cristian were all moved like chess pieces to various locations inside the prison, when the lights went out and all hell broke loose. I think I had about fifty scenes in that show, and I remember lots of intercutting between Carlo looking at the clock on the wall, Hayes setting the tripwire on a bomb detonator, the dirty corrections officer downstairs taking an axe to the circuit box, Cristian desperately trying to stop it in time, but trapped in his cell, and John trapped in the warden's office as it unfolds around him. It was an undertaking, and while I still have issues with the fact that we spent three weeks in that crazy riot, I do think the kick-off worked, mainly because there was so much cutting back and forth to different locations in the prison, quickly and without time to catch your breath. (Let's not talk about where we were with it two weeks later...)

But what's disturbing to me is that this approach seems to be taken with emotional moments... like, say, Lily confronting Holden about sleeping with Carly on As the World Turns, or any number of women losing a baby on General Hospital (Pick any of 'em - it's not like there's a shortage of miscarriages on that show), or hell, Reva cleaning her fridge on Guiding Light.

Big emotional pay-offs, as far as I'm concerned, should involve excruciatingly long pauses. The kind where you're hanging on every word, every reaction, every emotional beat in a scene. And when there's only one beat to a scene before you cut to someplace across town? It kills all momentum. One of the things I really appreciated about Ed Scott's production at Days is that he knew when to play a three-to-four minute scene (i.e., Marlena and Belle saying goodbye to John as he died in the hospital), and he knew when to play a forty-five second scene (i.e. the afore-mentioned plane crash). You have to give a viewer time to get invested in a moment before you cut away, and it's damn near impossible when you keep cutting away from it.

There's a time and a place for quick-cutting, and when it's used effectively, it creates its own kind of suspense. But there's a myth that you can't build suspense in a scene of two people just talking to each other (or crying or arguing or throwing things at each other or pointing a gun in each other's faces)... and that's just ridiculous. Not only is it possible to write a four-minute scene that builds suspense between two "talking heads", but it's the foundation this genre was built on.

We watch five days a week to be invested in ALL of these moments - whether it's an action movie, or a melodrama that tugs on every heart string we have. But you have to let us feel it. And it's hard to feel much of anything when we're getting whiplash as we hop across town forty times in thirty-seven minutes.

Tomorrow... Myth #3. And it's another screenwriting lesson I think some executives should pay more attention to...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mythbusters, Soap Style - Part One

My latest trip up to Cambridge for the Futures of Entertainment conference was enlightening in a lot of ways, but none more so than breaking a few misconceptions people had about the soap industry. I've been thinking over the last few days about everything I've learned from taking this year off and learning all I can from the fans. There are a lot of myths out there in the soap world - and even though my silly little blog might not change any minds when it comes to the higher-ups, I wanted it stated for the record that we... and I say we, as I have been a part of it for the last ten years, and in one way or another, contributed... we are completely wrong about.

I'll be taking off for the Florida Keys next Thursday, but over the next five days, I'm going to take the time to dispel the five myths The Powers That Be have convinced themselves of.

First up?

The Teen Story Myth

Somehow, The Powers That Be have convinced themselves that viewers under the age of twenty-five only want to watch characters who are under the age of twenty-five.

I have spent many months trying to figure out where this started. I can look back to characters like Jeff and Penny on As the World Turns, as well as the Dusty/Holden/Lily triangle. I can also look back at Luke/Laura/Scotty on General Hospital, Leo and Greenlee of All My Children, or Frankie and Jennifer on Days of Our Lives. These are all immensely popular love stories told with young people.

These are the examples people in higher positions at soap operas use to convince themselves they need to showcase young people in order to get young people to watch. I don't believe this is true. First of all, I speak from personal experience - I adored watching Cass and Frankie on AW, as well as Mac and Rachel... or Mason and Julia on Santa Barbara, or Robert and Anna on GH (and later, Duke and Anna). They made me look at adults I really admired and respected, and jumpstarted my imagination to show me the kind of man I wanted to me, the kind of love I wanted to experience - and that I shouldn't settle for anything less in life.

I do think back in the late seventies and early eighties, viewers did want to see people their age, because for so long on soaps, middle-aged characters were the centerpiece of every show (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But times have changed, and here's the biggest change in 2008 - young people WANT to be older now. They see themselves as mentally twenty-five when they're physically sixteen. Whether it comes to fashion, romance, sexuality, social issues - they're basically growing up far faster than anybody wants them to.

So here's a suggestion - perhaps we should be showing these young people that characters in their twenties and thirties make mistakes, but learn from them and grow from them and evolve from them. Seventeen year olds will want to watch them because they like to think they're indicative of the people they are in spite of their age, they'll see them screw up and become better people (and maybe learn a few lessons in the meantime), and viewers in their forties and fifties won't feel like they're watching ungrateful, one-note, one-dimensional teens played by inexperienced actors.

Balance those characters out with the kind of older couples young viewers wish they had as parents, and play these families interacting with each other and encountering the same problems these young viewers experience with their families (in spite of the fact they're much younger in real life), and suddenly you've got a multi-generational drama that maybe gives kids something to look forward to, and titillates them in ways eighteen year olds with in bathing suits can't, no matter how many push-ups they do.

Don't get me wrong - men and women of all ages don't mind the eye candy. But it needs to be organically incorporated in, as opposed to the central hub the "spokes of the wheel" turn around (to coin a popular phrase on the blogosphere these days.

Young viewers know what it's like to be around other young people. They live it all day long. That's not what they're interested in watching on television. I promise you. Give them older people to entertain them, to model themselves after (in positive ways), to laugh at, and cry with, and learn from - and I promise you. They'll watch after class.

The rest of us did. They will too. No lie.

Tomorrow - Myth #2.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day - A Walk Down Memory Lane

As I sit here at the Beau's family's house, I can't help but remember one year ago, sitting at this same computer, after watching the Days Thanksgiving show I was so honored to write.

It really was a special episode, to sit here and watch with the Beau's family, as I filled them in on the Shelle wedding, and the beginning of the Stefano/Marlena showdown. My heart still starts to race when I think about it, and I just had to take a walk down memory lane, one year later.

Special thanks to our friends who upload these at YouTube. They're really beautiful...

Happy Turkey Day!

(To those of you who would like to see the whole episode, it starts here: That's part one, and the rest are linked on the right. Embedding was disabled upon request of the uploader.)


Love, Tom

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

For a Good Cause

Hey all!

I wasn't planning on writing again before Thanksgiving, but something's come to my attention that's really important to me.

I received the following press release tonight. Before you skip past this and blow off the post, please read it, and give me at least two seconds to pass on my thoughts:

"Nuke" fans launch 2nd Annual Project Holiday Spirit campaign in honor of Van Hansis and Jake Silbermann

November 25, 2008—As a tribute to "As the World Turns" actors Van Hansis and Jake Silbermann, fans at announce the second annual "Project Holiday Spirit" campaign (PHS) in support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For 2007's campaign, "Nuke" fans set a fundraising goal of $500, but raised well over $6,000! Bolstered by the success of PHS, fans continued to work together, ultimately contributing over $35,000 to 10 different charities in less than 12 months.

The first campaign was launched on December 1, 2007 (World AIDS Day) and was originally inspired by a blog by Hansis about the holidays. Fans decided to embrace the true spirit of the holidays by helping others, and the campaign became a meaningful way for them to acknowledge the positive impact Van and Jake have had on so many lives.

Fans have decided to kick off another year of charitable giving by making this very special tribute an annual holiday tradition. This year's PHS campaign once again begins on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2008, with the goal of surpassing last year's total. Fans invite everyone to join them in honoring Van and Jake by donating to this very worthy cause.

For additional information or to donate, visit or email

About the organizers: is a fan-run site with over 1700 members, dedicated to the support of actor Van Hansis and his work. Many of Hansis' fans also offer their support to Jake Silbermann, his acting partner on CBS daytime drama "As the World Turns", in appreciation of Hansis' and Silbermann's portrayals of Luke Snyder and Noah Mayer, daytime's first gay super-couple, affectionately known as "Nuke". PHS is also supported by the members of, a 1300 member website dedicated to the couple.

Van Hansis and Jake Silbermann are in no way affiliated with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, or the PHS campaign. PHS was originally conceived by, and is solely managed by, the fans at All donations are made directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Additional Information:

To see a breakdown of "Nuke" fans' charitable giving visit

To see Hansis' original blog about the holidays which inspired PHS visit

Right... so here's the thing. Two things, actually...

