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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Blog Entry Fourteen Months in the Making

If you've been spying on a few soap message boards in the last couple of days (or my Facebook/MySpace pages), you might have heard rumors of my return to daytime.

In fact - I am.

I have accepted an offer for a trial deal on The Young and the Restless. Next week, I'm flying out to Los Angeles to reunite with some old friends, and meet some new ones - including my new head writer, who I'm thrilled to meet and work with.

To be honest, I pretty much said goodbye to daytime at the end of 2008. I was working steadily on my own projects, making some headway networking with other career paths, and was generally resolved to start 2009 with a new lease on life. I never thought I'd ever receive a phone call again from a daytime show, and even went as far as to say goodbye to my agent of the last eight years with a heartfelt farewell in early December when I decided it was time to start over with something else. New year, new dreams, new goals, etc.

And then this came out of nowhere.

Readers of my blog will know that I spent a brief nine weeks at Y&R back in 2006. I said in an interview with SON a few years later that it wasn't a very good fit - and back then, it wasn't. I loved getting to know the writers on that show, but overall, it wasn't working and I could feel that at the time. I didn't understand the vision for the show back then, and it was incredibly frustrating and left me really disappointed in myself and my abilities that I just couldn't get on the same page as the people in charge of the show at that time.

But at the end of the day, it was an incredibly respectful parting of ways, I got to know people I've idolized my whole life, and I had a tremendous fifteen months at Days after that, so I don't regret it at all.

Now, I'm heading back, to work with many of the same breakdown and script writers I worked with back in '06, but under new leadership. I'm incredibly excited and unbelievably nervous, but I can tell you that I plan on devoting my ALL to this show. I love what Maria Arena Bell has been doing this last year, and I've been incredibly invested in the show for a long time now. After talking to the different members of the team I worked with, just knowing I have their support as well, on top of Maria and Hogan and Scott's support, means everything to me. I never want to get a job on my friendships alone, so knowing many of them believe in me as a writer is truly amazing. I can't wait to dive right in.

However, it is a trial deal. That means they have the option not to pick me up after the first few episodes. This is standard in the business, and it just means I work all that much harder to knock their socks off.

It's been a long fourteen months, but I've spent much of that time trying to listen to you guys, take in what everybody loves about their soaps, and what they feel is missing. Hopefully, I can put all of that to good use.

Please understand that my job is to take the head writer's vision (not mine), and assist in bringing it to life. And I plan on doing my damndest to live up to Y&R's history, its characters, and Bill Bell's legacy. I won't have any say in the future storylines of the show, but I will do everything in my power to deliver the kinds of scenes in my episodes that Y&R fans love - those deep, soulful, character-driven moments that make Y&R so unique.

So what does this mean for my blog? That's a damn good question.

Obviously, breakdown writing is a full-time job, and I plan on devoting most of myself to knocking this trial out of the park. So I won't be blogging three or four days a week like I've been doing. But this whole "blogging" thing was uncharted territory in daytime not that long ago. And I don't know the rules because there's never really been any rules. We're all in this together, just trying to figure this out as we go along. I've always been very upfront about the blog, and was writing it for most of 2007 when I was writing for Days. I never gave away story spoilers, I never talked about behind-the-scenes goings-on... although occasionally, I'd suggest tuning in on a certain day because I thought it was a particularly strong episode. But I would never reveal anything I shouldn't.

If people are at all interested, I'll probably touch base once a month or so, let you know how things are going - what it's like to get back into the heads of these characters again. How I find the inspiration for the scenes I'm writing. That kind of stuff. I'm really moved by what Shonda Rhimes writes on her blog, or Jon Robin Baitz and Joss Whedon, for that matter. I'm nowhere NEAR the talent they are, but if folks are still interested, I'm happy to continue along that path.

But for now, you'll probably hear from me less. And if at any point, the Bells ask me to discontinue posting how my crazy little brain works, I'll be happy to do so, and I hope my readers will understand and respect that.

Whatever happens next, if it's meant to be? It's meant to be. And if not? So be it.

What a long, strange trip it's been... and now, a whole new adventure is starting. I hope you'll all share the ride with me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Set(s) in Stone

Recently, I've been reading letters in the soap magazines from fans, as well as posts on various message boards, about the constant repetition of certain sets on many of the shows. Many viewers wonder why so many scenes lately take place in the hospital, or in a restaurant. Why don't we see people in other sets?

In defense of the writers on all shows, I hope to de-mystify that a little.

One of the great joys (and great frustrations) of laying out weeks worth of episodes is the constant looming specter of "repeat sets". In many ways, it's like a big puzzle the writing team has to fit together, week after week. When it works, it can make you feel utterly triumphant... and when it doesn't, it can make you feel like you're banging your head against a wall. But this is definitely one of those aspects of a writing job that I am quick to rise to the writers' defense. Because most times, it's out of our hands.

Here's how this works - after taping (and heading long into the night), the crew strikes all the sets from the previous episode not needed, and puts up the sets for tomorrow's taping. Because of the short amount of time they have to accomplish this, most writing teams are required to "hold" a specific number of sets from the previous episode.

In other words, let's say a writer writes his/her breakdown, and there are five sets used in that episode: a hospital, a restaurant, a hotel room, a living room and a kitchen.

The writer writing the following episode is REQUIRED to "repeat" a certain number of sets from the preceding episode. I've worked on shows where you're required to repeat two sets, others (where the budget is tighter) where it's three or four required repeat sets. The more sets you repeat from the previous episode, the happier those financial folks are - it's less work (and less money) they're spending on those over-night crews. (And we like when the money people are happy! Believe me!)

So the next writer has to repeat a certain number of sets. And the beautiful thing about sets like hospitals and restaurants? They're public places - where anybody and everybody can run into each other and share a scene, no matter what storyline they're involved in. So naturally, the writer will try and repeat those sets.

In a perfect world, story would dictate set use, and writers would be able to write any set, on any day, to fit what's happening in the plot. Unfortunately, that's not the case these days (and hasn't been, for quite some time). More often than not, we (as writers) are constantly asked to tweak the stories from day to day to make sure scenes take place in "repeat sets". Ironically, a show like Guiding Light, with its controversial production model, is free from many of these restrictions, with the incredible amount of location-sets and little studio space. (Now you see why there's less money needed for their new production model.)

As a viewer, I understand the head-scratching people have, when sets like bars, restaurants, hospitals and police stations are used day after day after day. I can see that side of it, sure. But in defense of the writers on all of the shows, I can tell you - it's something we all work to keep as natural as possible. Unfortunately, there are times we have no other choice but to play scenes that ideally would take place privately in a set like a hospital corridor, or the docks, or a "main street" set.

All of the teams I've worked on strive to find a middle ground between the storylines, and the financial restrictions these shows are under. I know it can be visually dull to see the same set day after day after day. But during this economic crunch time, I encourage viewers to have patience in this regard. Budgets are being slashed, and repeating the same sets is a relatively easy, painless way to save money without it taking too much of a toll on the show as a whole.

