Would You Die For Love?: General Hospital’s Alarming Sweeps Slogan

By Marlena De Lacroix 

“Would you die for love?”

 That’s ABC Daytime/SoapNet’s slogan for November sweeps on General Hospital. It bridges four major storylines, including one in which the major young heroine will die on the show, mistakenly murdered by her own pre-poisoned ex-husband/current boyfriend during a gala ball.

How can ABC be so irresponsible? General Hospital‘s prime targeted audience is young females, the advertiser-desirable demographics of ages 12-17 and 18-34.  Teenage suicide is a serious problem in this country! (According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide accounts for 13% of all teen deaths!)  To even suggest to today’s young people that dying for love is something romantic, let alone a subject for fantasy, is egregious. And the height of desperation, even for a poorly rated daytime television genre that will try anything to vamp an audience.

And doubly sad for a show which has retained its ratings mainly through stories about mob violence. A new mob family, the Zaccharas, has just come to Port Charles to challenge upstate New York don Sonny for his territory. Its ferocious head Anthony Zacchara (Bruce Weitz) has been depicted as a loony-bin psychotic, with the mobster attended by a man in a white coat in his home full time. Sick as this may be, his potential for intense danger brought a new excitement to GH. The show, in the name of ratings strength, has consistently raised its dramatic stakes while at the same time lowering the bar on good taste: the characters of small-time don Sonny and his hit man Jason became the show’s central “heroes” in the mid-90s. Even before The Sopranos, Emmy-winning headwriter Bob Guza made GH a world where conventional morality is turned inside out.

But constantly staging phony mob violence and suggesting to a teen audience that it’s cool to die for love are two different things. The most prominent dead victim on GH chosen for sweeps month is said to be Emily Quartermaine (first Amber Tamblyn, now Emmy winner Natalia Livingston), a character adopted as a young girl by GH core characters Alan and Monica. The GH audience has watched her grow up through her teen years into young womanhood.   This is one young doctor whose days of compassion and love are suddenly over this month in the world of GH, a soap opera suddenly propagating the message that love is to die for.  

P.S. Does anyone remember The Bathrobe Don, a New York City mafioso who used to walk around the streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in his bathrobe and slippers to demonstrate to the world how crazy he was? His “madness” was a sham intended to prevent him from going to jail. But finally, after many years, suspected Genovese family crime boss Vinny “The Chin” Gigante was found to be a faking his madness and sent to prison. Could the character of Anthony Zacchara be based on Gigante? (The real Gigante died in prison in 2005 at age 77.)

Creme De Lacroix: Deidre Hall (Marlena Brady, Days of Our Lives)

As the tears fell down Marlena Brady’s face last week at her husband John Black’s memorial service, it was hard not to notice that the face of three-decade Days veteran Deidre Hall had not changed one bit in all those years. Most other senior daytime divas have surgically “refreshed” faces. Hall’s miraculously fresh face is so perfect, she may well be soaps’ own Dorian Gray. Whatever the method, Hall’s preservation job is so exact, it’s downright spooky.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.

Can Guiding Light and As The World Turns Survive The Big Change?

By Marlena De Lacroix 

There’s nothing soap fans hate more than change. Whether a show’s longtime leading teen is recast with a skinnier actress or the show suddenly changes dramatic style with the entrance of a new headwriter, viewers freak out because what they have always prized about daytime drama is its continuity and constancy. Now, in 2007, soaps have shrinking budgets to correspond with miniscule ratings. So some soaps have to make big, big changes – or they will face cancellation. 

This week Procter and Gamble announced its two classic soaps, 55-year-old Guiding Light (70 including radio) and 51-year-old As the World Turns, both on the “bubble” of cancellation (that’s programming talk for “maybe , may not”) will institute new, cheaper production techniques. New, smaller (and less expensive) digital cameras and other technology will be used to shoot the new soaps partially outdoors on location in real towns around the New York City area and on sets with four walls instead of three.

 Will this kind of radical production change save GL and ATWT? Artfully executed, opening up stuffy old studio-bound soaps like ATWT and GL could have its benefits. American fans of the cult British soap Hollyoaks rave about the realism of the show, which is regularly produced on outdoor locations. Plus, GL executive producer Ellen Wheeler and ATWT executive producer Christopher Goutman (who started their soap careers as actors twenty five years ago on P&G) have always been careful, intelligent producers whose shows are produced meticulously. In contrast, Soapnet/ABC’s latest soap General Hospital: Night Shift, put together cheaply, was a sloppy production nightmare. ATWT‘s Goutman has done a superb job with recent location work shot with digital cameras (such as Luke’s accident and three other storyline events, all shot on Staten Island over a three-day period). The casts of both ATWT and GL are both solid, trained acting veterans who could perform anywhere under any circumstances.

Can’t you just see GL‘s Kim Zimmer (Reva, in fur, of course) mushing a dog sled through the frozen New Jersey tundra in the middle of a February blizzard? ”Buck, Buck…!”