1) This is an amazing country, America. We're all allowed to have free opinions and free speech, and that should hold true whether we agree with others or not. If you have a personal or religious bias against the pairing of Luke and Noah, that's totally cool. I may not personally agree with it, but freedom to think and feel what we want is what this country is founded on - it's what we fought a war over back in the 1700's. And as much as I'd love to change your mind, that's not my responsibility. We live in an independent world. But having said that, this isn't about whether or not you want to see two men kiss at two o'clock in the afternoon on network television. This is about supporting a cause to keep people from DYING. People of all races, all sexual orientations, all worthy of life.


2) Money is tight right now for everybody. It's a crappy situation out there, no two ways about it. I don't know how much money I'll be able to give to this cause, but over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and find some way to donate SOMETHING - even if it's twenty dollars. And if you really, truly can't afford to donate anything to this charity? That's okay too. All I ask is that you please forward this to people you think might still be fortunate enough to donate even the tiniest amount. This economy is hitting all of us hard, and many of us (myself included) are unemployed right now. But there are still people out there who have the ability to help somebody less fortunate than themselves. And I can't think of anything that embodies the holiday spirit more than helping out those in need.

I won't lie - my contribution won't be momentous. But over the next couple of weeks, I will do my best to give even the smallest amount, if it means being able to help somebody... anybody... from this dreaded disease. Whether they got it from unprotected sex, or from a horrific transfusion, or even through their genetics - whatever your political or religious affiliation, there's no reason why somebody who has something to spare can't give ten or twenty dollars to help somebody who is incapable of helping themselves.

I *ALMOST NEVER* throw my personal beliefs outside of the soap industry into this blog - but for this, I will. There's too much at stake for too many people whose lives count for something not to.

Thanks, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this and check it out.

xoxo --tom

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey Soap

Hey all!

It's been a crazy week, and it's only Tuesday morning. To be honest, I have yet to fully catch up on the soaps from last week, and have no idea what's been going on. Between the trip to Cambridge, helping a friend of mine out at her store for the holidays, and preparation for a photo shoot I'm working on next week, I feel like I haven't had a minute to myself to enjoy a good thirty-six minutes of daytime drama.

I'm especially looking forward to Thanksgiving, and seeing how the soaps treat the holiday. In recent years, it's been getting harder and harder to really deliver an original, moving, heart-warming Thanksgiving episode. Not because we don't want to - quite the opposite. It's just that every year, so much time and care is put into the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes, and it gets harder and harder to do something that's never been done before. The first year I worked at One Life to Live, Thanksgiving was all but ignored, for example, in favor of rushing the Santi story to its climax with Tico's shooting. When I was at As the World Turns, there was always this struggle trying to deliver something fresh and innovative (words Chris Goutman was a fan of, and I don't blame him for it), while still holding true to traditions such as the Hubbard Squash at the Snyder farm. Last year on Days, Hogan wanted to combine a Thanksgiving toast/dinner with the wedding of Shawn Brady and Belle Black (DiMera). It's always a struggle - everyone knows viewership is generally pretty low this week, as people are traveling and spending time with their families. So you don't want to advance story too much - but at the same time, you want to try and find people who are home a reason to watch. Some soaps feel like they don't want to put a hold on the momentum their stories are gaining - while others encourage their writing teams to write something people don't need to watch, even if it's a little slow.

Me, personally? I love me a good old fashioned Thanksgiving episode. I want to see people around a table, coming together, sharing scenes that may not advance the plot, but remind me who these people are, and why I want to spend Thanksgiving Day with them and their families. I don't need a "special" episode where the actors all play other characters, and I'm not really looking for a big Sweeps-stunt. I want to be reminded that in spite of all the trials and tribulations my favorite romances, families and friendships suffer through all throughout the year... that somehow, that's able to be put on hold for a day. That people can still come together and be grateful for each other... and maybe find forgiveness in these troubling times.

Of course, with our luck, someone will get shot and someone else's baby will die.

I truly hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and the usual family dramas that take place around ALL of our dining room tables (real or fictional) are both enlightening, AND entertaining. And I look forward to seeing how the soaps treat this holiday come next week, and learning who embraced it and who wrote against it... and why.

In the meantime, eat up! And have a wonderful holiday week!

Much love,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

MIT Panel Transcribed

Hey all!

The good folks at MIT have transcribed the panel I was on (as well as all of the other panels). It's called "Franchises, Extensions and Worldbuilding". They were typing AS we were talking, so occasionally, you might come across something that doesn't sound like a real sentence. :-) Rest assured, it wasn't because I was speaking like a moron - I was probably just talking faster than they could type.

The podcast and video should be up later, but for now, if anyone's interested, here it is:



The Road Back to NYC - What I Learned at MIT

Let's face facts - I'm not an academic. I went to film school in New York City - I studied screenplays and film theory... and while I could probably still tell you in great detail how Die Hard is a prime example of perfect three-act structure, I didn't have a clue on Thursday night how in the hell I was going to dissect the theory behind transmedia properties and their metrics.

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Because mine sure were.

But something wondrous happened on Friday morning. I got over whatever was holding me back - whatever those demons of insecurity were infesting me with - and just threw myself into an experience like none I've ever had.

I listened to film producers, screenwriters, primetime showrunners, agents, sports marketers, scholars, founders of online social media sites, and online game organizers - all of whom had so much to teach me about where all of these businesses are going in the next year. Daytime is struggling, but it doesn't have to be. The way all of these industries treat their superfans, the way they've thought outside the box and allowed them to be part of the creative process, part of the storytelling, is monumental. And no, I'm not talking about I Wanna Be a Soap Star or InTurn or Shop the Soaps.

I'm talking about Web-series shot to give niche fanbases what they're begging for from the main show, but cannot receive due to advertisers concerns. (I can't imagine Nuke fans would complain about a twelve-part Nuke series on their very own official show website where they can kiss whenever they want, until the rest of America catches up with the times) I'm talking about interactive games where you followed the Salem Serial Killer... and just as you're about to click on the mask to remove, YOUR PHONE RINGS IN YOUR HOME, and a masked voice tells you that you could be next. And when you try and close the window on your computer screen? Your cell phone rings, and a voice says "Where are you going? I'm not done with you yet..." WOW! That's creepy! Or how about helping Lucky follow the clues to solve a crime simultaneous to airing said crime on General Hospital, on (That's IF they ever allowed Lucky to solve a crime on GH)

There's such a world of possibilities in our future that every other genre is already leaping on. And guess who they're aiming at? Young people. Women. Men. Established long-term viewers. New audience members. EVERYBODY soaps claim they want. And yet - all they seem to getting online are behind-the-scenes gossip and celebrity news.

Soap opera is the greatest form of immersive storytelling I've ever seen. Hardcore fans can throw themselves as deep into the fictional lives of these characters as much as they want. And whereas every other genre is trying build up their worlds, make these stories as immersive as possible... daytime is firing its favorite actors, pulling back on long-term storytelling, and SHRINKING their fictional worlds. At a time when soaps should be offering a UNIVERSE of an online community, it's nothing but a little hamlet of behind-the-scenes actors basically reading off press releases... while fan message boards are expanding the known soap universe new galaxies - what's going on at Oakdale High, Llanview Memorial, Downtown Salem, Pine Valley University. The fans are building these worlds because nobody else is doing it for them.

Now imagine if they were.

Imagine if these shows took the time to build cross-platform medias that weren't just "See what Thorsten Kaye's dressing room looks like". Not that there aren't fans who appreciate that - hell, I appreciate it once in a while. But imagine if the fictional towns you spent five hours a week in didn't go away when the show ended. What if they kept going, albeit in ways that weren't required to enjoy the show (i.e. NuAlison and Amber's drug and porn adventures in Los Angeles for Y&R and ATWT), but rather were optional - but still focused and creative and bold nevertheless. Not online diaries written by interns and writer's assistants, but more immersible branches of storytelling written by teams of WRITERS, working closely with the head writer to create a larger world, a realm of infinite possibilities where Port Charles becomes a working, growing mechanism. Fans can create avatars and travel around Genoa City themselves, interact with characters WHILE THE SHOW IS ON THEIR TELEVISION SETS. Where these shows become organisms that cross all kinds of media.

Can you tell how fired up I am? But let's get this back down to Earth for a second before my head explodes. Let's face facts - only a very small percentage of the audience would take advantage of this. It's true. They say only three percent of the YouTube users actually upload videos, and only seven percent are actually responding to them. So we're not talking about revolutionizing the soap viewing audience.