Over the next year, I'm sure we'll see much harsher cuts that will affect these shows we love so much in a more immediate way. If the worst that happens is we see the same public set every day for a couple weeks, then I, as a viewer, will be extremely happy.

Hang in there... the writers are doing all they can. I assure you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goin' Down in the Afternoon

It certainly is a strange week for sex on daytime, isn't it?

Most of the week, soap fans, the soap press, bloggers, mainstream media, and probably a few Conservative Right groups are a-buzz about the Nuke sex over on As the World Turns. Meanwhile, today on One Life to Live? Dorian gave an implied... um... "job" to David Vickers at the end of today's episode.

Okay, so I know what you're going to say. You're going to say "Tom! It's David and Dorian! It's funny! Laugh!"

I love David and Dorian. I can watch Tuc Watkins and Robin Strasser take turns reading computer instructions to each other, and enjoy every minute of it. But never mind the fact that ATWT is fighting to even show a kiss, while ABC is showcasing oral sex. Never mind the whole "Where's love in the afternoon?" argument. Here's what bothered me - Dorian found out David is a Buchanan, and wants to get him back before he finds out, so she can get her hands on the money. So in order to do that? She did... this. In other words, Dorian Lord got on her knees for money.

I may not be the world's leading expert on Dorian Lord, but to me, this negates any dignity and class the character has. Sure, Dorian would do a lot of things to get her hands on that fortune (and she has!), but the implication of getting down on one's knees seems beneath her to me.

When Todd and Marty kissed last summer, I wrote a blog entry about the importance of direction in scenes like this. It disturbed me that Todd was the dominating force in that kiss, going so far as to be standing over Marty when it happened and it would have been less disturbing to watch had Marty been in a dominant position... or at least less reminiscent of the rape.

I had the same issue here. Watching Dorian try and seduce David is one thing, but bearing witness as she got on her knees for him diminished her character so much in my eyes. My issue here had nothing to do with writing - but with the direction of the scene. I understand it was being played for comedy, but Dorian is a far greater icon on this show, who deserved better than to be pushed underneath a Buddhist robe. She is a force to be reckoned with - not a high-class hooker.

There's comedy... and then there's just degrading one of the strongest women on soaps today. There were a hundred better ways to shoot this scene - because my Dorian Lord? She doesn't get on her knees for anybody.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doin' It and Doin' It... and Doin' It Well

When I was a kid, I remember distinctly the first time Jack and Jennifer had sex on DOOL.

I remember the years of build-up, the work done on Jack's character to get him from guilt-wracked marital rapist to insecure lost man-child, and finally to leading man. I remember Jennifer fighting her feelings, trying to convince herself she was better off with Emilio Ramirez, until being kidnapped by Jack on her wedding day, whisked off... only to fall asleep before hearing Jack's confession of love. I remember the time taken to reform Jack, and the time taken to make sure Jennifer was no longer a baby-faced, wide-eyed teen - but a tough, sarcastic, witty, caring young adult. And I remember them still not crossing that line, until after one fateful shipwreck, and that cave...

The headlines on Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Magazine, Soaps Opera Weekly proclaimed it to the heavens: JACK AND JEN FINALLY MAKE LOVE! And on that day, as millions of fans watched, an entire episode was built around Jack - the man who brutally raped his wife years earlier on-camera, and Jen - Days' version of America's Sweetheart, barely out of her teens... finally made love. In a cave. (With Jen's diaphragm somehow surviving the shipwreck, of course)

Why this walk down memory lane?

Because yesterday, the Nuke fans finally got what they've waited years for. Noah and Luke finally lost their virginity! And it was... not mentioned to the press. And it was... after another one of their Oldtown fights over commitment and their relationship - the same fight I've seen a few times this year through various storylines. And I'm not sure Luke or Noah have grown or evolved in any kind of way since they first met a year and a half ago. Noah's been in and out of the proverbial closet as many times as... well, Brian, the step-grandfather who proved to be the latest obstacle of the week in their relationship. (In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find much of a difference at all between the characters of Brian and Noah, other than thirty years.) They've faced shame, psychos, prejudice... and then, uh... more prejudice and another psycho, and another dash of shame thrown on top. Apparently in Oakdale, homosexuals have three great foils: shame, psychos and prejudice.

Noah and Luke, as daytime's first gay male on-screen couple from a core family (the first gay couple, of course, goes back to Hank Eliot and his lover on ATWT under Doug Marland), represent the first time in years a show has been committed to telling a "long-term love story". This is their way of skirting around standards and practices... they're not "testing the waters with the censors", but rather they're "taking their time, like any great soap love story". It's a fantastic spin on words, but unfortunately, ATWT plows through every other story like they're in a race with the other soaps to see who can fit the most storylines in one year, so I don't really understand why anyone thinks they want to take their time with Nuke, and this isn't (in fact) a struggle with the censors. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that they wanted to wait a year and a half before the boys finally sealed the deal. (And before I go on, let me add that I'm not trying to change anyone's minds. This is just my personal opinion about yesterday's show, but the great thing about television is that it means different things to different people. What I love, you might hate. And what I don't love, you might rejoice at. Doesn't mean one is right and one is wrong. So no need to tell me "I'm wrong", but opinion in regards to art is never about who's right and who's wrong.)

I brought up Jack and Jen before because in their year of waiting, work was spent on getting the characters to where they needed to be in order to take that controversial step. Jack HAD to be, even in just the audience's eyes, forgiven for what he did to Kayla. And Jennifer HAD to be viewed as a woman, not everybody's teen daughter, after her popular teen romance with Frankie. So the writers worked really hard to take what was, on paper, such an improbable couple, and make them the couple you cleared your schedule for.

So based on that super-couple theory, Luke and Noah each needed to have their own steps taken. Luke's journey involved - I don't know. Possibly learning not to make everything about gay activism? And Noah's journey involved getting over a domineering father who tried to kill them, and... well, his possible bisexuality, I guess, although even that's a grey area.

And so once these two character finally faced down their... uh... demons, they finally jumped in the sack/shower on yesterday's air show after... well, a fight. The same fight they've been having for weeks, mind you.

I went to the Nuke boards yesterday, just to get a feel for what the Internet fans were thinking. And they were rejoicing to the heavens. And God bless 'em, they have every right to be rejoicing. They've been campaigning for this hard for years now. It's a small step for two B-characters on a soap, but it's giant leap for disenchanted gay television-viewing men all over the world, who finally feel like America and ATWT have joined the ranks of Hollyoaks as a soap that finally represents their struggle, their joys, their passions, their loves. And for that, I applaud their efforts, I raise a glass to the script-writers who worked their magic to try and make this work, and I give a standing ovation to the advertisers for letting it make it to air.

