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Monday, April 6, 2009

Flying Blind

So this is going to be one of those random entries that jumps around a bit with no real theme - I've received a few e-mails from people wondering when (if ever) I'm going to update my blog. And now that I'm all caught up on reading breakdowns/scripts and watching air shows, I figured I'd check in and say howdy.

Like everybody else, I'm reeling from last week's Guiding Light news. As most know, Guiding Light and As the World Turns are "sister shows", and I spent many a post-Emmy party and Christmas party with the good folks from Guiding Light. I watched it faithfully from around 1990 on, and as far as I'm concerned Nancy Curlee... although only head writer for a few years... is one of the greatest head writers ever to grace daytime. Her work on that show inspired me to follow my dream and learn as much as I could about the human condition, so I could one day be a part of a team that wrote stories like she did on GL. Those were great years - Curlee on GL, Labine on GH, Bell on Y&R, Malone on OLTL. There was so much thought and effort placed on the emotional beats of a story, rather than the shock-and-awe treatment some soaps are using today. (Plane crashes! Car crashes! Hurricanes! Tornados! Serial killers! Explosions!) I'm deeply saddened by the news, and especially want to mention that I'm pulling for everyone behind the scenes who have invested so much in trying to keep Guiding Light on the air in spite of completely insurmountable odds. They have worked tirelessly to produce something under very difficult conditions, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them. You have my undying love and support, and I wish nothing but amazing prospects in the future for all the denizens of Springfield, whether they're in front of the camera, or behind the scenes. Springfield has touched my life in more ways than I can count, and I'm so appreciative to have been even a small fraction-of-a-part of it, indirectly, through As the World Turns.

So now we're down to seven soaps, and it's terrifying out there. Everybody I spoke to at the various soaps last week were all affected in one way or another - losing another show means we're all looking our shoulders a little more than we were two weeks ago. The doomsday folks are counting down to the next canceled soap, but if anything, we should be looking to learn from the mistakes of Guiding Light.

How did it end up at the bottom of the ratings?

What caused so many viewers to lose faith in it?

Are those of us still working at other soaps guilty of falling into the same traps?

Can we prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes made over the last fifteen years at Guiding Light, from the highest network level, all the way down to the studio floor?

I worry that the fatalistic, defeatist attitude that has been hovering over soaps like a dark cloud will continue - a mentality of "We're fated to be canceled, so let's just get by until it happens." And it doesn't have to be that way. None of us have to go gently into that good night. Those of us working really need to ask ourselves some tough questions - doesn't matter if you're at the #1-rated show or the #7-rated show. What are we doing that's working - and what are we doing that isn't working? And how do we go about changing that?

I think a lot of us were flying blind last week, still trying to process what happened to our friends in Springfield. But now that acceptance is starting to sink in, it's time to figure out how we can find whatever sliver of a silver lining there is in this, and learn from our mistakes, so we're not doomed to repeat them.

And speaking of flying blind...

Many of you have e-mailed me to ask how things are at Young and the Restless, and I'd love to take this opportunity to say I couldn't be happier. The job is everything I could have hoped for, and more. But at the moment, there is an element of flying blind that I'm currently experiencing that I completely forgot about from my first cycles at previous jobs.

Here's how this works - most breakdowns are written anywhere from seven to eleven weeks ahead of their air date. So when I started at the beginning of February, my first episode would air April 20th (two weeks from today, for those keeping track). Now I've written eight shows - we are firmly ensconced in summer storylines, and in a much different place than the show is in currently on air (in terms of where we are in the stories).

Having not watched any scenes I've written so far on the air is a little strange. I've always said here in this blog that it's so important for writers to watch the show they're writing for. You have to be able to see structure and scene tags and commercial breaks that work... and those that don't, so (like I said earlier) you don't repeat the same mistakes. I wrote some pretty stunted episodes at Days and One Life to Live that taught me some very valuable lessons about how not to write a breakdown, once I saw how they turned out on the air. And I wouldn't have learned those lessons had I not seen the air show (and cringed appropriately).

I am anxious and petrified to see my first few air shows - not to satiate my ego, but to see how what I write translates to the Y&R episodes, and to see what I may not be doing right. I'm curious to see the feedback I get from the fans - about what they liked, but more important, what they didn't like. What seemed out of character, what didn't work for them, where improvement is needed. We may produce this show for the advertisers, but we write this show for the fans. And until that kind of give and take happens with my air shows (April 20th and beyond), it feels sort of like I'm flying blind (at least in terms of fan reaction. I'm well aware of reaction from the show and network, as I write from week-to-week, and that has been immeasurably helpful).

So for the next two weeks, as my nerves continue to be frayed until my first air show, I hope what I'm currently contributing to the process for the summer is strong and entertaining and moving and respectful of the audience. I just know that six months from now - having written for nine months, and watched six months worth of stories I participated in their creation - I will have a much better understanding of what my pros and cons are as a member of the Y&R team. But for now, I continue to work hard to do the best I can. And I wait...

And really, with the Guiding Light news, that's all any of us in the business can do right now. Work hard, go the extra mile, focus on making our product the best it can possibly be... and wait for the reaction.

And saying a little prayer never hurts either. :-)