But what it does do is create buzz. One hardcore fan throws themselves one hundred percent into this, and then they post on a message board how awesome it was to try and escape from the MetroCourt crisis in an online game. Instead of bitching about rapemances, they're competing to see who can sell more papers online - The Llanview Banner or the Sun. And some people won't want to take part in it, and that's fine. But the people that do... they're the ones who will bring in new viewers to your show. People that maybe thought of soaps like fluff that didn't cater to them... and then discover it through another avenue. People like the MILLIONS of Nuke YouTube users who follow their storyline without watching the actual aired show. Maybe if you give them a reason to check out your site, they'll then find a reason to check out your air show. You generate positive buzz, as opposed to the negativity soaps have been saddled with since the strike ended.

Did you know that forty percent of thirty year olds are actively online while they watch their TV shows? Think about that for a second...

Soaps can move into the 21st century, older viewers get to see their vets every day on television, and younger viewers are engaged in deeper aspects of the soap viewing experience by being a part of the Springfield Social Networking Site. You don't need new camera techniques, green screens, or ratings stunts. These viewers are craving SERIALIZED STORYTELLING, and a CREATIVE EXPERIENCE. They want their favorite characters, in gripping storylines. They don't care how good your CGI is, or whether or not you're jumping forward or back in time. They want to see good old-fashioned human drama, and you can offer it in real-time, on both the Web and their television sets. And get some GOOD press (for a change) in the process.

Every other genre is on board with this. And as I head back to New York City, I worry daytime is heading so far down the wrong path, it'll be too late to turn back.

I encourage anybody in a network position to check out the panels at MIT's Future of Entertainment website. There's an entire online community that wants to be part of the STORY. You want them to be part of the SALE. Both can have their way - but not without making it organic to the story, making sure the audience is included without being manipulated, and you start looking at your Superfans like they're the ones who are going to work FOR you to create buzz, instead of scoffing at them and looking down your nose at them.

A new world is coming - in fact, it's already here, and no matter how many times you say it doesn't affect daytime... the truth is, you're going to be saying that right onto the unemployment line.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

MIT - LiveBlogging

For those of you interested, MIT has live blogging of all the days' events, starting with a panel on Comics (and the Watchmen adaptation coming out next year), and later, my Worldbuilding panel.

The link is here

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Loss Soap Fans Don't Know They're Experiencing

Color me stunned.

Today, I sat through seven hours of panels that were HIGHLY entertaining and fascinating to me as a writer. Whether or not your average fan would be interested in some of it, I'm not sure.

But something was pointed out not once... not twice... but at least four or five times in three different panels that blew me away. And this isn't a case of people telling fans something to humor them. This is about people in the industry telling academics and other people in the industry, as a way to explain their point.

This will be up in a few weeks on MIT's website, but I had to share it with you guys first.

Did you know that True Blood rewards their "Superfans" (as in, the ones writing fan fiction, etc) with prizes? Or that The Ghost Whisperer producers will seek out those who make Claymation animation of Jennifer Love Hewitt and use their craft to promote their show?

Is this for real? Are there actually industries out there that are REWARDING the Superfan?

For years, I have witnessed the eye-rolling in daytime, the assumption that we're writing for the lowest common denominator, the belief soap fans will swallow anything you throw at them, and any model as a recast, because they don't know any better. Hell, we even have executive producers saying "I don't care what they say on the Internet"

And today, I WATCHED THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF GHOST WHISPERER tell me the exact opposite. That yes, those people who are that hard-core are only ten percent of their audience - but they're an incredibly vocal and persistent ten percent that gain their show good buzz, ergo good ratings. And Gail, an academic next to her, said "The fans like to feel like they're part of the process - that by participating, they're fellow workers in the industry with the rest of us. And by empowering fans, they've seen ratings increases."




For years, I have been looked down on in writers' rooms for even mentioning fan's opinions. But tonight, I watched prime-time refer to the "Super Fan" as someone they not only cherish, but they REWARD. And they ENCOURAGE. They know not everybody will devote that much time to the a show, but if they find somebody who's extremely talented, they'll pull them into the transmedia they're putting together to cross-promote the show.


Why are they so insistent that it doesn't matter how many times we see a Who's the Daddy? story, or a baby switch story, or a love triangle, fans will just accept it... and the ones who debate it on the Web are a bunch of loonies? I don't mean to generalize, because not EVERYBODY behind the scenes in daytime thinks that. But a lot of them do. They have a disdain for the fans that's incredibly frustrating.

And here are prime-time showrunners, talking about these fans like they're on the payroll. (They're not, by the way - but the showrunners feel that even though they're not paying these fans, they are spreading the word about their art form, be it fan fic or fine art, and that in and of itself is a form of payment)

These shows see the value in fans like this. And daytime shoves them aside like they're psychotics.

This whole MIT experience has been wonderful so far, but I am truly moved by how much they respect their fans. The way they talked about how "Superfans" are at the center of buzz for low rated shows, and can make all the difference? It's something I always believed (having been one once upon a time), and something I was also beaten down for all ten years I wrote in soaps.

I never use the word "flabbergasted". But there is no other word to use. True Blood sends T-SHIRTS to their favorite fan fic writers. I mean, it's just a T-shirt... but STILL! They ACKNOWLEDGE IT!

I knew soaps were not having their brightest moment these days... but I had no clue just how far off the mark they were. Today was truly eye-opening for me, and I can't wait for tomorrow now.


The Road to MIT - Part Two

I love waking up in hotel rooms. I don't know what it is about it, but the anticipation of seeing a new city out your window in the first moments of daylight always gets my juices flowing.

I'm off to the conference, for some pretty interesting topics today. I'm especially looking forward to Making Audiences Matter. Here's the rundown from the website:

2:30 PM - 4:30 PM - Session 2: Making Audiences Matter

Audiences seem to present a constantly moving target. Migratory, skilled at avoiding advertising, and increasingly looking like producers, working out who the audience is and what they are doing is an evolving challenge. How do we create better relationships with audiences who look less like "consumers"? In a media landscape that looks to increasingly value broad distribution over concentrating attention, how do we uncover audiences and connect them with content? What does an "engaged" audience look like, and how do you know when you've got one? What do you do once you've found one?

Panelists include: Kim Moses, Executive Producer, The Ghost Whisperer; Gail De Kosnik - UC Berkeley, The Survival of Soap Opera: Strategies for a Digital Age; Kevin Slavin, Area/Code; Vu Nguyen, VP of Business Development,

Moderator: Joshua Green, MIT

I can't wait to hear how they discuss strategies for soaps in the digital age. Should be very enlightening.

I'm off to the Bartos Theatre! Catch everyone up later!


The Road to MIT - Part One

If you ever need a guaranteed cure for self-doubt? I have discovered the secret.

Get in your car (or if you don't have one, find someone who does).... find a fairly empty highway, and drive down it at 70 miles an hour singing the chorus to Pink's new song "So What" at the top of your lungs.

Cheesy? Sure. But it sure made me want to take on the world by the time I got to Cambridge! The economy is tanking, the daytime industry is crumbling down around us and my career is in question - "So what! I'm still a rock star! I've got my rock moves, and I don't need you! And guess what? I'm having more fun. And now that we're done, I'm gonna show you that tonight? I'm all right. I'm just fine. And you're a tool. So what?

Thank you, Pop Bubblegum Music - you gave me one hell of a road trip tonight.

Tomorrow morning - Day One of the conference! In the meantime - find a fun little song you're embarrassed to say you love, dig it out, blast it as loud as you can - and sing as off-key as you want!



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rediscovering the Lost Fan, Llanview Style

This will be a quick one.

First up - I have some business to take care of.

A soap fan on here - and one I also follow on message boards and love their posts - posted a comment tonight that while truly flattering, also corrected me on a point of history from a previous entry - that Nadine on Guiding Light was never pregnant in the first place. She did not miscarry and then wear the fake pillow under her shirt - but rather she had been wearing the fake-belly all along.