But what do these characters want? Jack Devereaux wanted to overcome his demons and feel worthy. Jennifer Horton wanted people to see her as somebody other than "Squirt". Whereas in Oakdale, Luke wanted... love? (Who doesn't?) And Noah wanted... I'm still not exactly sure what Noah wanted. He still feels like a plot point to me, after all this time. Losing their virginity was born out of an argument, but it was an argument I've seen so many times over the last year (always in the same set), that when I started to watch the episode last night I half-wondered if I was watching an old repeat on my DVR by accident.

And now what? We send Lau's Brian off into the sunset in a week or two, and hang on until the next external plot point shows up to drive a wedge between them. (Paging Paolo Seganti...)

Lest my vinegary subtext turn everyone against me, I assure you I couldn't be happier that the event finally happened. But after P&G's insistence that this was their "old-fashioned soap love story", I can't help but compare it to other old-fashioned soap love stories where the men battled personal issues to finally consummate their relationship after much hand-wringing. The Nuke fans held their own and campaigned for this in all the mainstream publications. The show gave them what they wanted, slyly and with zero fanfare, hoping not to anger off the conservatives aligned with their show. Anyone who reads my blog knows I campaigned for Nuke just as hard - I published the phone numbers, and gave to the charity, and hoped against hope to see something ground-breaking and beautiful and wonderful and phenomenal happen when Luke and Noah finally consummated their love for each other. Because I've always been in their corner.

But for this viewer, there is no sitting back on his couch, feeling like I've just been on a wildly romantic journey, like those many years ago in a watery cave.

Instead, it just feels like a hollow victory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

SOD Goes Back In Time!

Hey all!

SOD took a page out of the book We Love Soaps started writing (and I piggy-backed onto with my Marland Long Story Analysis), by pledging to start re-posting old interviews with soap opera legends from their archives!

They're starting by re-printing Douglas Marland's How Not To Wreck A Show Rules... which is a little disappointing to me, only because it's available on pretty much any soap message board these days. But I can forgive them, because there's so much at their disposal, I just know they'll deliver some goodies long-thought forgotten.

So please - if you'd like SOD to continue posting interviews with soap opera legends who are long since gone or retired, PLEASE visit this site and drop a line to and ask them to continue this feature.

At a time when we're all praying for a return to greatness in daytime writing, it's wonderful to even have a few moments with some of daytime's greats, and I (for one) would love to see further interviews with Labine, LeMay, Curlee, Nixon, Marland, Washam, the Cullitons, Bill Bell and so many others.

I encourage everybody - if you want to see SOD continue this feature, please let them know!


Thank You, Daytime Confidential!

Well, I'll be damned...

The good folks over at Daytime Confidential have listed me on their list of Top 10 Writer/Producers of 2008. Not too shabby for someone who actually didn't write for a soap in 2008, huh? (Well, except for those first three weeks of January, when my pre-strike stuffed aired.) I'm in damn good company too, with the likes of Sara, Karen Harris (whom I adore, as most of you know), Susan Dansby (a long-time friend from ATWT) and Chris Van Etten (a guy who still impresses me with the way he's establishing his career early on).

We all expected to see names like Ron Carlivati and Maria Arena Bell and Sri Rao on there. So to be included with the best-of-the-best (whether the Nielsen homes realize it or not) is pretty freakin' cool for me.

Also, their Number One surprised the hell out of me - but their explanation sure made a lot of sense.

Thanks guys and girls! And Bravo on an excellent list!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Great Marland's Ghost! - Part Four (Final Thoughts)

The last five pages of Marland's proposed long story document are probably the most interesting to me, for numerous reasons. He's already covered most of the canvas - the Hughes Family in Part One, the Walsh and Snyder Families in Part Two, and the Ryan Family in Part Three. But as others have pointed out, there were a few people left on the canvas Marland has yet to cover, and in these last few pages, he not only discusses them, but after a long re-read of his own story, he ends up giving himself notes on what he's written.

First up, he covers Steve and Betsy Andropolous. He immediately points out that at the time of his writing, Steve and Betsy have been off the canvas for six weeks. Due to their absence, he says he has "very few story ideas for them at the time of submitting this document". What I found most fascinating, though, was his follow-up to this admission of writers' block.

However, it is important for us to have at least one happily married couple on the scene as the previously outlined stories unfold so I feel Steve and Betsy who have been front burner for so long are the perfect candidates for this necessary contribution.

This is not to say for a minute that they would have little or nothing to do through the six month time frame. On the contrary, Betsy would of course play a prominent role in the Kim/Bob/Lisa story and one of equal importance in the Sierra/John/Craig triangle. The presence of a happily married, well adjusted young woman will provide a vital story balance as well as a personal sounding board and confidante for the emotionally rattled Kim and the confused Sierra.

Steve has his business to run and with Tucker gone now, it will make it all the more demanding for the ambitious Steve who wants to give Betsy everything he feels she deserves. This will cause some minor frictions even in this happy, stable duo and by the time our other stories have run their course, Steve and Betsy will be ready (and perfectly positioned) to move front and center in a dramatic story of conflict all their own.

First of all, as many will point out, Steve and Betsy did indeed leave the show soon after. So however this course of events transpired, Marland's plan for them didn't come to pass exactly as he worded it here. Whether this was due to the network, the actors, or Marland himself changing his mind... we have no way of knowing. But for the sake of argument, let's say this was truly the plan all along. EDIT: As a commenter just posted, Steve and Betsy didn't leave until 1987, so they survived two years after Marland was hired. My apologies - I thought it was sooner, and I should have looked it up to verify whether or not they were let go "soon after". Sorry! :-)

I love that Marland makes a point of saying not only that you need a happily married couple on the canvas - but that's nothing new. What every soap fan who's read an interview knows is that when a head writer says "They're our happy couple", it usually means you don't see them for a few months. Or when you do, it's in their job capacity and not involved in anything personal. (For years, Tom was just the Go-To-Lawyer and Margo was the Go-To-Cop on ATWT.)

But Marland breaks the mold by pointing out how being close to a happily married couple can affect romantically confused or emotionally lost friends and family. Think about it in your own life - when your personal life is a mess, how does it affect you when you're around people who are seemingly in "perfect relationships". How does it affect your friendship with them, and conversely, how are you affected when your friends are lost, and everything is on the up-and-up with you and your significant other? It has a profound effect, and it's one I haven't seen on a soap in many years. It can make strong bonds, but it can also drive large wedges in friendships, in sisters, in families. It can make a character put a happily married couple on a pedestal as a shining example, or it can jump-start intense feelings of jealousy.

I'm thrilled to hear Marland understood the importance of the Happily Married Couple, both for the viewers and for the other characters on the canvas, and for that, I admire him more.

