Marlena Vs. The Scabs: Solidarity Forever!

By Marlena De Lacroix

I am 100% behind the Writers Guild and their strike.  I come from a union family — my late grand-aunts spent just about every Sunday of the 1930s-60s freezing their tushs off in Union Square participating in rallies and demonstrations supporting organized labor, honoring the working man.  Solidarity forever!

But I am conflicted, too.  Moi supporting the same soap writers I’ve bashed for years?  Well, supporting their right and need to strike doesn’t mean I endorse what they write.  Most of their work in recent years has been really bad!  But I believe all writers have the right to be paid for their work, and paid additionally if it appears somewhere other than the television screen – namely in the new media, which clearly is the future.   Why should the networks get all that money?  I believe in collective bargaining.  I believe in unions!

Writers Strike

Reed Saxon/Associated Press 

That said, I have lots of questions about how the strike will affect daytime.  But when I asked assorted friends in the industry, I found most of the answers were complex and/or puzzling.  Some questions elicited no answer at all.  Like, how will we viewers know for sure when the scab scripts start to air?  Will the crawl accurately reflect who is really writing this stuff?

My old buddy Snark (http://www.snarkweighsin.blog-city.com), ever the shrewd observer, says he only knew during in the 1988 strike when the headwriter’s name was run alone, with no dialogue writers following.  Does that mean the scabs are writing their episodes from the headwriter’s longterm?  Or are the scabs entirely making up the scripts and the plots themselves?

And just who are the scabs who will be writing the shows, anyway, like so many evil,   union-busting elves?  Jill Farren Phelps’ nieces and nephews?  Ron Carlivati’s bodyguard?  Barbara Esensten’s hypnotist?  Jim Reilly’s beloved Irish setters, typing out the dialog with their paws?

Just when I had a million more jokes about who the scabs are, I got an email from my friend Esther, who has worked on soaps and thus knows the grim truth about how sausages are made.  She said I could not condemn the scabs wholesale because a lot of the writers who will be writing during the strike are just regular soap writers who got Hardship status in the strike in exchange for not being able to run in union elections or attend WGA film screenings (Marlena calls that a real hardship!).  They have a special status called “Core.”

So, as a journalist, I am buckling down to write about the scab scripts whenever they appear, although as a union sympathizer I find the chore terribly distasteful.  I’m expecting the worst.  Oh gosh, these shows are going to be even more terrible than they have been, if that is possible.  Mostly amateur Mr. or Ms. Scab X, who have little or no experience as soap writers, will soon be torturing us with characters who act out of character,  pretzel-like plot twists and long, wordy speeches that are agony to the ear.   Writer wannabes will “show what they can do” now that someone at the network has finally let them in through a mousehole.  Solidarity forever, darlings!

Just at the moment when I was most depressed, I got an email from my friend and respected colleague, television journalist and longtime soap fan Ed Martin, whose Water Cooler TV column appears on http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/ed-martin-watercooler.  Every other month for years, in my favorite Gramercy Park coffee bar, Ed and I have been meeting over java and analyzing  soaps.

Ed’s take:  “Do you think the current GH episodes were written by scabs?  I actually think the show has been more fun and better paced during the last two weeks than it has been in ages.  I’m not saying the stories are great, only that the mechanics of the storytelling have improved.

“I also think Guiding Light is suddenly interesting again with its monster child.  And As the World Turns has been good, too, with Dr. Bob’s stroke and Brad and Katie having sex.

“Is this all scab work?  If so, it’s not half-bad.”

I emailed Ed back that I doubted the shows he enjoyed and wrote about had even begun to air scab scripts.  Support scabs!  Not Marlena, not now, not ever!

“What if you couldn’t do your job temporarily and your boss hired someone with no journalistic experience at all to write your column,” I asked.  “And then some critic comes along and writes that the scab’s work is better than yours?”

Because darlings, soap writing isn’t American Idol!  It’s learned through years of  dramatic writing experience, and of course love for soaps.  In my journalism professor’s opinion, writing is something that has be studied and practiced long and carefully.  You’ve got to have done a lot of it before you deserve to get published or a script you have written deserves to go on the air.