I'll admit, my hindsight may have been incorrect. In my mind, I remember Nadine originally being pregnant, then losing the baby... but finding herself too paranoid that Billy would leave her for Vanessa if he found out she lost the baby, decided to fake the remaining months until her due date. Perhaps I am wrong, and my early Alzheimer's is somehow confusing Nadine's story with Kristen's on Days (both involved Jim Reilly in their creations). Hopefully, some Guiding Light fans out there can shine a light on this (no pun intended), because now I'm wondering if I'm remembering it wrong. Was Nadine EVER pregnant with Billy's baby? If I'm wrong, then I humbly stand corrected.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Nadine was NEVER pregnant. My hazy memory confused Nadine on GL with Kristen on Days. My apologies to the late Jim Reilly, the much-missed Nancy Curlee, and all the GL fans out there I left scratching their heads. MY BAD! :-)

Also, one other piece of business. I've received a few e-mails from fans who have said they've written in to their favorite soap in an effort to get me hired there. I am truly, TRULY moved by this. It means the world to me. But I have to tell you, much of the reason I don't have a job right now is because the skill I've practiced and concentrated on for the last decade - that of writing a "breakdown" and being part of an associate head writer "team" - is a position that doesn't exist any longer at many shows. It has nothing to do with me personally - there are dozens of talented breakdown writers out there out of work right now for this very reason. And they all deserve jobs, some much more than I do. I am deeply touched there are people out there who would go to bat for me, but the truth is, that's not why I continue this blog. Your support means everything to me, but sadly, pitching me to come to your show is probably not the best way to get me employed. I do have an agent, and he is on the hunt for new employment - but unfortunately, there are other writers out there with seniority and tenure who come first. As much as we don't want to admit it, this is a business, first and foremost - and there s a certain code of rules we must follow, just like any other job. If I'm meant to return to daytime, then I will - and if I'm meant to seek a new career path, then I definitely will. But pitching me in your fan letters is probably an exercise in futility. I encourage you, instead, to write to the head writers and executive producers about their stories and characters. At the end of the day, that's much more important to me than whether or not I find employment in the near future. Having said all of that, I do thank you. It means the world.

Now on to my night. This is a weird entry for me to write, as I don't wish to betray any confidences and I don't want to single anybody out or put them on the spot. I had a surreal One Life to Live experience this evening, to be perfectly honest.

I've said many times before, I had quite the roller coaster in Llanview. I wrote episodes there I'm extremely proud of, but I also faced some of my darkest times as a writer in those two years. It was definitely all over the map. While I was there, though, I built an extremely special bond with someone who works high up in production there - somebody with the same drive, the same passion, the same love of the genre I have. On top of all of that, she has an incredible work ethic and is talented in many areas across the board. In the short time I've known her, she's become quite important to me.

She is leaving Llanview to carve a new path for herself, and tonight, many of us said goodbye. I was cautious walking into the goodbye party, as I haven't seen many of these OLTL folks in years, and have never really known where I stand with them now that the dust has settled. The party-goers were, for the most part, behind-the-scenes people around my age, with a few actors scattered about. I tell you this not to gossip or name-drop - but to say that through my conversations with so many people tonight, I realized there are many more kindred spirits out there than I was ever aware of. Young people who, like myself (and many of you reading), grew up on soaps, along with the Internet, and are driven to see this genre succeed. Is there despair and pessimism? Absolutely. The death knell looms quite low over all of us. But there was also a lot of hope. A lot of ambition. A lot of names most of you don't know unless you follow the credits closely, talking about all the ways daytime influenced them and, in some ways, made them who they are today. Daytime taught them about family, about romance, about the consequences of lies and deceit, and about the kind of person they wanted to be, and the kind of person they never wanted to be.

It gave me hope. Truly. Even if these people never move up the corporate ladder within the genre as it stands now, it made me feel much less alone. These shows are populated with young faces who have heard the fear, have felt the paranoia, and have been troubled over whether or not they chose a career that has no future. And yet, they still wax nostalgic, they still go to work every day, and they still do whatever they can within the very small parameters of their job description to continue the legacy these shows left them with in their adolescence.

There is hope out there. You, as fans, may never truly see it or feel it, because these incredibly dedicated employees may never have the opportunity to call the shots. But they are there, buried underneath the closing credits. And they care.

I can not stress this enough. We are not alone. For whatever that's worth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Early Thanksgiving

So it's been kind of a downer around these parts, huh?

Let's throw some positivity into the mix, shall we? Here's five things right now that currently have me bouncing on my couch... the five things that have inspired me lately, as we head into Thanksgiving next week.

In no particular order…

1) The New Blog - So far, I've gotten numerous e-mails saying how glad people are that they don't have to join MySpace in order to leave comments for me. And my stat counter is much higher here than it was over there. (Sorry, MySpace! I still love you! You gave me a hundred thousand hits!!) PLUS, I got my first (drum roll, please) HATE MAIL just today! I love it! Not once over on MySpace did anybody leave a comment shooting me down - and within a couple of days, I've officially got a dissenter! No, I'm not being sarcastic - I kinda like it. It reminds me how many different perspectives there are out there, and who doesn't need that kind of kick in the teeth every so often? I know I sure do. Sure, I haven't worked all the kinks out yet, but I do feel like the last few days have felt like starting the blog all over again. I'm digging it - and I welcome any and all soap fans who want to critique me. After all, if I can't take criticism, than what the hell have I been doing in the entertainment industry all these years?

2) The Last Two Weeks of Young and the Restless - Okay, I know. Truth be told, I owe MUCH more than just a paragraph to this show right now. And I will get to it next week, I promise. But I just have to say that Kay's funeral has been nothing short of genius. Any show can bring back a bunch of old-school characters for a couple episodes, but to play them IN CHARACTER without making them glorified extras is something you don't see every day. It's soapy, it's moving, it's historical, it's nostalgic, and I'm totally on the edge of my seat. Whatever combination of writers were a part of this - from Maria and Hogan, to the breakdown writers, to the script writer, to the script editor, I salute you. I will have more to say on this come next week, but unfortunately, I've been busy preparing for Reason #3...

...3) The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT - I'm alternating between excited and petrified out of my mind for the conference this weekend. But no matter how I end up coming across, just the fact that this school has enough faith in me to include me with so many fascinating and amazing people who hold positions all across the industry spectrum blows my mind. Whatever comes of it, just to be in the same room with such a myriad of talented and intelligent people is enough to make anyone full of glee. It's an honor, and I'm just thrilled to experience it - even though at the moment, it's terrifying to even think about what Saturday will be like.

4) The Many PodCasts of both BlogTalkRadio and Daytime Confidential and Marlena Delacroix - What a strange, wonderful world world we live in. Never before have online fans been so vocal, been so eloquent, so cerebral and ground-breaking. Lately, I've been spreading the word to colleagues and friends about the many PodCasts being led all over the web, as well as some of the discussions on SON and Daytime Royalty. They've been nothing short of stunned at the back-and-forth conversations going on regarding all the soaps. (And no, they're not posting, as far as I know) Clearly, there is a bit of a revolution going on - the fans who crave story and character and passion are flocking to these boards, are studying nuance, are analyzing motivation. They’re asking the questions many others won’t ask, for fear of rocking the boat. They’re debating each other intelligently and calmly (for the most part) and they’re proving just how strong the daytime legacy is. Even when I don’t necessarily agree on a personal level with the things they might be saying, I love the Art of the Great Debate. And I salute them - I only wish some of the shows were taking it to the next level the way a lot of these fans are.

And finally…

5) Bianca and Reese on All My Children - Okay, I’ll admit that I have many issues with the plot surrounding these two. The Baby-Out-of-Thin-Air, the Off-Screen Coupling, the Completely-Out-of-Character decisions Bianca has made. But putting all of that aside for a second, I am completely enthralled with what Tamara and Eden are accomplishing on the screen, not to mention how far AMC is pushing the envelope. I think this is one of the only times in my life I can say there’s a touch of sexism from the networks… only here, it’s in favor of the women. Because I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s okay for Bianca and Reese to be as affectionate as they are, when Luke and Noah are still struggling for anything over in Oakdale. But in any case, these two actresses are embracing it whole-heartedly - and what can easily be misconstrued as an attempt to shock-and-awe the audience for no other reason than a ratings spike, is being played beautifully, passionately, and damn near perfectly.

No matter what you may think, I do think it’s important to balance the positive and the negative, especially in these troubling times. If you look back at my past entries, you’ll see the most embittered posts are usually followed by ones full of praise. It’s not back-pedaling - it’s more about not drowning in the dark. Millee Taggert always encouraged “Write towards the light”. Sometimes, we in the industry forget that. And when we get bogged down in any kind of somber writing - be it dead babies on the air, or dying soaps in our blogs, it’s important to remember why we’re all in this business. We write stories about families coming together in times of tragedy, friendships falling apart but always resurrected stronger than before, true love always finding a way, and good always triumphing over evil.

That’s a lesson I never want to forget - no matter what I’m writing. We write for the light, and you watch for the light.

Even if some days we have to look a little harder for it than others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One Straw Too Many - The Second-to-Last Days Blog

I've never really had a plan when it comes to the blog.