He then discusses arrivals and departures on an already-crowded canvas. Interestingly enough, Marland planned to write out both Paul (sent off to live with Greta, as detailed in the Barbara long story in Part Three) and Andy (sent off to military school by John as a way to drive a wedge between Andy and Kim at the beginning of the Doug Cummings story). I'm stunned by this, as one of the great legacies Marland gave us in Oakdale was the amazing way he incorporated ATWT's teen characters in two beloved stories - Andy's alcoholism and Paul's unrequited love for Emily and struggle against James for her. I don't know what changed, but it's obvious from reading this that Marland loved both Andy and Paul as characters - he felt writing them out "for now" was more about an already crowded canvas, and both would be important down the road. He also talks about writing out Maggie, Frank, Cal, Jay and Heather (all of whom were indeed written out, with the exception of Cal... and none of whom seem to be missed, even to this day.) EDIT: As another commenter pointed out, I mistakenly assumed he was referring to Cal Strycklyn. My apologies - this is another Cal. So, in fact, all of these characters soon left the show. He makes a point of saying he's only adding Cummings and Holden to the cast for now, so the cast will be leaner. He writes:

I feel this will only add story clarity and allow the writers to hone their storylines to a much sharper (therefore easier to follow) edge, plus force the invention of new ways to make storylines cross over into each other which I feel is missing on current air shows and extremely essential.

Boy, is it ever. Marland is most well-known for the way he stealthily wove stories in and out of each other, crossing characters from one storyline to the next seamlessly. It's something that's missing from most soaps these days, I believe - with the exception of Young and the Restless and One Life to Live (both of which are making an effort to have a sense of community, and not isolate characters in their own storylines). ATWT claimed they don't cross characters into other stories for "budgetary reasons" in an interview in 2008, which is a shame. It's this that makes the art of soap writing so unique.

Those who are interested in directing will especially love Marland's next segment:

In re-reading this document prior to submission, I was struck by how many times I have referred to a character's reaction to another character's stance, a suggested line of dialogue, or even to a certain situation. I believe I've done this because after viewing ATWT for several weeks, I've often felt cheated by not seeing reactions at the end of a scene, prior to a pre-commercial break, or even within a scene itself when I feel a reaction shot is not only called for but essential to the continuing action and audience interest within that episode or a future one. If I feel cheated by this technique, then I have to believe a portion of the audience shares this feeling. I'm certainly not suggesting old fashioned "egg on the face" reaction shots that are held to the point of embarrassment for both the actor involved and the audience, but merely a simple cut to get the reaction before going to commercial or cutting to another scene. We have to remember that reaction is part of the internal action of any dramatic moment. On the stage, the audience is free to simply look to an actor for his reaction, but in television and film, they have to be given this opportunity by the camera and the director. I defy anyone to point out a good film in which the director hasn't either cut to a character's reaction or included it in a master shot to let the audience share the full impact of any major dramatic moment. I urge those in charge of ATWT to give its audience the same privilege.

There's a lot I adore about this paragraph, and love Marland all the more for pointing out the importance of reaction shots. But what moves me most is that last sentence: Marland calls seeing other characters' reactions a "privilege". If nothing else, his use of the word shows a profound respect for his viewing audience.

He then returns to the Doug Cummings story, giving himself more notes upon re-reading what he's written. I won't bother going into details (they're not that important), but he feels he hasn't clarified his purpose for Lisa in the story, and goes into a few sentences explaining how he wants to highlight the "Lisa of old" with where he sees the character heading in the future. He concludes this segment by writing:

My original instinct was to move Lisa further in this direction within the framework of the Bob/Kim situation, but as I tried to accomplish this in seemingly logical steps, it seemed to be over-manipulating the character (as we know and accept her now) for the sake of story, which is a writing technique I'm morally opposed to.

My head is spinning! I love that Marland not only references the problem with plot driving character motivations when it doesn't make sense, but then calls himself out on it. I've tried to express that sometimes we, as writers, get so caught up in the storyline, we forget we have to get the audience there without shoe-horning it in. The laziest writers are guilty of this, but the most meticulous and strongest writers also fall victim to this. Marland takes the time to actually accept responsibility for doing this in his first long story, and adds an addendum to correct it. Outstanding!

And that's not all he corrects. Check this out, regarding the John/Lucinda story:

In regards to this same storyline, I realized as I reread it that I've used an argument with Craig as the story device that propels Sierra into deciding to marry John; the identical device I used for Frannie who after arguing with Kevin, accepts Daniel's sudden proposal to elope. I would therefore suggest that for Sierra, we allow her to uncover for herself some underhanded scheme of Lucinda's to outwit and discredit John so that in this story, it's Lucinda herself (as opposed to Sierra's interest in John) who's unwittingly responsible for Sierra almost marrying her arch enemy.

So he's realized he's repeating a small, minor beat in two different stories, and corrects it, so the audience doesn't experience the same set of scenes with different characters in the same time period. Many a writer has gotten a dirty look in a writers' meeting by saying out loud "Wait - didn't we just do this with [insert character name here] and [insert character name here]?" Admitting that while laying out will pretty much put you on a short list for the unemployment line, so I absolutely love that a head writer can see that before the story even makes it to the breakdown level, and works to correct it.

Marland finishes up his document by urging The Powers That Be to:

...consider carefully the dramatic (but justified) turn around I've suggested for Barbara. In my modest, humble opinion (even after re-reading) I think it would work brilliantly and offer your audience a surprise equal to that of turning Rachel from villainess to heroine on "Another World". While Barbara going from goody-goody to evil is the reverse of this example, I believe it's the kind of shocking, surprising turn-around the show's audience deserves and sorely needs.

Once again, just like earlier when Marland referred to reaction shots as a "privilege", he talks here about what the show's audience "deserves". It's one thing to use words like this when giving an interview with Soap Opera Digest. It's quite another when you're using words like this in a document that only the network executives read. There's a genuine sincerity, a love for the fans viewing the show, that shines through. The man is humble, yet strongly opinionated... without a hint of arrogance. And with every word, expresses his love for the people who tune in five hours a week to watch his program. He's not just paying lip service - he truly means it.

I have enjoyed posting these entries more than I can possibly express in a blog entry. And I truly hope the kind folks at P&G and who represent the Marland estate take no disrespect (or intended copyright infringement) from these entries. I consider daytime to have four true legends in its top tier: Bill Bell, Agnes Nixon, Irna Phillips and Douglas Marland. And Marland is the only one of the four who is most well-known for penning a show he inherited, as opposed to created. Quite an impressive accomplishment, and one I admire him greatly for. He is truly one of the greats, and my intention in writing these blog entries was to share the wonderful man I feel I got to "know" through this document with the fans who, for so many years, still discuss him and his work with great reverence.

He is forever missed, by those who worked with him and those who watched his art unfold on screen. And I'm thrilled to be able to share this with you guys, sixteen years after his untimely death. I hope you guys enjoyed getting inside the mind of this brilliant writer as much as I did.

xo --tom

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Great Marland's Ghost! - Part Three (Barbara to the Dark Side)

So this is my third entry, detailing my thoughts on Doug Marland's 1985 proposed long story for As the World Turns. This is an interesting story, as it involves a major shift in the character of Barbara Ryan, and much of the document is spent on detailing the path to get her personality to morph into an entirely different one, but one much more beneficial to the canvas.

