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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


Anonymous said...

Not Harding Lemay? He doesn't make your big four? Really?

Tom said...

LeMay is brilliant, and I have nothing but respect for him as a man and as a storyteller. I certainly didn't mean to imply I have anything against him - in fact, he's responsible for some of the best stories my favorite soap of all time ever told!

But I would put LeMay in second tier with Nancy Curlee and Wisner Washam. Just my personal opinion though - everyone has their own "tiered" system.

Mark said...


I have become a huge fan of your blog over the past several months. You have such a clear viewpoint and love for this genre. We non-professionals are fortunate to have you voice to provide us an inside perspective of the soap world.

I cannot thank you enough for the past four insightful articles. Wow. I'm just blown away. I've always wanted to write a soap opera and I always loved the Marland Method. What a pleasure to actually see how his mind worked. Thank you for sharing these snippets from his bible. It is too bad that bible can't be published publically so that we could all see the detail of Doug Marland's humble genius. However, from what you have shared on your blog I now have proof that my love and admiration for Douglas Marland is not only appropriate, he is an even larger legend in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note. Steve and Betsy didn't leave that soon after. Iva worked for Steve's construction company and both Steve and Betsy-- as well as Iva--were heavily involved in the Tad Channing murder mystery which followed on the heels of the Doug Cummings story and helped to cement Iva more firmly to the canvas. Steve wasn't out of the picture until after the James Stenbeck/Ruxton Hills storyline which didn't climax until November of '87.

These little snippets of Doug's long-term have been very nostalgic and enlightening; but they've also left an almost bitter aftertaste, when realizing that this type of storytelling has all but disappeared from daytime today. Thanks for sharing, Tom.

Scott N said...

I've already said it three times, Tom, but the finale warrants one more "thank you" IMO. You set out to take us on a ride through the thoughts of a soap legend as he started his trek through the lives and loves of the people of Oakdale, and you succeeded and then some. I can't speak for the folks at P&G or the Marland estate, but I would hope they'd be proud, since your careful use of quotes for emphasis honored Mr. Marland with a dash of nostalgia, a fan's enthusiasm, the critical eye of someone who wrote for that show years later and a bit of food for thought added on top for good measure.

Michael Khan said...

My caste system for soap scribes isn't much different from Tom's.

First tier: Bell, Marland, Nixon, Phillips and Henry Slesar.
Second tier: Curlee, The Dobsons, Claire Labine & Paul Avila Mayer, Lemay, Gordon Russell and Washam.
Third tier: Lorraine Broderick, Pam Long, Michael Malone, Peggy O'Shea and Robert Soderberg & Edith Sommer.
Fourth tier: Sheri Anderson, The Cullitons, Margaret DePriest, Thom Racina and Pat Falken Smith.

Once again, Tom, thank you for sharing!

John said...

Thank you so much, Tom! This is incredible to read. I was only a child when this aired and I've never watched ATWT regularly for more than a year or two at a time, long after Doug Marland's passing. But I've seen some of this stuff that I could get my hands on, and I am absolutely fascinated by what he did to this show and how he came up with those ideas. When you think of how many P&G shows on the air around that time that had been goldmines for the networks not long before did not make it into the 21st century, it's all the more remarkable how Marland was able to restructure ATWT and make it viable for a new generation.

Young Lily and Holden/Clem were kinky...who knew? Well, Lily as the spoiled bitchy dominatrix who had her riding crop seized from her by the hot stable boy she could not keep in line sounds much more compelling than Lily the princess being tormented by one bad guy after the next whom she was taken in by when she grew bored with Holden, only for Holden to eventually have to come save the day. Seriously, though, it seems like from some of what I've seen that Marland wrote Lily essentially the way he saw her in this outline, just in a more subtle way, and later writers just didn't get that she was not meant to be a 100% good girl. Although how she ended up living on the Snyder farm during one of her falling-outs with Lucinda fairly early on in Marland's tenure, thrilled to be doing chores with Emma, I still don't quite understand. But I guess someone that entitled realizing those were her roots would be bound to have an over-the-top identity crisis.

I am fascinated that Holden and Lily were supposed to be a couple from the beginning and the whole back story of Lily's parentage came sometime later. I guess that makes sense, as I've seen some episodes from when Holden was first working as Lucinda's stable boy and clearly they were playing up the sexual tension from the beginning. But I too thought the whole business with Iva being adopted and so forth was a way to backpedal and make Holden and Lily not related by blood when they ended up being a hot couple. Guess not.

