General Hospital’s Black and White Ball, Part 2: How Good Work Elevated Haunted House Hooey

By Marlena De Lacroix

In my last column, I blasted the plotting of General Hospital‘s Black and White Ball as schlocky and superficial.  The overall main story was presumably done by the head writer.  That doesn’t mean all of the scriptwriting for the month was awful; it takes a lot of different associate writers to write the scripts for a whole month of a daytime soap.  [Read more...]

Sadly, Guiding Light is Operating at Diminished Capacity

Mes chers, today Marlena would like you to meet Patrick Erwin, a newspaper reporter and thinking soap fan who will be posting his reviews here once a week.  Patrick is particularly interested in the Procter and Gamble shows.  First up, his look at Guiding Light, a show we have all loved at one time or another.  How and why has the oldest show in daytime become a shadow of itself? [Read more...]

Bonjour, Mes Amis!

Welcome to my new website!  Many of you already know me from my 11 years of weekly critical columns in Soap Opera Weekly and more recently from my ”Savoring Soaps” blog on Jack Myers MediaVillage (http://www.jackmyers.com/).   Now that I have my own fabulouso internet space (plus a whole new wardrobe!) my posts will run several times a week, covering ALL the shows.  In addition, once a week a wonderful young newspaperman named Patrick Erwin will post his opinions too, particularly on the P&G shows.

There’s scads of room here — cyberspace seems to know no end — so I’d love to hear from all of you, too.  We soap fans love to exchange opinions, and this will be a highly interactive site!   And because so many of you, like moi, are longtime soap fans, we’ll soon add a nostalgia section called ”Yearning for Yesterday.”

Again, welcome, my darlings!  Isn’t it grand we can start off by spending the holiday season together? 

                                                                                 XXOO,

                                                                                 Marlena

    [Read more...]

One Life to Live Loses Marston Again

By Marlena De Lacroix

One Life to Live has been showered with a lot of good critical notice lately since the more literate and lighthearted scripts of its new headwriter Ron Carlivati started to air last month. There’s much hope that show’s momentum won’t be ruined with the onset of scab scripts to air in a few weeks. These scripts are the mark of the ongoing Writers Strike.

The show is also facing another serious loss: Nathaniel Marston, the actor who has played Dr. Michael McBain for the last few years, has been dismissed by the network. The actor, 32, who has a history of anger management issues, is facing four felony counts after assaulting three people on a New York City street in October. Published reports allege he may have been under the influence of drugs.

Despite his personal problems, Marston was tremendously popular with the audience because he uniquely played a regular guy on OLTL. Most soap heroes these days are wooden and unbelievable because they come to soaps with career histories limited to modeling or rock videos. They look — and act — like mannequins. (Yes, we’re talking about you, Cameron Mathison and Ryan Lavery of All My Children, who’s hiring started and exemplified this “only perfect looks” daytime drama trend in the 90s.) Marston, who has theater and film experience, brought a natural style and sense of realism to all his work.

This quality was already in evidence when he was hired for his first role, teen Eddie Silva on As the World Turns in 1999, and what brought him back after he was killed off from his first OLTL role, Al Holden, in 2001. The audience demanded his return and he was brought back in a completely new role, Michael McBain, by OLTL a year later. This is very rarely done on a soap.

Marston’s Everyman likeability harkens back to a much earlier era on soaps, the 1960s and 1970s, when characters were permitted to look like real people with regular faces, not models. Such lower middle class characters as Sam Lucas on Another World (Jordan Charney) and Vinny Wolek (the late Anthony Ponzini) on OLTL were audience favorites because they were very vulnerable and easy to relate to and root for.

Even though Michael McBain is a doctor and wife Marcy is a schoolteacher (the equally natural Kathy Brier), they are easily the most working class characters on OLTL. (Most characters on soaps are wealthy now.) They are among a few long married couples on the soap and their squabbles are usually realistic. Right now, Marcy is on the run with the couple’s haphazardly adopted son Tommy, who is really the biological son of show menace, Todd. A court has awarded the boy to Todd.

Marston’s believability went a long way to strengthen the characters of others on OLTL. Michael’s very odd brother John (Michael Easton) is a cop whose emotional problems and history prohibit him from forming lasting relationships with women. Scenes with Michael make John a lot more palatable to the audience. In the contest between Michael and Marcie over brutish Todd for the custody of Tommy, audiences naturally root for the McBains because of their likeability.

OLTL quickly recast the role of Michael with an unknown actor, Chris Stack, this week, almost as soon as it let Marston go. Whether or not the character will be instantly likeable is as yet unknown. He begins to air next month.

Still, Marston’s loss is a great one for daytime. Good actors who can play regular, realistic guys are increasingly a rarity in a medium which thinks it can survive solely on a diet of increasingly pretty male faces.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.

Soap Operas in Peril During WGA Strike!

By Marlena De Lacroix 

The strike by the Writers Guild of America is only four days old, yet its ultimate and unknown dénouement is creating more buzz than the conclusion of any storyline in soap history. Can the very low-rated nine network soaps survive the strike, or will the strike deal the entire 55-year-old television genre a fatal blow?

How and if this happens depends upon the possible outcomes of several scenarios. Unfortunately, as this is written, there is no official confirmation of how far scripts already written by the striking writers will go. ABC says it has episodes of its soaps prepared until January; other soaps are known to be shooting only three weeks ahead of their airdates. One of three alternatives will have to be utilized as soon as the current material runs out.