It opens with Barbara breaking up with Brian, because her young son Paul just refuses to accept him in her life. What strikes me immediately about this story is in the intense atmosphere immediately set up between mother and son. This is not a kid whose purpose on the show is to "supply the cute". On Page 113...

One night Barbara goes to Paul's bedroom to say good night and hears the end of a phone conversation in which Paul is saying "everything's okay now, so no need to worry." Barbara questions him until Paul finally admits in an outburst of temper (really reminiscent of his father) that he's glad it's over with Brian, and that he did everythign in his power to put an end to her affair with him! He flatly refuses to tell her who he was talking to on the phone and works Barbara up to the point of slapping him.

The next day she talks to Bob, admitting she doesn't know what to do with Paul and Bob suggests a child psychiatrist. He also advises her that children can be very tyrannical when things don't go their way and warns her against letting Paul rule her life.

Not exactly full of the warm and fuzzies, right? It strikes me as a very real breaking down of the mother/son relationship, but I wonder if today's audience, so used to sensationalism, wouldn't immediately assume Marland is getting ready to tell a "Bad Seed" storyline like Guiding Light just did with Will. It couldn't be further from that - this is a story about a young boy with a lot of Stenbeck in him, and a mother who both loathes that... and respects it. Paul begins seeing the child psychiatrist, and obediently listens to his mother. But the child has plans of his own.

Paul continues to be the little robot and sees his doctor at scheduled appointments but keeps trying to convince him that the real problem is his mother's and not Paul's. When the doctor probes Paul's reasons for saying this, Paul says in a calculated manner that "she's always needed a new man in her life more than she's needed a son."

Meanwhile, Paul's late night secret calls continue, while Brian begins flirting with Shannon, and Barbara tries to regain control of her life as a single mother. But it all comes crashing down around her when Great Aldrin (James' mother) shows up at her door, and says she's taking Paul to live with her in Europe. Marland goes into a three-page confrontation between Barbara and Greta about Paul being the one who will continue the family bloodline, about James' unhappy end and Barbara's dalliances with other men... and...
"from this point on, let's use tears for Barbara very sparingly and begin to see the grit and determination growing within her as she vows (quite like Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind") "Never to be a victim again!").

Barbara, determined not to lose her son (her lifeline, at this point), goes to Tom for help. Tom agrees to represent her in her custody battle with Greta.

The next ten pages of the story once again delve into Marland's talk to subtext, of emotions, what characters are going to experience and feel and react to, as opposed to what they do. The little strains in Tom and Margo's marriage over her involvement in her work (which dovetails nicely into the Doug Cummings case from the first long story, and the Craig/Dusty hit-and-run in the second long story), the ways Greta slowly and insidiously gets ammunition against Barbara to use against her in court, Barbara's increasing doubt and insecurity, and the way it causes her to act out, especially when around her ex, Brian... or even her new lawyer, Tom. Paul is more determined than ever to go live with his grandmother in Europe, and helps the old woman get more ammo to use against Babs. Finally, they back Barbara into a corner, and Barbara is forced to agree to give up her son to his grandmother.

The scenes between Barbara and her young son should truly tear at the heart strings, as she tells him how much she loves him, how much she needs him in her life and tries in every way imaginable to evoke some similar response in Paul, who perhaps almost falters and gives in for a second, then stands firm and dispassionate as he insists he wants to live with Greta and is prepared to tell any judge this. From Barbara's expression, we can tell she's lost and given up but as she holds him close and assures him this decision of his will in no way change her love for him, we should see a tear or two in Paul's eyes which he brushes away before Barbara can see them.

Powerful stuff. But what happens next completely deconstructs the character of Barbara, which is of special interest to me personally, as I was at ATWT when we deconstructed Barbara after the boathouse fire.

Barbara, in typical Barbara fashion, runs to Brian's for comfort and support (and a little nookie), but is stunned to find him with Shannon. (Of course - this is a soap, after all). Barbara is now at the end of her rope, and begins a slow shift in her personality - beginning with leaning on former flame Tom, while hiring a detective to dig up dirt on Shannon. Marland writes:

I frankly believe that this "new Barbara" will be accepted by our audience (of course some of them will at first resist the change from "Mary Poppins" to the "Dragon Lady") because they've seen her suffer as a victim for years and will understand the emotional trauma she's been through as a result of losing both her son and what she had with Brian at the same time (due to interrelated causes which she tried her honest best to deal with fairly). She's a woman who has been manipulated by men and women alike to the point where anyone with any spine would revolt and vow never to be manipulated or victimized again. I believe she could be a "bitch" to equal Joan Collin's "Alexis" if given both the proper material and the justification which our audience would share in.

He goes on to say:

She'd always be on the prowl looking for the man who could, never for an instant believing she could be in any way at fault herself. Because as the down trodden victim she's played for so long, she's been trusted with many "secrets" by our principal characters such as Lisa, Kim and Tom, to name just a few. Armed with these secrets and her new determination, she could easily become a formidable adversary to all of them.

What follows is thirty pages of detailed descriptions of who these characters involve themselves with, but always what their subtext is in terms of the people they want to be with: Barbara's slow seduction of Tom, while always missing Paul, wanting to destroy Shannon, and still thinking about Brian. Meanwhile, Shannon hides her past, Margo struggles with Barbara's duplicity and whether or not she's making a play for Margo's husband, Brian worries about Barbara but makes a go of it with Shannon, and Tom's struggling with his growing feelings for former love Barbara while his wife drowns in case after case at the police station.

I found this interesting in regards to Brian and Shannon:

I feel it's important for needed story contrast to keep their's a light-hearted, semi-serious, offbeat romance (in spite of Shannon's fear that someone from her past will find she's in Oakdale) so we must concentrate in outlines and scripts to keep Shannon as "Holly Golightly" as possible, and see Brian in a new light as a successful, sophisticated leading man who eagerly responds to Shannon's zaniness. Shannon's concern re: her past should come in flashes and disappear as quickly as it appears. She overrides her concern with a conscious effort but this should never be allowed to get heavy handed since we must believe above all else that our Shannon is an optimist in her approach to life in general. So let's consciously go for a Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn combo in this story that will provide the needed contrast to our more serious and dramatic stories.

I love how Marland always looks at his canvas as a whole. He's already detailed a descent into madness with the Doug Cummings long story, he's covered revenge and lust in the John/Lucinda and Holden/Lily long stories, he's got a the dissolution of a mother/son relationship in Barbara and Paul, and now he's making a conscious decision to focus on the light-heartedness of a couple. (He does this later with Steve and Betsy as well, which I'll get into tomorrow.)