But that’s moi, grand niece of the proletariat.  For better of worse, scab scripts are coming and we’re all going to watch’em.  I think they will be a disaster, while Ed thinks they may be better and perhaps already are than the soaps we regularly watch.

If you think you can spot them when the time comes, drop me a line and tell moi which of us you agree with. 

Comments

  1. Carl Lund says:

    When SoapNet aired the AW episodes from the ’88 strike I was struck by how much better those “scab” scripts were than anything airing currently. (Well, currently then, but you get the idea.) IIRC, there were rumors that Harding Lemay had some involvement with those. Hadn’t a Search for Tomorrow actress taken over writing in an earlier strike and changed her character into the center of the show? I thought I remembered reading that rumor at one point in the deep past. What does worry me is the long-term effects. I recall hearing that some thought my beloved Santa Barbara was the worst hit by the ’88 strike because it was the scabs who made Pamela Capwell into a cartoon nutjob. I had always thought that the character of Pamela (for years before she appeared) was the show’s ace in the hole. Of course, today character assassination is an everyday soap happening; no strike needed. Sigh.

  2. MarkH says:

    Search for Tomorrow was scab-written by Don Chastain, who is the one who made his character the center of the show. (This is according to an old quote of Douglas Marland’s).

    Marlena says: I’ve heard he said that, but the Doug I knew was such a gentleman I can’t imagine him leaking that to the press.

  3. Dan Gobble says:

    I agree with your conflicted feelings regarding the strike. I now find myself supporting the same writers I would have bashed six weeks ago. But as a burgeoning journalist, I’m also obligated to support my fellow writers.

    I do, however, disagree partly with the following statement: “Mostly amateur Mr. or Ms. Scab X, who have little or no experience as soap writers, will soon be torturing us with characters who act out of character, pretzel-like plot twists and long, wordy speeches that are agony to the ear.”

    I disagree because it seems as if soap fans already have to deal with sloppy writing. The kind that can only be appreciated with the help of Jack Daniels. Regardless of whether the regular writers are at their desks or not, daytime faces a rather bleak future. Save for DAYS and OLTL, which are currently improving, I simply cannot see any other shows collapsing more than they already have; in particular, my beloved GL.

    On the other hand, the picket lines can hopefully give someone an opportunity to approach GL’s headwriter David Kreizman and other (writers) and ask them what the hell he’s been smoking.

  4. Blake says:

    Any scab writer can do better than what is written on Guiding Light these days.
    I think it would be hilarious if the scab writer did better than David Kreizman and got praised for it. But of course David wouldn’t be replaced, he’s Ellen Wheeler’s lap dog. Plus they got an Emmy for Best Writing this year (why, I have NO idea!!!)

  5. Cherry Ames says:

    Brava, my dear Marlena! Dorothy Day and I agree that unions are necessary to protect the plebian workers. I read The Jungle annually whenever I begin to have doubts.

    But this post is less to do with the power struggles between union and big business than about the writing quality (or lack of ) in the soap world. It cannot be easy to write for shows that have been airing for 35 plus years and for characters ie. Erica Kane, Viki Lord, and Luke. I mean, after the character has had every illness, addiction,been raped, been married 12 times, had at least 2 other personalities…I’m sure you get the idea.

    Not only have the shows gone well past their expiration dates, but these are shows that air for 47 minutes daily five days a week. Seems a Sysyphean task since no story ever really has a conclusion.

    Writing a daily show is a task that is beyond my comprehension. I mean, I think we are lucky to get a good show once a month and a great show once a year.

    Primetime shows last a few seasons or, at most, seven or eight years and they only air once a week. Even so, even Seinfeld, Friends, MASH, and All in the Family turned in shows of dubious quality upon occasion.

    Ending my rambling with this thought, soaps will be lucky to survive into the next decade so writers-Go for it! I say negotiate a good contract to write for internet soaps because I am 98% sure they won’t be on TV much longer. Or, reinvent the genre and really shake it up.

  6. Fabobug says:

    Hii Marlena,

    I agree with your take on soap writers in theory. But in practice these last few years, I have to wonder: What has experience and training done for Megan McTavish? Dena Higley? Guza? Those two hacks writing AMC now? These people claim to have knowledge and love for soaps, but have written in ways which demonstrate contempt and little regard for longterm planning.