I didn't know John and Lucinda were enemies before he went after Sierra...I always thought his interest in Sierra was why they became enemies, because Lucinda would have no doubt thought he wasn't good enough for her daughter. I didn't realize doctors typically served on the boards of the same hospitals where they work, though? And I wonder if Marland was already planning to put them together eventually?

So, I take it none of this stuff with James' mother coming out of the woodwork and trying to get custody of Paul came to pass? Hmm...not to speak ill of the dead, but I've read several interviews with Marland talking about how great Barbara as a bitch was going to be, but I'm not sure I buy the concept. I guess back then, a hapless heroine becoming a bitch suddenly would have surprised the audience, but I still don't know. Although, young Danny Pintauro as the demon seed going head to head with Mommie Dearest Barbara Ryan in full-on bitch mode might have been the most fabulously gay thing ever...I wonder if they decided to scrap the idea because he left for Who's the Boss? Also, from what I've seen, it seems like Barbara's brush with the dark side only lasted for a nanosecond. I know she was playing the other woman with some married man (was that Mark Pinter's Brian? I can't remember) in that Tad Channing murder episode that's on YouTube, and she was admittedly fabulous in that scene, but wasn't she on trial for James' (first) murder about a year later? From what I've seen of that, she seemed to be back in Perils of Pauline mode by then, and she must have gotten together with Hal not long after. Did she really do anything that bad? Did she actually use info she had learned as a confidante to Kim, et al against them like Marland suggested?

Anyway, my reservations about Barbara's transformation aside, even if that was the weakest link in this story outline, then that just goes to show how brilliant it was overall. I never knew until recently that Kim and Bob had only just gotten married right before Marland took over and Douglas Cummings started stalking her, because after they lived through that, who could imagine their relationship as anything but an unbreakable bond (making the affair with Susan all the more shocking). Most writers would kill to be able to make the audience buy such an unlikely couple as an institution so quickly, and the fact that the story he used to accomplish it was so memorable and entertaining. Wow! And he was right...there were no families like the Snyders on soaps, even though most of them were/are set in the midwest. No farmers, but at this time especially when Dallas was popular, they were overrun with Southern oil families. He was definitely one of the last proponents of bringing these shows back down to earth. Without Doug's stabilizing influence, I fear soaps might have veered off into San Cristobel/Marlena's island/Mendorra fantasy land even sooner.

Again, thank you, Tom, for this insightful read.

bl said...

Thanks again. Reading this makes me wish I would have been old enough to watch and enjoy ATWT at that time or to be able to see it all for myself now. The soap world lost a lot when Doug Marland passed away so suddenly.

Van Dore said...

More wonderful stuff from Marland, and more wonderful commentary from you. You have done a great service making as much of this available as you have.

A few clarifications, though. Betsy stayed longer than Steve, having relationships with Seth and Rod/Josh. And the Cal on the canvas at the beginning of Marland's run was not Cal Stricklyn and was written out. IIRC, he was the father of the baby Maggie and Frank adopted and was a potential love interest for Maggie. He was then involved with Marie and again if I am remembering correctly, was killed by Doug or Marsha.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! At the time, I was watching Another World and my beloved Santa Barbara, but I watched ATWT in the '90s, and came to appreciate the characters thet Marland created and the canvas that even then (to an extent) his spirit touched. I really appreciate these thoughts in the inner workings of a genius. If only there were someone like him today as a head writer on any soap.

Rich said...

this was a very good read about how he was thinking and how he thought thinks out.

Oakdalian said...

"ATWT claimed they don't cross characters into other stories for "budgetary reasons" in an interview in 2008, which is a shame."

That's the sorriest thing about the state of soaps today, let alone ATWT. I guess it explains why Armageddon happens in Emma Snyder's kitchen every other week, but she's never around to experience it.
By the way, the addendum about Steve & Betsy is correct, but she stuck around and got absorbed into the Meg/Tonio/Josh story through 1988.

To John, Barbara may not have been the bitch from hell between 1987 and 2001 that Marland made her for 1985/1986, but she certainly carried on a wealth of duplicity. She was lying to Hal every 5 minutes about something - Adam's paternity, Jennifer's paternity, her bogus stalker, etc. Somehow the relationships with her children were quite smothering in the new millennium, even if she didn't necessarily take them on as adversaries. I could answer a few of your questions - it was a year and a few moths after the Tad Channing murder that Barbara was on trial for James' killing, she was the "other woman" in Tom & Margo's marriage, and she never blackmailed Kim.

I'm SO grateful that these entries have been provided to us, though I'd also love to see thoughts and plans for Marland's other long term sagas such as Margo's rape, baby Aaron, the Carolyn Crawford mystery, the Grimaldi influx and the corporate dramas of Walsh/M&A/Worldwide.