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Monday, January 5, 2009

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! :-)


Scott N said...

Wow, Tom. Thanks for sharing that. I remember that story from when it was originally on, as I was seriously watching all 4 CBS soaps at the time and was catching any of them that I could around my college classes. Seeing the kind of detail that Marland put into his long story document adds a whole new dimension to it, even after all these years.

I'm looking forward to seeing the parts about the introduction of "Clem Holden," since integrating the Snyders into Oakdale was one of the hallmarks of Marland's tenure as HW on ATWT.

Eric said...

O man - that is GREAT stuff! Thanks so much for sharing it. I miss the old days when writers like Doug Marland, Bill Bell and even Henry Slesar at Edge of Night had these mysteries that would keep you glued to your 'stories' every day.

Tom - all of your blogs are so full of insight. You are a great gift to the fans who love everything about soaps.

Happy New Year!

Corey said...

Oh, Tom. Thank you so very much for sharing this gem with us. I have never been a regular, daily viewer of ATWT for my 30 years of soap watching but I highly remember this story and it was just about when Doug Cummings arrived that I taped the show everyday to watch the entire story play out and of course, becoming involved with the other characters, Lily and Dusty being my favorites. This is probably one of the last brilliant, psychological, thrilling, dramatic story lines on daytime involving such a subject, the stalker and his victim. To know what Mr. Marland's original plan, plotting and background were involving this story makes for fascinating back stage mythology and truth. If only today we were worried about a writer's small beats being cut when they do not even exist anymore instead of someone like Ken Corday firing the biggest supercouple in his show's history and arguably in all of soap opera history to reflect on the current state of daytime. I am so looking forward to his long term plan for Lily, Lucinda, Dusty, Craig, Sierra et al in your next post. Thank you again - Corey K.

bl said...

I'm blown away. Thank you! What an amazing document. I am so glad that you took this and even shared part of it. It is sad how many of these kind of things have been lost over the years as some of us would love to even just hear about them.

Michael Khan said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this, Tom! Not only is it awesome to relive some old memories of that storyline, it's fascinating to read just how Marland's mind worked. If only that man had written an autobiography...!

Amello said...

"Three dimensional characters, instead of symbols of flawlessness."

This sentence establishes a huge reason why stories fail to be as interesting or entertaining as they used to be. More than half of the DAYS characters are written this way, making for a hugely boring show.

John said...

I will post more after I read (and process) the entire series, but for now, all I will say is: wow...and thank you!

Oakdalian said...