Sometimes, it's a critique... other times, it's therapy. Occasionally I feel like I'm on a pedestal, and sometimes I feel like I'm in a ditch. Although it seems like the last few times I've made mention of Days of Our Lives in this blog, it's like a re-opened wound. There's a personal edge, a lack of objectivity, a razor-sharp slice through my creativity and integrity that almost always draws the equivalent of blood in my soul.

And frankly, I'm tired of it.

Last night, I took part in another round-table discussion with the guys over at Daytime Confidential about the firings of Drake Hogestyn and Deidre Hall. It just went up online (follow the above link), and you'll listen to it and hear the usual stuff - Jamey and Luke are excellent moderators, Mike was a welcome addition, Nelson is sarcastic and blunt... and I'm kinda sullen. I just don't have any rant left in me. I'm not calling for anybody's head on a platter, and I'm calling anybody any names. The whole scenario has a feeling of "Been there, done that" to the nth degree.

So this is my last Days blog. Well, almost my last Days blog. It just seems like an exercise in futility to question where the business acumen is, or common sense... the respect for your audience, and the artistic skill to inspire fans to return to their television sets in the afternoon. Other shows are trying things - and sure, they're failling a lot of the time, but occasionally they're succeeding. And at least they haven't given up. But Days - I just feel like it's existing from day to day with no real drive. And why bother analyzing it, or studying the situation, or questioning how to fix it? It's Soap-By-Numbers - a renewal fans received, but at what cost? (Talk to Guiding Light fans - they'll tell you)

One of two things will happen in eighteen months - a miracle will occur and the show will feel like home again for millions of fans, or it will shrivel up on the vine and disappear from our lives forever. Once that final decision is made, then I'll come back and revisit Days one last time - I'll look at everything that's transpired and give my thoughts on it.

But in the meantime, I'm tired of devoting this much energy, this much thought, this much typing, and this much caring into a show that's more concerned with hiding its desperation and masking its more-than-apparent behind-the-scenes politics by pretending it's just "business as usual". This isn't business as usual. This is scraping and clawing your way to an inevitable cancellation.

I wish nothing but the best for Days. I grew up on this show, I was thrilled and inspired by so many of its stories. But this is like that insane ex whose antics you get wrapped up in for too many years, and one day you just realize, "Enough. I have better things to do with my time." It should make you sad. But it doesn't. You just don't care anymore.

I look at Marlena Delacroix's latest OLTL blog and I am so moved by the passion she has for the abomination that was Todd and Marty's "love-making" on One Life to Live. In the midst of typing this about Days, I am so touched by the drive she has to right this wrong. There was a time not too long ago I had that same cry for change when it came to the residents of Salem. But they do not welcome it, nor do they agree with me, in terms of that change. They do not learn from their mistakes, nor do they learn from the mistakes of other shows that air around them.

I pray One Life to Live... and All My Children and General Hospital and As the World Turns and Guiding Light and Bold and the Beautiful and Young and the Restless, for that matter... all take a moment and realize that in their quest to lower costs and anticipate which action sequence will thrill their fans more or which shocking headline in the press will bring in more ratings, realize that as they build up new characters played by younger actors struggling to make it through an episode in this fast-paced machine... they're alienating the people who indirectly keep them employed.

I continue to root for the genre. I will go on to write much, both positive and negative, about what's transpiring out there. But Days - there's nothing more to say.

Drake and Dee - I wish you nothing but the best. And I hope to see you back on our screens soon. Days will continue on the path its on - it's time to focus on other shows that aren't repeating the mistakes of the past.

This twenty-five year viewer? He's just not that into you anymore...

(Special thanks to Daytime Royalty and Daytime Confidential for alerting me to this video clip!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Show In Search of a Clue: DAYS Podcast Head's Up

So I've been getting all sorts of e-mails from people wanting to know my thoughts, now that the official announcement of Drake Hogestyn and Dee Hall's firings have come out.

I'm trying to piece my words together (Really... who can?), but in the meantime, I'll be on Daytime Confidential's PodCast to... I don't know. Not rant - it's a little late for that. Not cry - I've wasted too many tears on this show.

I don't know what I'll do, so I guess we'll all find out together...

More to come...

You Sure Don't Make It Easy, Do You, MySpace?

So turns out all the links I attached to my last blog didn't work in the transfer.

I've fixed it, but it's sure gonna make my transfer more difficult.

Thanks, MySpace. :-)

Looking for the Last Two Years' Worth of Posts?

If you're looking for any of my previous posts, you can still find them over at my MySpace page.

I will keep them up there permanently, in case anyone's interested.

In the meantime, I'm working on moving as many posts as I can from MySpace over to BlogSpot. The comments won't transfer, so I won't delete them from over there. So far I've got just November moved... but hopefully if I do a month's worth every day, I can have everything logged by early 2009.

Don't forget to change your bookmarks!

xo --tom

I Love the Eighties (Strikes Back!)

Hey all!

So yeah... crazy weekend, right? Rumors persist that more Days stars are being cut loose in favor of less expensive, less experienced, less interesting actors. And Guiding Light is bringing back more people from its past (Welcome home, Eleni!). If history continues to repeat itself, we should see a big John/Marlena return in July of 2010 just when they decide shooting all of their characters in one set isn't working, no?

In the meantime, I'm trying to remain a little brighter than I was on Saturday. Don't get me wrong, I'm still slightly climbing the walls over the bizarre choices being made across the board. (Don't get me started on what General Hospital did with Luke and Laura... oh wait! I don't have to! Sara already did for me!)

So I gave myself a weekend to mourn, as yet more nails were hammered into a coffin, and no more. I've got some mental jumping jacks to get ready for the MIT conference this coming weekend, and lots to do with my own personal projects (not to mention two days of part-time work thrown into the middle of it) so I'm turning my rant-mode off to focus on other things.

With morning coffee in hand (topped with Hershey's syrup and whipped cream - how's that for a good Monday morning?), I started going through my mail - and as I flipped through Soap Opera Digest, wouldn't you know it it, but there I am! I was interviewed awhile back for an article about whether or not the 80's were the heyday of soaps, by the wonderful Mara Levinsky (a gal I can talk soaps with FOREVER). I had completely forgotten all about the interview, but it's in the latest issue with Eric Braeden on the cover. (Oh wait - that's all of them!) It was a fun interview, and I find it highly ironic that the persisting rumors of two Days 80's icons being fired coincided with this issue showing up in my mailbox.

I'm curious what you all think. Do you think the 80's were soaps' shining decade? The 70's? The 90's? The 00's? (I'm so curious if anybody thinks it's that last choice, and why)

What do you consider to be the greatest soaps era? And as we head into the "aught-teens", what stories do you think will become instant classics from this decade?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

(Twice) Dead Men Tell No Tales: A Days Rant in Three Parts

Okay - first up - yes, this is a Days rant. Soap fans who don't know the show, I apologize.

Second - yeah, I'll admit. This is a slightly personal entry. How can it not be? Anybody who follows my blog or has listened to my BlogTalkRadios knows how I feel about DOOL. So yeah - I'm inserting my own two cents into this one from my soul.


As of this writing, word has leaked that while Days has been picked up for eighteen months, severe cast changes are in the works. The first of those was felt this week: Jay Johnson (Philip) is gone, Drake Hogestyn is rumored (with a strong foundation for that rumor from numerous sources) to have been fired, as well as Blake Berris. And the grapevine is telling everyone this is just the beginning. In order for Days to survive, more cuts will be made in the cast.

And here, I pause for a deep breath... bear with me, this will all come back to Days, I swear.

There are four stories from my childhood that inspired me to seek out a career in daytime drama: 1) The story of Jack/Billy, Kayla's rape, and Jack's redemption through his struggle with ghosts Harper and Duke, and Jennifer's love for him, 2) the Who Shot Jake? mystery on AW that led to the Jake/Paulina romance, 3) Marty's vicious attack and its aftermath on OLTL (as well as her struggle to overcome it), and lastly... and the point I'll eventually get to... 4) Nancy's Curlee's years on Guiding Light, and her incredibly epic Nadine/Bridget pregnancy story that eventually led to the Roger/Hart/Peter story.