1. Scripts will have to written by scabs. In both the writers’ strike of 1988, which lasted 22 weeks, and a short strike in 1980, anonymous scabs wrote the soaps. The scabs were said to be anyone from the shows’ producers themselves to novelists recruited by the networks. Scab-written material had long-lasting implications. I spoke with As the World Turns striking writer Douglas Marland at the time of the 1988 strike (he died in 1993) who was furious because scabs had hanged his carefully planned and crafted storylines. When the strike ended, Marland had to waste a lot of time undoing the damage; for example, un-marrying characters the scabs had married off. Primetime shows, which are episodic and mostly have conclusive endings, didn’t face this problem. For soaps writers, strikes create scheduling and continuity nightmares.

On the other hand, the two previous strikes introduced new writing talents (we still called them scabs) to the medium. In the 1980 strike, a sci-fi novelist was recruited by General Hospital and he later created the wildly successful (if absurd!) Ice Princess storyline for Luke and Laura. Another scab from that strike went on to write for virtually every soap opera in the ensuing years.

2. Soaps will be replaced by soap reruns. Although soap reruns are rarely aired, except on SOAPnet, soap viewers usually love to see repeats of their favorite shows. Unfortunately, most want to see shows from the ’80s and early ’90s (such as Santa Barbara and General Hospital) when soaps were better written and produced than they are now. So as to not show up the weaknesses of current soaps, the reruns that may be aired during this strike will probably not be older than a year or two.

3. Soaps will be replaced by other (i.e. cheaper) forms of programming. If game shows, talk shows or any other kinds of programming (such as news and sports coverage) are substituted for striking soaps, the entire daytime medium could be doomed. Soap ratings are so low now that any kind of shows that can do better numbers in their time slots may well be picked to replace the soaps themselves. Permanently.

Blanket cancellation is, of course, the nightmare scenario for daytime soaps. Since the beginning of television in the ’50s, they have occupied extremely lucrative advertiser-desirable network afternoon timeslots. These slots are coveted by producers of all sorts of daytime shows, such as talk, game and even female-interest home improvement shows now seen on cable. If soaps are cancelled due to the effects of a long writers strike, soap fans may indeed experience their final opportunity to tune in tomorrow.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.

One Life To Live: Viki Is Back Where She Belongs

By Marlena De Lacroix 

As I write this, it is only the third day of sweeps and automatically I can give my approval to one storyline, a new one on One Life to Live. Widow and career newspaper publisher Viki Davidson is newly depicted working as a waitress in a diner in Paris, Texas. Hooray! Doesn’t Viki, the very portrait of a lady, deserve a life away from her brainless, whining twin daughters Jessica and Natalie, her ultra-neurotic lifetime nemesis Dorian, husbands who have a habit of dying on her (Ben), and a brother, Todd, who is a former rapist, not to mention a liar and a creep? Suffering fully in the spotlight in Llanview nearly every year since OLTL‘s 1968 debut, Victoria Lord Buchanan Davidson deserve a new storyline — and far, far away from everybody she knows!

In one of the biggest mistakes in daytime history, Viki, played by phenomenally popular six time Best Actress Emmy winner Erika Slezak, has been given no front-burner storyline for the past two years by a brainless head writer, Dena Higley, who was does not appreciate older performers. The ever ladylike Slezak did not formally complain until last spring when she lacerated the writer in an interview with her fan club president.  Now a new head writer, Ron Carlavati, makes his formal OLTL debut by smartly giving Viki a storyline, and at the same time brilliantly getting her out of Llanview.

A diner setting isn’t exactly original but it could be the right prescription for miserable Viki. On All My Children, Erica Kane ran away for a while to work as a waitress in a diner in SeaCity (Atlantic City) about ten years ago. When last seen before they returned to Port Charles in 1993, General Hospital‘s Luke and  Laura, with their young son Lucky, were working at a diner in the Pacific Northwest.  As anyone who ever saw the primetime show Alice in the 1970s knows, diner life is the paradigm of living the simple, better life for tired city slickers. Truths and laughs are served up with the eggs and hash browns.

Which poor Viki can use. In her first two months in Paris (shown in flashbacks), she’s become fast friends with diner owner Moe (the delightful John Rue ) and a  fellow waitress (played by Days of Our Lives’ endearing Farah Fath, who used to play — get this — Mimi on that show). She’s just met slated love interest Charlie, played by Brian Kerwin. Kerwin, who has done dozens of TV spots over the last twenty years (most recently as Eddie in the HBO miniseries Big Love) and was seen last summer acting in the very prestigious Williamstown, Mass., Theater Festival. He is an actor well matched to the repertory theater- trained Slezak.

So far, Mr. Carlavati, so good.  Viki seems happy and carefree already. We who have missed Viki stories so much are grateful she’s back on OLTL‘s center stage.   Imagine a soap scoring a bulls eye because it has returned its heroine of 37 years to her rightful lead position on the show.

You see, Erika Slezak and Viki are the very heart of the One Life to Live audience, an audience  that has never stopped building since she came on the show in 1970. Viki is Everywoman, who suffers and survives all of life’s tragedies and challenges. She is our Mother Courage, to whom viewers relate and admire.  Slezak is one of the last of the truly brilliant actresses left in daytime. Fans like me, who watched Slezak for all the years she’s been on, actually worship her.   Whenever one of my personal friends who has stopped watching soaps sees me, they also ask about how soap operas are today. And the second question is always, “How’s Viki?”

Now I can answer, “Much better, now. You should watch. She’s back!”

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.