On the other hand, one of the major mistakes that can be traced down through soap opera history is penchant survival-threatened producers and networks have for changing the surface values of a show rather than review and change key elements of its core drama such as writing quality and style. When ABC reworked its failing soap Loving into The City in 1995, network executives crowed about the hip, modernizing benefits of moving the cast of a Midwestern-based soap into a hip Soho, New York City, loft. The show was canceled in 1997. When ABC’sPort Charles (originally a General Hospital spin-off) faltered, in 2001 several of the key characters were turned into vampires and the show became quasi fantasy/sci-fi. It was canceled in 2003.

 These two late soaps are extreme examples of soaps that made stylistic changes and failed anyway. By the time both original shows were reworked, neither soap was older than twelve years. GL and ATWT are iconic American classics that have been around for decades.  Can the radical production changes planned by Procter and Gamble save these shows? Or will soap fans, who historically hate change, just tune out?

Crème De Lacroix: Bruce Weitz, Anthony Zacchara, General Hospital

Can I be the first? Although we’ve only heard super Mafioso villain Anthony Zacchara’s voice from behind the closed double doors of his mansion on GeneralHospital, actor Bruce Weitz already seems sublime to me. Just the high-pitched tone of his crazily agitated voice suggests many entertaining scenes to come. His skill as an Emmy-winning character actor (he played barking detective Becker on Hill St. Blues) portends all kind of hilarity and solid drama as he faces down mob rival Sonny and everyone else in Port Charles. (Zacchara comes face to face with Sonny on October 19). Marlena sincerely hopes that Zacchara’s madness is of the comic kind, and not an excuse for one of those preachy mental health stories.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.

General Hospital Night Shift: Good Night and Good Riddance

By Marlena De Lacroix 

General Hospital: Night Shift broadcast its final episode last week and I fear because its first episode was so highly rated the entire show will go down in soap history as a hit instead of the incoherently written and produced mess that it was. Same sets, same writers as daytime GH. ABC Daytime should have learned its lesson: You just can’t get two soaps for the price of one. GH:NS head writer Bob Guza should be spanked for publicly complaining how “exhausting” writing the two shows was for his overworked staff. It was more exhausting for us viewers who had watch and decipher what we were seeing!

NS‘s only redeeming aspect and its real legacy to daytime is its bravura casting. Casting directors Mark Teschner and Gwen Hillier introduced a group of new actors who are universally talented and interesting. No brainless hunk or hunkette models typically hired en masse on most soaps (Days of Our Lives!). For NS, Teschner and Hillier made very well thought-out choices: the politically chic, not to mention gorgeous Nanizin Boniadi; the unusual looking and very goofy Dominic Rains (Leo); Graham Shiels (sexy villain Cody), and an appealingly real Angel M. Wainwright (Regina), a real gem. As you know, NS cast member Amanda Baker (psycho Jolene) has already been franchised out to All My Children as the new Babe.

So now we close the book on NS (until a possible next year). Will the formula for Brian Frons’ own Frankenstein monster of a soap (partially, and cheaply, made from GH‘s leftover parts) be copied by other networks? And will ABC choose to keep spinning GH off? First they gave us the now failed Port Charles, then GH:NS. Next year, I bet it will be Jason and Spinelli to capitalize on the characters’ Lucy and Ethel relationship.

Young and The Restless: Has CBS made a big, big mistake? Like you, I was shocked to see Y&R advertise a General Hospital-esque stunt called “Out of the Ashes,” to be aired this coming week. Clear Springs will literally blow up, with almost the entire cast involved. Y&R has never done a mega stunt, let alone anything promoted with a title. It promises to be the polar opposite of the slow, subtle, classy soap opera the late Bill Bell presided over for thirty years. I remember the days 25 years ago when he frowned on any kind of advance publicity for his show, a belief he acquired from his mentor, Irna Phillips.

Can current executive producer/writer Lynn Marie Latham do any more to call the public’s attention to the fact that her new Y&R is no longer the “traditional” Y&R viewers loved for decades? This action/disaster sequence better be good, because she’ll be drowning in even more hate mail from angry longtime fans who absolutely hate the ways (faster pace, plots full of soap cliches) in which she has changed the show. (Some of that mail has even come my way.) Will “Out of the Ashes” alienate even more old fans than the new fans it wants to attract? We’ll have to see, boom, boom, next week.

Creme De Lacroix: This week I toast Justin Deas and Kin Shriner (respectively Buzz Cooper on Guiding Light and Scott Baldwin on General Hospital). Their faces are both wonderful real world aged wrecks. No producer would ever let a female actor go on-screen looking as baggy-eyed and tired as Deas and Shriner (both in their 50s). Yet, I still delight in their performances! These two expert soap acting veterans of several decades standing are full of character, now as ever. Buzz is mostly seen playing support to his kids Frank and Harley and his troubled grandkids, and Scotty in support of new-found son Logan. Personally I’d love to have the wisdom of Buzz to draw upon, and Scotty’s vinegary reasoning still makes me laugh after all these years. They may look as old as Yoda, but they are home and they are family.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.