Those who know it already, understand what an incredible journey that was. Those who don't? Here it is in a nutshell - a young rebellious teenager gets pregnant and is drowning in shame. Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman across town is trying desperately to hold on to her husband, who still has a bond with his ex-wife. Second wife gets pregnant, but miscarries. After a chance meeting, she agrees to house the pregnant teen in her attic (and wear a fake pregnancy stomach)... and then adopt the teen's baby when she gives birth... so she can hold on to her husband. The tension builds for nine months. The teen's family wonders - where is our girl? Will the husband and/or his first wife discover the deception? Will the teen decide to keep her baby once it's born and ruin the second wife's plans? The drama builds until she finally gives birth.

One would think that's the end of the story - but it isn't. Because once all of THOSE secrets are revealed, there's a whole other layer: the man the teen had a one-night stand with? He's the illegitimate son of GL's greatest, most complex villain. (Think James Stenbeck or Stefano DiMera, but much more layered.) Once all of the secrets are revealed with the middle-aged husband and his former and current wives... only THEN does it get out that this baby is also the heir to one of the most dangerous, notorious, powerful men on the canvas. And the story takes on a whole new layer for yet another year as this man attempts to get his hands on his future bloodline for his own nefarious purposes... drawing afore-mentioned illiegitimate son, the teen girl, the love triangle of the man and his two former wives, AND the woman who has (in the meantime) fallen in love with the baby's biological father and will do anything to keep him into this web.

This is an umbrella story that defied all expectations, carried on for years, and was the seed that eventually led to Jim Reilly writing the Susan/Kristen story on DOOL. It's also the reason I will always love Guiding Light...

...and it's the reason why I can't recognize the show that calls itself Guiding Light to this day. It's why it seems like an entirely different show, and as far as I'm concerned, the Guiding Light I fell in love with went off the air years ago.

I only explain all of this because after the news of this weekend regarding Days? I worry the same will hold true with my first love (that still remains on the air, that is) - Days of Our Lives.


The budget is being slashed in Salem. There's less than two years left on its contract. Major characters are being cut. And I'm petrified that when Days finally says its goodbye - be it two years or twelve years from now - it won't be the show I've loved through so many incarnations, and over so many decades.

And the knife cuts even deeper, when it comes to Drake Hogestyn.

Anybody who's kept up with this knows I poured everything I had into the death and funeral of the character of John Black last year. It wasn't until I was practically finished writing his funeral that I learned something had changed behind the scenes, and we were required to bring John Black back to life, brainwashed. Did I agree with this? Not really... but I was only a breakdown writer, and I had to write what I had been given.

John Black's funeral wasn't the greatest funeral ever presented on daytime. In fact, it was pretty standard, in terms of the bar set by other soaps. But it had been so long since Days had tapped into such raw emotion, that I felt those were important episodes for the fans... for the actors involved... and for us writers. Dee Hall, Martha Madison, Kristian Alfonso, Ali Sweeney - they were all allowed to go to a place as actors that they hadn't been allowed to go for many years. And even though I love John Black, and I missed him the second he was gone - I felt we were doing the show a great justice by allowing them to explore deep, unresolved, conflicting emotions that added up to powerful storytelling. It wasn't ground-breaking, but it was real. And Days needed something real.

I know Ken Corday let Drake go, and then he hired him back. Whatever happened between them... whatever tale transpired on that phone call between Ken and Drake... it's between them. I wouldn't dare to surmise how it played out. I just know that everything changed, and that was the beginning of the eventual end for our team at Days of Our Lives. John was brought back from the dead as "Jawn", the strike hit all of us like a two-by-four between the eyes, and three months later, there was a new writing team in place, and chaos was reigning supreme.

Now it's only eleven months later... and everything that was undone - every moment we worked so hard to make real and powerful and heartfelt - was all a waste of time. Because John Black is leaving the show AGAIN, and Days' credibility slides just a little lower. As far as I'm concerned, he should have stayed dead. Would it have upset Jarlena fans? Absolutely. But they would have gotten their stronger, more determined, more three-dimensional Marlena... and instead they got a year of backstage tug-of-wars, only to end up in exactly the same place they were in last year. And I ask: what is better? To have John exit in a story that tugged every heart-string? Or to have Jawn exit in another way a year later? In the end, there's no more John Black either way. And fans have been through a roller-coaster ride in a year (a year that should have been spent rebuilding this once-great show) for absolutely nothing. Their emotions have been toyed with, and they're almost unanimously exhausted. And I don't blame them.


I look at Guiding Light... or The Show Formerly Known As Guiding Light... and I think to myself "Self? At no point did any of the major mistakes in story written with the intention to end up where the show is now. Nobody wants to see this show canceled." And yet, clearly nobody at Days watches Guiding Light, because they're heading down the same road. Maybe not with the new production model, or the new cameras, or with all the location shooting. But in terms of firing the people we *WANT* to see in favor of the much cheaper newer characters nobody's spent the time developing.

I watch shows making the same exact mistakes other shows are making, and I wonder if anybody is even paying attention to what else is going on out there in genre. Are they paying attention to what's working and what isn't, or are they just plowing ahead with what they think is right, and inevitably doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Are they so blind they think they won't befall the same fate as so many shows before them? That they're unique... and special.... and can tread the same ground so many other have passed over and fallen on, without suffering the same fate?

A week ago, I felt a little better about the industry. Not much - but slightly better. But now I hear this news, and all I can think is that Days will never have the final year it was meant to have - where the newer (i.e. cheaper) characters taking a back seat to give the people we care about, getting front-burner, powerful, intricate stories that give fans some kind of closure. Instead, they'll limp into cancellation, the way I see Guiding Light limping into cancellation. And it horrifies me.

I am not a savior, and I'm certainly no Claire Labine or Agnes Nixon or Douglas Marland. But even I can see how used and taken for granted the fans of these shows are... and even though I've dealt with my own budget issues while writing for these shows, I also know that in the end, you can take your Melanies and your Dans and your Rafes and you can sacrifice them (maybe not happily, but definitely necessarily and essentially) for the characters your fans care about. The characters that will somehow bring back your audience if you use them correctly.

Instead, they seem to be fading into oblivion. Like the Julia Barrs and Michael Zaslow's before them - carelessly tossed aside without an exit worthy of their strength and power on the screen - they just wither away.

And with them, go the viewers. And with the viewers... goes the genre.

"Damn the man, save the empire", while a silly quote from an absurd movie, held some weight in my eyes when it came to daytime. No more. The empire is heading towards the darkness, no matter what we, as fans, have to say about it. There is no more writing towards the light. There is only making due with whatever we have until somebody eventually has had enough and pulls the plug.

It's a sad day for DOOL fans. But it's a far worse day for fans of the genre.

Welcome to the new empire. The one that's crumbling.

I wish those of us whose hearts break with yours could do more than just write blogs that let you know we feel your pain. But sadly, the empire has turned its back on all of us. It isn't "The Man" who ended up damned... it's those that kept "The Man" employed - the viewers. The fans. The ones who care.

For whatever I contributed to this over the last decade - you have my apologies. I know I tried to do right, even when inevitably, I was part of the problem. And somehow, this is the sad legacy we left you with. One that has no meaning at all. In the end, we may lose our paychecks, and our careers. But you've lost part of your extended family, and are left with a void that makes you wonder why you even bothered to invest your time in a show that had such little respect for the people who kept it alive for so long.

And that emptiness we've all left you with? It's the greatest crime of all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Momentary Reprieve

What a strange, strange week it's been.

I've been a bit out of touch, as I've been doing some odd jobs just to pay the bills - some involving creativity, and some not involving creativity. But it's getting me back out in the world, and introducing me to all sorts of people - which as a writer, I always appreciate. And I'm biting my nails down to the cuticle over this MIT conference next week. In the meantime, I'm catching up on very few soaps, sadly. (Although my obsession with Young and the Restless is growing, story-wise)

But keeping up with the events behind the scenes this week, I'm stunned at the sudden positive vibe spreading over soaps. First up? Grant Aleksander is coming back to Guiding Light. Then we find out that Days got picked up until September, 2010. And finally, we've got gay men AND gay women kissing all over As the World Turns and All My Children. So what exactly is going on here?

Cynics all over the Internet will tell you exactly what's going on - it's the end of an era. Phillip Spaulding is only returning to Guiding Light in an act of desperation to save the show from cancellation. Days was only renewed until the next fall season because NBC has nothing to replace it, but come Fall of 2010, it's as good as gone. And as for the same-sex kisses? Both are haunted by the looming spectres of bisexuality (a writer's backpedaling dream come true when you have controversial subject matter) and whether or not said new love interests have screws loose. (Seriously, what's the dependancy on psychotics throughout daytime? Can we get a moratorium please?!).

But I don't know if I necessarily agree with the doom and glooom. Not entirely, at least..