    At the same time, relative newbies such as Sheffer (at least in his first year at ATWT) and Kriezman (at least in his first year at GL) have demonstrated talent and vision. I too thought AW was especially well written during the ’88 strike. And let’s not forget DAYS received some of its highest ratings ever for Patch and Kayla’s wedding during, yes, the ’88 strike. That was good stuff!

    Marlena says: Fabobug, mon vieux, welcome to my new site. When it comes to headwriters, there has been little logic as to why some are hired. These days merit often has little to do with it. Esensten and Brown writing All My Children is like hiring Santa Claus to write for The New York Times!

    Seriously, the major factor in hiring headwriters is often network politics, something we viewers at home can neither witness nor adequately understand.

    Does writing experience have anything to do with merit? Occasionally complete newbies to the job prove to be miracles. Look at the first regime of Michael Malone on One Life to Live. But before coming to OLTL, Malone was an award-winning novelist and English professor at one of the best colleges in the country. He wasn’t (then executive producer) Linda Gottlieb’s doorman.

  7. Dale says:

    Marlena, as always, you make me nod my head furiously in agreement with you one minute, and then shake my head furiously in disagreement the next. That’s why I love you! Please never change!

    The show must go on! What choice is there but to hire scabs ( a term I loathe, by the way!) to keep these shows running? Daytime cannot afford to shut down. Many fans simply would not return after a protracted shutdown.

    On the other hand, the “scabs” are walking a very fine line by writing for the soaps. Hasn’t it been confirmed that Gary Tomlin is “scab” writing OLTL? How can he hope to recover his reputation and the goodwill of his peers in the industry after that? Perhaps he doesn’t care.

    The writers are 100% entitled to be compensated fairly for their work, but daytime is a very unique genre that requires continuity. It would have been nice if the daytime writers were exempt from scorn, and be supported had they chosen to remain at their helms.

    I have to admit that I am very curious how GL will fare with the “scabs”. I can’t imagine my beloved GL getting any worse than it is now. it just isn’t GL anymore. Characters are so isolated from each other, and the town of Springfield feels so desolate. It’s all so plot driven! The Josh Lewis I know would never attempt to hire a hit man to kill somebody just so he can be a suspect in a silly murder mystery. Can GL get any worse with “scabs”? I am most anxiously waiting for time to tell!

    Dale, darling, Marlena sends you a Xmas smooch. Gary Tomlin, a scab? Here’s a guy who has had more types of positions in daytime over the decades than anyone: actor, writer, headwriter, director, producer, executive producer. And he has many friends in the industry. Perhaps the union has granted him some kind of special status or exemption? That’s more what I’d expect.

  8. I disagree with your blog entry that says we will all be watching the scab shows. I sure won’t. If I don’t hear after January 15th as to whether they are scab-written or not, I will just stop watching. But frankly, with the way information is now, with the internet, I can’t see that we won’t know. Someone will tell.

    I also disagree with the person above–the problems with the writing of the shows right now is not about them being on the air too long. I’m not entirely sure it’s the writers’ faults, though, either, because I think the people above them are to blame a lot of times because they basically tell the writers what they can and can’t write, so they are hemmed in by that. We get sucky teen stories because the PTB tell the writers to write them, but the writers can’t or won’t write them well. Also, the people hiring them know their work, so if the writers are bad, it’s their fault for that, too. (Why do they keep hiring and firing the same people?)

    The writing problems are things that could be easily fixed because it is very clear that someone (writers, suits, networks, etc.) doesn’t think too much of the audience or the genre. They use contrived plot devices and other things that the audience has grown past. How many times do you see two people chatting about someone, and that person walks right in? Or a woman sleeps with two men and then of course, gets pregnant. Or someone gets threatened by ten people and is then murdered (or attempted-murdered). Or someone says, “I can’t believe how happy we are” and then of course…the bomb drops. Same old cliches over and over, and very little to surprise us, make us laugh, make us think, or make us go “wow”. That’s what good writing should do.