By page 147, Shannon is now an advice columnist, and enjoys a "slightly irreverent madcap romance" with Brian, while Barbara has morphed into a villainess, as she put the final nail in the coffin of Tom and Margo's marriage. And it's just when Brian and Shannon have found happiness, and Tom is now "very much involved with the scheming and tenacious Barbara" that the truth about Shannon's past comes out, and Margo discovers she's pregnant with Tom's baby...

He then sums up where he'd like to see the story go, and unlike the past two stories, in this case he details what he would like to see happen during certain times of the year, specifically Christmas and the following February. (He's a long-term planner, our Douglas.) What impresses me the most is that each of these stories involves some kind of triangle or quad: Bob/Kim/Lisa, Holden/Lily/Dusty, John/Sierra/Craig/Lucinda, Brian/Barbara/Shannon/Tom -- and yet each one feels distinctly different in its tone. I read so many comments on message boards about how tired fans are of quads and triangles, but what these long stories immediately prove to me (and this is just my own personal opinion - feel free to disagree) is that a show can absolutely run on triangles and quads, so long as there is a different tone associated with each. Sierra torn between the manipulative John and the damned-by-his-own-hand Craig is completely different to me than Barbara seducing Tom out of a need to stop playing the victim, while still unable to get Brian's moving on with Shannon out of her head. John discovering he has feelings for Sierra in the midst of his revenge plot is nothing like Brian and Shannon's Grant/Hepburn romance. There are triangles of sincerity, triangles of revenge, triangles of desperation.

It doesn't feel as if he's resorting to cheap soap tactics for lack of creativity, but instead he uses basic soap staples (the mysterious past, the young girl torn between stability and her wild side, the desperate mother who loses her son) and then adds on a layer of history and subtext so that they never feel like they're "been there, done that, bought the T-shirt". They seem individual to the characters themselves, even if it's a storyline that's been used on other shows. He tries to bring something new and Oakdale-specific to each soap device, and constantly refers to ideas other daytime shows are not presenting. He's always well aware of the tones of his other story, and works to keep a constant balance without it seeming as if these stories are happening on different soaps entirely.

Tomorrow - Marland's final five pages, where he talks about the canvas, the characters not needed (and why), his thoughts on Steve and Betsy, and overall concerns about the show going into 1985/1986.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Great Marland's Ghost! - Part Two (The Clem Years)

So now we're on to the Walsh girls, and Marland's original plan for them. This is the second of three long stories in the document. It starts on Page 57, and picks up dead in the middle of World War Three: Lucinda Walsh vs. John Dixon. Lucinda's won over his hospital board seat, and John vows to destroy her.

From the get-go, there's a whole Armageddon feel to this show-down. Lucinda has taken what she wants, and John is a man who is about to embark on an incredible emotional journey, to ransack everything close to Lucinda's heart.

What's striking to me from the very beginning about this long story is how little happens, event wise. The story ends on Page 112. That's 45 pages - and it's all pretty much spent in emotion, both introverted and extroverted. Who manipulates who over dinner, who then turns around and stabs someone in the back the next morning... this cat-and-mouse that starts close to home, and eventually infests (and poisons) every relationship around John and Lucinda. But there's no party, no wedding, no funeral, no plane crash, no "event", no natural disaster. It's a very personal story about lies and secrets and grudges.

I honestly don't know how it would ever get approved today.

John realizes to get to Lucinda, he must break Sierra, and begins harassing her at the hospital... until he learns there's a rumor she's Lucinda's biological daughter. Now he's interested, and he starts building a friendship with Sierra. Lyla plays the role of John's conscience (considering her son, Craig, is involved with Sierra), but John only cares about ruining Lucinda and shoves Lyla aside.

Lucinda, meanwhile, wants Craig and Sierra destroyed.

And what follows, is thirty pages of Lucinda very subtly trying to destroy Craig and Sierra, unaware John is lying to get closer to Sierra (to destroy Lucinda). So in gloating how she's accomplishing her own needs, Lucinda is inadvertently sending Sierra into John's arms... along with the secret that Sierra is her biological daughter, which will destroy the Walsh family. And as everyone knows, it completely obliterates the Walsh girls - and it's all over retribution for a hospital board seat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. At this point, Lucinda thinks she's the only one playing cards, and thinks she's totally in the driver's seat, unaware what John is doing with Sierra.

I've been avoiding literally typing out sections, because I don't know at what point P&G will step in. But just read a paragraph like this, and you'll see what I mean:

While she's enjoying the fruits of her manipulative labors, however, Lucinda is still unaware of another problem that's festering under her own roof. The closer she's drawn to Sierra and the happier she is as a result of this, the more her younger daughter, Lily, feels displaced in her mother's affections, and the more jealous Lily becomes toward Sierra, the harder she works at hiding these feelings. There are times when Lucinda senses this new resolve in Lily and questions her about it, but Lily becomes more adept at imitating her mother's natural talent for duplicity and deftly lies her way out of it, insisting that nothing is wrong at all.

Just beautiful. That's not even a real scene Marland's laid out - it's subtext for about a week's worth of episodes!

The entire long story is written in this kind of prose. It isn't building to an event like the Doug Cummings reveal (a fantastic story, but definitely a more plot-driven story than this one - and not in a bad way). The entire chapter of the document is written in these wonderful run-on sentences of emotion and jealousy and doubt and love and insecurity and deception. It's the growth and decline of feelings, as opposed to actions people take.

Don't get me wrong, there are moments of plot in here. Dusty's in a hit-and-run (long-time fans will remember where this is heading), John and Lucinda are individually playing mind games with Craig and Sierra, Shannon and Lyla are floating around, each contributing their own smaller chapters to the Dixon v. Walsh saga.

And Lily's behavior starts getting more and more wild. And into this, in the middle of Page 80, enters Clem Holden.

He is "quiet" and "sullen in manner" (is he now? :-)), and...

...we can tell from his attitude that Lily holds some sort of fascination for him, but from his expressions and his terse, brief verbal exchanges, which Lily teases him about constantly), we should wonder what this fascination is based on and when (if ever) he'll share it with Lily and our audience. Think of Clem as the very young James Dean - quiet, uncomfortable with language, but always with a burning need of some kind reflected in his eyes and sullen good looks."

I love Jon Hensley, the family man, that I worked with at ATWT, and I adore his wife, Kelley. But come on - tell me you don't read that Holden description and not immediately think "Smoldering". That burning between Jon and Martha all those years ago is palpable, even in these words on a page, long before Jon was even cast.

But this next part blew me away. The first half is more of that subtext crafting he did earlier, and the second part... the parenthetical... completely changed my view of Marland's Lily. Check this out...

