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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.


Van Dore said...

Just astounding to read. So much research on Douglas Marland's part. It's fascinating to think of the places where the storylines played out and where they changed. Can't wait for the next installment.

We Love Soaps said...

Good stuff, Tom. It was obvious back then a decision had been made to change the character of Barbara. She became harder. Of course, I didn't know anything about the backstage goings on then.

Thanks again for sharing this with us.

Scott N said...

Thanks once again, Tom. Every one of these adds a little more insight into how Marland approached ATWT back then. I like your point about the use of triangles and quads. So many shows today have a hard enough time recycling the same groupings in new ways at different times- B&B's Ridge/Brooke/_____/____ combos that have been around for almost 22 years, Y&R putting mixing and matching Victor and Nikki are examples of that. But the fact that Marland had 4 quads running at the same time, each with its own unique patterns, must have taken some doing.