    Primetime drama writing has improved in the past twenty years, but soap opera writing has gotten worse. What does that tell you? It begins and ends with the networks, not the audience or the show. The networks need to bring in fresh blood and/or give the writers more leeway to be more creative and original with the shows. If soaps can’t improve and evolve with the times, they probably deserve to die, and the networks deserve to lose money. I pity the audience, and all the people who will be put out of work, though.

    I love your blog!

    Suzanne
    The TV MegaSite, Inc.

    Thanks, Suzanne. You’ve written me many letters over the years; this one is fantastic. I agree with you that TPTB have an overwhelming influence on telling the writers what to write. I can never believe that most writers write this junk voluntarily; they know the medium is bottoming out as well or better than we. What a great tragedy daytime itself has turned out to be!

  9. Elle says:

    I agree with you in principal about supporting the WGA, but I truly believe that GH (the only soap I watch) can only improve under scabs.

    The writing is total trash and has been for years. If the favoritism shown by the current bunch of hacks is reduced by 2% I can see myself starting to enjoy the show.

    It’s not like they don’t know the viewers are upset about their current writing. They’ve been watching the ratings drop. At this point, the mess that is daytime today is squarely on their heads, and I don’t believe they deserve additional money for destroying a show I’ve been watching my entire life.

  10. Giada says:

    I agree with your support of the WGA. Scabs writer may do a good or bad job — some of them I am sure are good writers in their own right — but I believe that this issue is beside the point. I wonder whether we, as viewers, should watch their work or stop watching as a form of solidarity toward the WGA. I’m torn. I think we should do that, but at the same time I realize doing that means hurting the soap genre and pushing it to a possible place of no return.

    Marlena says: Bon natale Giada! Great to see you again! You know Marlena is part Italian — but even more so around the holidays!

    I have pondered the same question. To watch or not to watch? It’s sticky — and a personal choice. As a journalist, I am obligated to cover both sides of any story. So I guess I’ll have to watch the shows the scabs write. But I won’t be happy!

  11. BL says:

    I agree with the WGA that the writers should be compensated for new media, but I don’t have hate for those who have crossed the picket line and continue to work (if they are not a member of the WGA), or those writers who chose financial core. The scribes who are financial core at least have the guts to out themselves and let the union know what they are doing. The writers who are outwardly supporting the strike, but continue to write in secret though bother me.

    We aren’t seeing scab work yet. The material on now was taped weeks ago, though it seems some shows are starting to stretch with added montages.

    Supposedly AW during the last strike was fortunate enough to have a long term written by Harding Lemay to use as he had just been hired before the strike began. Donna Swajeski filled in and changed things as the strike went on in the 80s.

  12. Mary says:

    I’d like it if just once someone would mention the hundreds of innocent crew members and laborers who have lost their jobs -and much more – due to this strike. The WGA has downplayed it. How very convenient. Do the lowly crew members not matter? Bah. I am very amused and not a bit surprised by the one-sided reporting and editorials on this story! Tell the whole story, people! The writers have a legitimate beef, but they sure have ignore what this strike has cost OTHERS.

  13. Blake says:

    Good point Mary. Although, I have read that there could be the same type of strikes when its time for the directors, producers, etc.
    I agree that the crews and other workers are being affected, but they may be doing the same thing very soon, and then that will affect the writers, so it will be a vicious cycle.

  14. esther says:

    Mary, RIGHT ON! It *is* costing many people right now. I have several assistant friends who are on a “long vacation” and it sucks!

    Daytime will not survive if they’re taken off the air due to lack of scripts. If that happens, a higher percentage of nothing that shows online really won’t matter, will it?

    I am so not a fan of the WGA. First off, these are hardly peons (as the original unions were supposed to protect). Also, any writer I know who’s had a beef with the studio got SCREWED by the WGA cause they sided with the damn studio! Look at those poor (i obviously use the term loosely) West Wing writers who were getting screwed out of their raises by their boss. They couldn’t go to the WGA — guess who the president of the WGA was at the time — John Wells — their boss!

    Daytime writers already get no resect from the WGA… how much more could they disrespect financial core writers? I mean really. It’s like someone being very dead. Once you’re dead….you can’t be VERY dead. Except maybe on GH. ;)

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