Lily treats Clem like her personal servant and he never voices a complaint, but Dusty gently reproaches her for it, saying he hates to see anyone act so superior to someone who happens to be working for them. Lily shrugs this off, feeling that Clem is too insensitive to be bothered by her attitude; in fact she gets the feeling he enjoys the implied put-down in her attitude toward him. He's like one of the horses he cares for so; the more tightly you rein them, the more they know who's boss. We see Clem's silent reaction to overhearing Lily's haughty, superior assessment of him and know she's very wrong. (NOTE: I feel we have the possibility to develop a fascinating, incipient young bitch in the character of Lily and one who can supply us with plenty of dramatic fireworks in the years ahead when the characters in her age group move front and center in story focus. Believing she's Lucinda's natural daughter and therefore the "Princess" in line to inherit Lucinda's "throne" and all that goes with it, positions her perfectly to be groomed for the snobbish, arrogant, conniving "Bitch Goddess" every daytime series needs to keep their story kettle boiling. I would therefore suggest taking this direction with Lily now and carefully lay in the foundations for the years ahead.)

There's so much to start with here. First of all, the entire psycho-sexual construct of Lily and Holden's initial "romance" was completely Lily's sexual awakening tied to feelings of power, and I absolutely remember Martha, in her youth, playing that with Jon, the obedient-but-slightly-ironically-so farmhand. Then, you have Marland's plan for the character of Lily - a moment that initially made me gasp when I first read it, but the more I thought about it, the more so much made sense. In fact, look at Lily's reactions all throughout her early years, the Dusty/Holden/Derek years. There's a self-entitled agenda there... a demanding of un-earned respect from everybody. Then look at Heather Rattray as Lily, and the harder edge the character took, even in the writing. In fact, Lily didn't revert to the helpless damsel in distress until much later, in the late Nineties. And lastly, the fact that Marland referred to her, Dusty and Holden, as being front and center, and the focus of story YEARS from now? I suggest you turn on a soap opera... any soap opera... during the summer months. You'll see who the focus is on. Many soaps aren't waiting years anymore.

Later, as the story progresses, we build to Holden and Lily's first love-making during a snowstorm. And it's a doozy, my friends. It nearly stopped my heart when reading it.

Clem in his typical non-verbal style doesn't move but as his fingers linger on her naked shoulder, Lily seizes a riding crop (all due apologies to both Lady Chatterly and her lover) and lashes out at him, still screaming out her orders to the young man she considers her "personal slave". Even the sharp sting from the riding crop across his face doesn't bring a distinguishable reactions from Clem, but he forces it from Lily's grip then pulls her to him and into an embrace so passionate, that even the furious, confused Lily is forced to respond as it continues. He seduces her with a combination of love, passion and near brutality that leaves Lily breathless, excited and more than content to lie in his strong young arms when their mutual passions are spent. At this moment in time, the roles of master and slave are irrevocably reversed.

Holy cow. Talk about love in the afternoon.

The story goes on, Lily torn between Dusty and Holden, Sierra torn between an arrested Craig (who hit Dusty) and John, John torn between his revenge plot against Lucinda and his growing true feelings for Sierra, Lucinda torn between two daughters, all the while the secret of Sierra's maternity looming over them.

At one point, Marland takes a break to talk about Clem and his purpose.

My intention with Clem's introduction (along with using his presence to great advantage in Lily's story) was to introduce a struggling, lower income family of Holdens as a much needed contrast to the upper middle class family units that now dominate the tapestry of ATWT. Since we must assume that the more rural areas that surround Oakdale would certainly include farms and their farmers (and since to my knowledge there's no such family existing on other daytime dramas), I feel the contribution such a family might make to the overall canvas of our series, would be invaluable. In my final notes you will see the list of existing characters I would suggest writing out and my reasons for their exodus. This would afford us the opportunity (and budget) to bring in the Holdens and the added richness to existing storylines I see them contributing strongly to. I don't suggest we suddenly flood the screen with several new characters, but rather introduce them as needed, always keeping other family members and close friends alive off screen as possible antagonists or protagonists for future story complications. In looking carefully at the Hughes family unit, Lisa, Brian, Barbara, certainly Lucinda and her brood, there seems to be no representation of the "have nots" in our society who want the comfort and financial ease that is represented by our more affluent, successful characters. Clem of course is one of those "have nots" who can make a dramatic and sexy contribution to the Lily/Dusty storyline, but I feel the gradual introduction of other members of the Holden clan are necessary in time to allow us to understand Clem better by learning more of his background. I urge your consideration of this point, believing it would add realism to the series and broaden its audience appeal.)

Again, there's so much here, I don't know where to start. In one paragraph, Marland talks about his thoughts on new characters, the pace they should be introduced at, warns of them hogging up air time, the importance of realism and lower-income families struggling to appeal to the audience, and looking for a new audience with the type of family not seen on daytime before. There's his "how not to wreck a show" rules, pretty much summed up in one paragraph.

In the end, the secret about Sierra being Lucinda's daughter explodes at John and Sierra's wedding (okay, there's another event... there are a couple, I admit it).

Marland sums up by talking about Clem torn between his feelings for Lily, and the way he leads her on to show the power he has over her, even though he's in the position of no power, financially. (He was a bit of a scoundrel back then, wasn't he, that Clem?) Marland ponders the idea of Lily getting pregnant "a year from now".

He concludes, and I do as well, with these words... and his final words made me literally giggle.

We still have the bombshell that Lily is not Lucinda's natural child left to explode, and what better time than after Clem has done the "right thing" by marrying Lily and now has his foot planted firmly in the door to the family mansion, to let Lily (and Clem in time) learn that she's not Lucinda's child at all and that indeed Sierra is the only real flesh and blood daughter and heir to the fortune.

By this time we'd know some of the other Holdens and it would be nice if it were Clem's mother who had known Lily's real mother (who should of course reappear on the scene)

Imagine. Clem's mother knowing Lily's biological mother.

Oh, the places Oakdale viewers were about to go...

Last up - Barbara, Brian, Paul, Shannon, Tom, Margo, Lisa, Bob and Greta Aldrin. And some final thoughts...

Great Marland's Ghost! - Part One

As I mentioned a few posts ago, recently in my cleaning, I've discovered a treasure trove of long stories I've accumulated from different shows over the years. Some of them are long stories that made it to air... some of them didn't. Some of them were written by the head writers who were working for the show at the time, and others were "auditions" by people who hoped to one day hold the title.

But there is one I value more than any of the rest, and that's Douglas Marland's proposed long story from 1985.

I discovered it when I was cleaning out the filing cabinets from the CBS Studios on 57th Street before World Turns moved to Midwood, Brooklyn in 2000. My inner fan in a state of shock, literally salivating over the gold mine I had just discovered, I quickly made a photocopy of it and packed it away with the rest of the documents.

I plowed through all one hundred and fifty seven pages that night, and then sealed it up in an envelope and put it away on my bookshelf, my mind spinning with everything I had read. And there it sat, until last week... when I rediscovered it.

