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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Daytime's Shift Into the Night - And Where It Could Go

So upon numerous plugs from soap columnists, fans, and colleagues alike, I finally decided to check out General Hospital: Night Shift. I recorded the entire marathon this past weekend on Soapnet, and right now, I'm only a few minutes away from the halfway point.

Its fans are not incorrect. This writing team has done nearly the impossible in six short hours:

1) They've made me care about Jagger Cates again. When I first heard Sabato, Jr was on his way back, I didn't really understand why. Jagger served a great purpose in the nineties, in the story with Karen and Brenda (and later with Stone). But I just didn't understand what role he would play this time around. I couldn't have been more wrong. His relationship with his newly-discovered autistic son, his slow journey to acceptance that isn't mired in plot devices (THIS is how you tell an autism story!), his talks with Robin about both Stones (AND his reaction to Karen's death... on another soap, Port Charles!) all ring true and with authenticity.

2) And speaking of Karen, can we talk about HISTORY?! Because GH:NS sure is. And it's not being whacked over my head either. When the time is right in the scene, a reference is made to a General Hospital long since gone. Whether it's Robin and Robert's long-tortured relationship, or the death of Epiphany's son, it warms my heart. And while I'm talking about heart-warming...

3) WOW, did this show get GH back on track in terms of humor and friendships. The scenes in the stairwells (possibly the most boring set any of us writers ever have to write in, believe me...) are so full of rich characterizations, little tidbits into these characters private lives, quippy one-liners that don't sound like they're ripped from last night's canned-laughter sitcoms. Even if they're not solely focused on the plot, it makes me want to know more about who these people really are, and that rarely happens anymore on soap operas.

4) I haven't seen Tristan Rogers this strong, or this focused on his work, since the Eighties. You can just tell these actors are eating it up with a spoon.

5) NO EXPOSITION! I don't have to sit through scene after scene after scene of two characters talking about who they are to each other, or what happened on the last episode. Could it be? A show that actually TRUSTS its audience to know what's going on? And yes, I know this is primetime, and daytime has five hours a week to fill -- but instead of filling it with explanations of what happened in last week's air shows, why not fill it with those characters moments I talked about earlier that make us fall in LOVE with these characters!

6) It's proving to me you can take cheap soap opera sets, actors who are already overworked on their other show, and STILL produce a quality product. It's all about the writing, folks... if that's there, the actors will dive in head-first, and it doesn't matter how small your budget is.

7) There are day players who make me care about their one-episode subplot within seconds. And they're not cast with models, either. Why do we continue to cast non-actors in these roles on daytime soaps? It's insulting, and pulls us out of the moment. GH:NS, while providing the occasional shirtless man, or scantily-clad woman, never relies on the "buff" to get you to watch. It relies on your heart.

Yes, I know GH:NS has been compared to a poor man's Grey's Anatomy, but let's face facts -- Grey's Anatomy is actually a rich man's Port Charles (or at least PC's original premise). I'm really glad I gave it a chance - it's been revelatory. Ground-breaking, steeped in history, respectful, intelligent, tightly plotted -- I'm really glad I gave it a shot this season. This show definitely has a fan in me.

I have to wonder if maybe we all aren't better off exploring this option. Would you watch a 13-week prime-time Another World reunion on Soapnet? How about a 13-week Ryan's Hope re-imagining? Or 13 weeks of A Martinez and Marcy Walker in one final adventure?! Maybe this is where we, daytime fans, writers, and producers alike, need to go, because this little marathon is pretty inspiring.

My wheels are already turning...

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