Sure, there's a big ol' pessimist in me (and the farther he gets away from the soap opera industry, the more he sees the forest through the trees). And I can see why all of these jaded fans are saying these things.

But then I try to look at the other side of the coin - and I think "Hey - at least somebody is giving it a shot" For most of the summer, I felt like there wasn't one soap on the air that wasn't TRYING to get canceled. Seriously. One Life to Live was playing Back to the Future, Young and the Restless was in French most of the time, Days centered on a new young girl and a cliched two-month viallain nobody cared about, General Hospital turned their most promising heroine into a snot-flinging, murdering lunatic, As the World Turns was introducing day player villain after day player villain, All My Children became the Rylee show (and completely insufferable in the process). Overall, it was tough for me to get through any hour of a soap opera this summer.

And that's BIZARRE. Truth be told, soaps are cyclical. I was talking to a friend of mine in the industry the other day, and even he said it was strange right now - at any given time, you can always look at one soap and see it's in a "low cycle" while another one is firing on all cylinders. But for a long time there, it felt like EVERYBODY was making the SAME mistakes. No original stories. Backstage egos dictating characters. Day players becoming the focus on the show. Vets relegated to glorified-extra status. Every show was a mess.

I'm still a little jaded - don't get me wrong. But for a second, whatever the reasons, I feel like these shows are starting to give a damn again. They're not relying on the same old, same old (well... some of them aren't at least. Others are still a little lost...) Could it all backfire? Sure. Phillip's Return on GL may be too little, too late. Reese might end up being no more important to the Pine Valley canvas than Ava was on the DOOL canvas. Brian may end up going psycho like every other recurring character on ATWT does (paging Adam Hughes, Eve Coleman, Colonel Mayer, Rick Decker...) And once again, we'll all be left sitting here, shaking our heads in disappointment.

But at least we're seeing a little inspiration. Something's being jump-started. Will it work? Nobody knows, and only time will tell. But for a few days, I didn't cringe when I went through my daily soap-news.

In this climate, I'll take what I can get.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Llanview Conundrum

They went there.

I didn't think they would, but they did.

They went there, and one of daytime television's shining moments of the last twenty years - a ground-breaking landmark storyline that not only helped thousands of women, but also inspired some young viewers to pursue a career in writing for daytime? It appears to now have a stain that is spreading so fast, there's no wiping it away.

And I am speechless.

The blogosphere has lit up over the last two days with talk of the story beat finally unveiled this week - that an amnesia-stricken Marty had sex with the man who once tied her down and let his fraternity brothers take their turn and have their way with her in a monstrous, evil gang rape.

People come here when they want to hear a former soap writer's take on the writing going on at various shows. But I have no take on this. No explanation. No other perspective.

I know these writers. I worked very closely with them for two years - from 2004 to 2006. I do not speak to them on a regular basis, but I consider them my friends - and I consider many of them to be the best in the business. I do know that at the end of the day, even the ones who hated the storyline have no choice but to turn in their breakdown or script. But I can't even bring myself to ask them one simple question... two basic words... "What happened?!"

How did this get approved? And if it wasn't part of the long-story pitch in the first place, who was the person who even suggested this was a good idea? And what was the response from the women I know are sitting in that writers' meeting - both on the writing team, AND on the network end of things, AND on the production end of things - where were they when this breakdown passed through their hands?!

You can tell me it's building to a pay-off. You can tell me no judgment can be made until the story has played out. But honestly? It's officially over. There's no pay-off great enough to make what happened on One Life to Live "okay".

I really adore this team, and I still watched this show faithfully for two years after I was let go. Because I grew attached to those characters, and I believe in somebody like Ron Carlivati. It gives me hope that this industry hasn't turned its back on the people who genuinely love what they do, and aren't just collecting a paycheck. The writers who grew up with daytime, adore daytime, want to see it succeed, to entertain a whole new generation of viewers.

This is not how you do it.

I try really hard to be objective on here - in spite of the fact I adore some of these names you see on the credits (and not so much, with others). I have personal relationships with them, but I try and write this blog from the standpoint of a long-time fan of daytime first, and a daytime writer second. But I can't be objective here. All I can so is sit here in silent stun, trying to imagine the notes meeting in my head. Trying to imagine the conversation around the table. Trying to wrap my head around who it is that truly doesn't understand the sheer devastation of rape in any form, never mind a sadistic gang-rape. And I can't. I can't be impartial, and I can't give you another perspective, because having worked with the women in that room, I find it difficult to imagine any of them were okay with this decision.

It was a bad call. Whoever it was who wanted to do this, it was a mistake. I look up to Ron greatly - I have since I first started working with him. And I learned so much in that breakdown room. But this - this, I just want somebody to admit was a mistake. I don't care who.

What's written is written... what's taped is taped, and what's aired has aired. There's no going back, so there's no reason to pick it apart now. Against all protestations, the show went there and we can't change that.

Right now, I just want somebody to say publicly "We were wrong."

And to all those people who somehow found strength in Michael Malone's original story... in Linda Gottlieb's wondrous production of a graphically despicable act... in Susan Haskell's portrayal of a very flawed woman who suffered unimaginably the way so many women around the globe have and came back from it stronger than ever... to all of those women (and men), all I can say is that the power of hope and friendship and strength we all took away from that original storyline, and that legacy it's left with so many of us almost two decades later? It still holds up.

I only wish present-day daytime held up as well. . It won't. What happened this week, it will not be revered in twenty years. Not even close.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Waking from One Nightmare, Heading into Another

For a brief moment last night, all was right with the world.

The streets were packed with people, Flatbush Avenue was filled with horns blasting, and people hugging, and (literally) dancing in the streets. Lying in bed, listening to the revelers, re-playing moving words from a speech long overdue... everything seemed perfect. I try not to get too political in these blogs - I know much of the soap-viewing audience are conservatives, and I have nothing but respect for them. I have patience and an open mind for conservatism, but I have little for ignorance, something that ran rampant for so long in the White House these last few years... and for myself and many, I feel like I'm waking from an eight-year nightmare.

Which is why waking up this morning, it was such a crash-and-burn to see this.

So all the major networks have passed on the Daytime Emmys. Soapnet... the channel launched FOR SOAP FANS... wants nothing to do with it. (I really wish they'd just change their name already. I love them over there, but just stop misrepresenting yourselves.)

This is such a wake-up call, for the fans and for the casts and crews of these shows. As far as I'm concerned, this is the pronouncement that the networks just don't care anymore - they don't care to honor the best daytime has to offer, and they're just biding their time until the inevitable.

It makes me wonder - whether you're an Obama-fan or not, you can't deny for a second he isn't a great inspirational speaker, who moves his audience to be better people. How he is as a president remains to be seen, but he makes everybody sit up and face their day stronger... more determined... better. Where is Daytime's Obama? Where is that Executive Producer or Head Writer, or hell, even the Network Executive... who is going to stand tall, and talk to the fans like they're not a bunch of morons, and be honest and upfront and look the people they represent in the eye... the leader who is going to make us turn on the soap we grew up with, and believe again.

Believe we're not investing two hundred and fifty hours a year in something that's just going to be pulled out from under us with little or no integrity... something that will just wither away slowly and painfully, limping into non-existence. Where is that Power That Be that's going to stand up and say "We have everything against us, I know we have little money and little support, but I promise you, as long as I am here, we will work hard to deliver you a quality project... we will forego ego and backstage politics and shame and negativity, and band this cast and crew together to go out with our heads held high, with stories that move you, and choices that inspire you, and a belief that we should not be ashamed to be fans of this genre."

Okay, so maybe I've taken the analogy too far. Maybe I'm still so swept up in the enthusiasm and hope of last night. Maybe I'm just delirious.

If we're going down, we shouldn't go down like this. And if somebody can make me believe in American politics again after the last eight years, then why the hell can't somebody make me feel the same about an industry I've devoted so much of myself to over the last decade... that so many of us both in front of the cameras, behind the cameras, in front of our TV screens have devoted ourselves to over the last century?

We are a small little microcosm in the American Entertainment Industry, but we are important nonetheless. We have Hope for Change now everywhere else... I would love to find a little piece of it in our corner of the world as well.

The Powers That Be have been saying "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie" in daytime for far too long, while viewers are turning out in droves. Indeed, it is time for change.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Battles, on-screen and off

So I think political stories on soaps are usually not very interesting.