"I'm sure I don't have to point out that it's a bit tricky attempting to spin out the threads of future story when as an outside writer, I can't be certain where the existing stories or characters now on view will be by the time I've completed this document. However, from what I've seen in the past several weeks of viewing and from certain information furnished to me by the network, I believe the storylines that follow could be meshed satisfactorily with existing material if some basic primary steps were taken to get the characters involved to the proper "jumping off" points. Please bear this in mind as you read further"

And with these words, Sir Marland immediately jumps into a detailed account of his first three long stories.

I am unsure exactly what I am allowed to transcibe legally from this document, but I think the above opening paragraph says nothing that would infuriate Procter and Gamble or CBS. But the first thing I have to point out is the sheer humility of his words, and his tone is one of both respect, formality, and simple conversation all at once.

His first long story is the story that basically ended up being the Doug Cummings long story (although in his original long story, the character is named Daniel Cummings, a change I'm assuming was instituted because Daniel Stewart was an established ATWT character, and there can only be one Dan).

What I found interesting though, is that for the first arc of the long story, the Cummings character doesn't even come into play. Marland instead focuses on the Hughes family dynamic within Bob and Kim's house, and how it will lay the groundwork for what happens down the line. Andy, Frannie and Nancy/Chris are all living with Bob and Kim, and tensions are rising over very simple concepts: Kim feels threatened as woman-of-the-house with her mother-in-law living with them, Andy (a young teen) feels uncomfortable having to deal with the issues of living with senior citizens when you're a self-indulgent adolescent, and Bob's comfort level with Lisa constantly visiting continues to push buttons for Kim's insecurities. In fact, Daniel Cummings doesn't even show up until Page 15 of the long story.

Throughout the document, Marland briefly steps out of the story to leave little author's notes, about family dynamics, the psychology of the storyline, his rationale behind what the "Lisa of old" would do as compared to the "Lisa of now". It isn't all plot points - he actually stops to talk about what teens feel when living in close quarters with their grandparents in a way that doesn't make Andy seem like a jerk... (and in fact, John later uses this discomfort as a way to pull his son closer into his world). It all just seems so... real. Like something any of us would experience growing up in a multi-generational house, with all the pros and cons of that situation.

He also refers to "identification possibilities" and frequently references which perspective he feels the women viewing in the audience will identify with, and why (again, with examples from psychology). Smart move, explaining to the reader why he feels these minor emotional beats are important to play before the plot kicks in. Essentially, he's setting up why Kim is so intrigued when she starts to receive notes from a secret admirer.

Interestingly, Daniel Cummings also owns a restaurant in town... and he's introduced through Lisa, who wants to sponsor fashion luncheons there for her new boutique.

The document covers Kevin and Frannie's break-up, "Daniel's" wooing of Frannie, Kim receiving the messages from her admirer, the threat that maybe it's Lisa doing it to drive a wedge between Bob and Kim, the success of Daniel's new restaurant in town (called "Caroline's", after his first wife... shades of Caroline Crawford later?) It becomes a story about Kim's paranoia - over Nancy taking on the role of alpha female in the house, John's growing closeness with Andy, Bob and Lisa's friendship, and her fears that someone is stalking her.

At one point, another of Marland's constant parentheticals shows up, and I really love this one:

"I feel it's important to let the audience know for certain that it's Daniel about two weeks prior to the actual denouement of our story. Certainly, many of them will suspect him regardless of how carefully he's written and played simply because he's the "new kid on the block" and arrived as the strange happenings began for Kim, but they will wonder how someone so much younger than Kim knew her during her club singer days, what the reasoning is behind his barrage of gifts, what he eventually hopes to gain, where Frannie fits into his plans, is it genuine love on his part, and if so, what is his strange obsession for Kim, how dangerous he really is and if he's Marie's murderer, can he be stopped before he kills again? These unanswered riddles of the mystery will hold audience viewing attention even more, I believe, once they know he's the man responsible for Kim's current torment."

I love that Marland pointed out the audience may already be on to him before the big reveal, but it's okay. It shows he knows exactly how smart the audience is, but there are still a lot of factors to the story, and after the reveal, it becomes more about "Why?" than "Who?". Smart man, that Marland.

And for anyone who is wondering, the reveal of Cummings in his secret room that serves as a shrine to Kim, as "Someone to Watch Over Me" plays? It's right here in the long story, in all its glory, a whole page devoted to that now famous scene.

The conclusion of the story involves a similar showdown, although there is no location shoot. And Cummings' own mother ends up shooting and killing her son. Marland then writes up a page on psychiatric facts on psychotic personalities to explain how Cummings could get away undetected so long, with so many intelligent characters in the medical profession around him (like Bob and John).

The story clocks in at 56 pages, and it's a joy to read from start to finish. The Hughes' seem more fleshed out in these 56 pages than in the entire time I was working on As the World Turns. I felt Bob and Kim and Lisa and Nancy were people, not icons. Three dimensional characters, instead of symbols of flawlessness. And Marland's always present parentheticals where he talks about what he hopes the viewer is thinking/feeling at any given point of the storyline just shows that he was constantly writing with the audience's perspective in mind. he inserts phrases like "I believe" or "The way I see it", in ways that show he's expressing his point of view regarding the canvas, but doing so humbly, and open to ideas and suggestions. (Although that's just my speculation - obviously, I was eleven years old at the time, and have no idea what went on behind closed doors. It's just the subtext I'm reading behind the words.)

And throughout, he talks about the subtext that should always exist between characters like Bob/Lisa and John/Kim. Even if they have nothing to do with the Cummings plot, he never forgets the former relationships that existed on camera before he took over, and references it constantly, even if it means taking a brief break from the Cummings plot points at hand.

At the end of this chapter, I felt like I had a better handle on the Hughes contingent than I ever did when I was writing for them. I'm the first to admit I always had a difficult time writing the Hughes' as three-dimensional characters, the same way I struggled with writing John/Marlena as individual, three-dimensional characters when I started at Days. At some point, these characters get white-washed down to just their iconic nature, and aren't allowed to be portrayed as flawed people. Bob became "The Perfect Father", and Kim became "The Perfect Mother Who Sternly Says 'Kiddo!' A Lot".

These Hughes' are a lot more interesting, I'll tell you that.

Later - Part Two - Lucinda, John, Sierra, Craig, Lila, Shannon, Lily, Dusty, Tom, and a new character by the name of "Clem Holden". This one is FUN! :-)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Thanks, SOS!

Hey all!

This'll be a short one - heading off to crash, and I'm only halfway through Marland's long story. But I wanted to take a second to say a big


to the good folks over at Soap Opera Source for naming myself and Sara Bibel as their Favorite Bloggers of 2008!

I still can't believe the blog wasn't even public a year ago. It's insane how much can happen in a year. I'm glad you guys have enjoyed my thoughts and opinions, even when they're rambling and possibly incorrect. It means so much to me. And it's hard for anyone to look bad when they're next to the lovely Ms. Bibel. Can't ask for better company than that!

Thank you, again!!