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Friday, September 12, 2008

Darkest Before the Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, wait. Yes. I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheerful, isn't it?

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

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

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

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

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

And it won't be pretty.

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

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