Months spent on Kevin Buchanan's run for... Lieutenant Governor? Will Blake be mayor of Springfield? Somebody kills a never-before-seen mayor on Days of Our Lives? Meh. I like my stories to cut under the surface, to study characters' actors and reactions, and to explore them in a world I can relate to. Whether or not Tico Santi used blood money to fund Kevin Buchanan's career is not something I can relate to.

But this has been a stellar year in politics (unless you've been living under a rock, I don't need to elaborate on that), and in the next twenty-four hours there is potential for a lot of hope in this country... and consequently, the world. It's on my television twenty-hours a day, I don't really need to see it on my soaps.

Except As the World Turns is doing something really interesting with politics... and it's definitely caught my eye.

Moving a study of characters into a gubernatorial world usually leads to viewers' eyes glazing over, but Luke Snyder's run for president at his college instantly makes it young, fresh, and interesting. Part of the quagmire of older characters in politics is that nobody wants to write scenes of characters meeting with lobbyists, or fighting small-town politics, or taking part in debates, or disappearing for months on end while "the House is in session". (I loved Grant Harrison, but his move from Congressman to Senator was pretty much the most un-realistic take on politics I've ever seen.)

But with Luke's run in college, we don't need to worry about real scenes of Luke in his personal life being sacrificed for endless scenes of politcal hot bed issues - because it's a COLLEGE, not A STATE. There are no trips to the capital between commercial breaks, no visits by day-character governors to slap you around. He's running as a liberal to represent his student body.

And then ATWT really fanned the flame - they put him against his high school crush, Kevin. NOW I'm really paying attention. Some fans really want it to be revealed that Kevin is secretly gay now, but frankly, to me, that's a cop out. I know this is probably a personal preference, but having numerous straight male friends, I'm always constantly fascinated by the psychological dynamic between gay and straight men. Very few writers have been able to bottle that kind of energy - Armistead Maupin did it beautifully between Michael Tolliver and Brian Hawkins in his Tales of the City series. Christopher Rice started to do it with his book, Density of Souls... until in the third act, he decided to relive some high school fantasy and the "straight" guy became the gay man's lover.

Watching Luke try to keep his integrity in the election while struggling with the self-esteem issues Kevin left deeply embedded within him years ago has been really great to watch. Suddenly, Luke feels like he's in high school again - and who among us hasn't felt that emotion, once or twice or twenty times? Kevin isn't a gay-bashing homophobe, but of course he's struggling as well - with Luke's coming out to him, and subsequent reveal of his feelings for him. There's so much inherent drama there, between these two HUMAN BEINGS, that whether gay or straight, it can be great television.

And this week, Luke gets in touch with his inner Grimaldi, and rigs the election. I love this idea - let's not forget Luke's paternal bloodline, and the psyhoses that run through THAT genepool. I love exploring Luke's dark side, and I love that it's truly driven by something that happened years ago that scarred him for life - THAT WE SAW ON-CAMERA. (When did seeing things happen on-camera suddenly become uncool in daytime?) How this will affect his relationship with Noah, and his friends and family, is yet to be seen. But I'm ecstatic that there's a storyline being developed here that I haven't seen before on daytime - a young male gay character is driven to the dark side because of something we saw occur on-screen years ago, that has both personal and political ramifications for the viewers.

That doesn't mean I don't have concerns. As the World Turns is known for racing through stories at break-neck speed. (How many weddings have Katie Peretti and Jack Snyder had in the last few years?) I prefer my soaps to take their time, to explore all the emotional beats. But ATWT has a tendency to get impatient and move on to the next story. (I still can't believe the Holden/Carly fallout is all but non-existent these days.) So I really hope they take their time and really dig under the surface of Luke's character, reveal new shades of him and explore what this means for the people he loves the most... and in the process, hopefully find something new and intriguing in the characters of Luke, Noah and Kevin.

As we head into November 4th, I have a renewed sense of hope for this country - but also a renewed sense of hope in a storyline that came out of nowhere, and is quickly becoming the only non-Genoa-City-related story the daytime landscape is presenting me these days that's making me think. One part fluff (Allison's kooky kidnapping), two parts social issue (homophobia, whether real or merely projected), two parts real-world (the election), one part romance (Luke and Noah), and it all adds up to quite possibly the most intriguing character study short of Victor Newman's depression?

I vote yay.

I just hope, like certain politicians, I don't feel let down when all is said and done.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today...
Current mood: contemplative

One year ago today, I was in California.

I laid out a Days of Our Lives episode where a hospitalized John sees Sami, believes she's Colleen, and tries to strangle her. I sat on a back porch with my head writer, gave a "Welcome" embrace to my new co-head writer, had productive meetings with both my executive producer and Corday Productions, and headed back on a red-eye to finish my episode before the Monday morning "Pencils Down" strike clock started ticking, saying a silent prayer that cool heads would prevail and the strike wouldn't last any longer than it had to.

I questioned my own union, and consulted with peers over issues I had never considered before. Words like "fi-core" and "scab" became as common as exhaling, and a part of my vernacular I wish I could erase.

I walked in circles in snow and freezing cold, questioning my industry, questioning my employers, questioning my own beliefs.

I watched colleagues with an equally fiery passion for this industry kicked to the curb.

I wondered if a private blog that suddenly went public did more harm than good.

I questioned my own talent, pondered my own future, and studied my behavior.

I rediscovered the joy of writing without boundaries, and then learned I am not defined by my dreams. The dreams of my youth do not encompass me, and there is so much more than my goals that can make me feel alive.

I've reached out to fans, hoping to reconnect with the energy I feel is missing from so many writers' rooms.

I've been told that I've moved from "fresh, new blood" to "the same old, same old".

I've been told I've been missed, and I've also been told I'm "unpitchable".

One year ago today, I was a different person.

I have contemplated so much this last year. Times I have felt found, and times I have felt more lost than ever before. Part of me can't believe it's been a year already, and the other part of me feels like an eternity has passed and I've gone through three lifetimes since November 1, 2007.

I've doubted my future in a genre I have to wonder even wants me anymore. They say you should never be the last one at a party, so maybe this is my time to move on. And in some ways, I have. But in others, I can't say good-bye. Not yet. Because I went back, and read this - my very first blog entry I ever wrote on here:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

11:43 PM - 6 Comments - 6 Kudos - Add Comment - Edit - Remove

DAYS like these I feel like I could change the world...
Current mood: ecstatic quote Asia. (Whatever happened to them?)

So I love my job. Everyone knows that. I get to shape and mold the lives of an entire fictional town. Sure, it can be campy at times. But it can also be inspirational. Scary. Romantic. Heart-warming. Tear-jerking. Triumphant. Defeating. Hysterically funny. The gamut of emotions. And I love that.

Unfortunately, we have three days (sometimes less) to write an episode. And with writing 52 episodes a year myself, they can't all be gold. Sometimes you have to force yourself to really sit down and write something, even if you're not "connecting" with the material. And other times... well, the words flow on the page like you're actually living it yourself.

Such was the case with Days Of Our Lives, Episode 10,566...

Ten weeks ago, I wrote the breakdown for this show. It was a big deal, to put it mildly. The wedding of two characters who've been together on and off for FOURTEEN YEARS. (And they're only 30!) The entire cast was in it, which means making sure everyone "has something to do", so they're not glorified extras. There's a huge twist (of course! It's a soap!) And some serious melodrama. Plus, millions of fans who are all looking for some serious pay-off for a couple they've wanted together for almost two decades.

So I sit down to write this episode, and MAN... it was like I'd waited my whole life to write it. It all just poured out of me... and by the end of it, I felt like Kathleen Turner in the opening scene of "Romancing the Stone". Including the tears and glass of wine. (The only other time I experienced that was when I wrote Bryant's death on As the World Turns in 2001... same head writer, so special thanks to the big guy himself!)

Today, the episode aired. Now as anyone who knows anything about TV knows, a lot can happen in the ten weeks of production. Things might be edited, cut out, misinterpreted. You never know what you're going to get. But today... today surpassed all my expectations. They "GOT IT". Nailed every emotion, hit every beat... watching today's episode not only restored my faith in a genre so many people insist is dying, but it reminded me how much I love what I do.

I am not a blogger... but here I am, in my living room, feeling like I'm ready to burst as the closing credits rolled. So this is me... bursting.

I got to give Sami Brady the wedding of her dreams, and the reception of her nightmares. And I'm on top of the world.


I re-read this for the first time in a year and a half, and I realized: that's the Tom I want back. It's the Tom I want to be again. I don't know where I'll find him, or the road I need to take to get there - but I do know the guy who wrote this blog entry had a lot of faith. And deep down, he still does.

Oh, what a difference a year makes.