By Marlena De Lacroix
A member of our family has been ill, so it’s been hard enough to post. And so at the end of tough days, I turn to where I have always turned since I was a teen for a bit of relief, comfort and a sense of belonging: to daytime soaps. Right now — late Saturday afternoon – what’s going on is SoapNet’s ”Welcome Back Weekend,” a festival of old episodes of All My Children and a repeating promo special welcoming back the characters of Jesse, Angie and Greenlee, as played again by veterans Darnell Williams, Debbi Morgan and Rebecca Budig.
But as I watched the promo special, Greenlee, Jesse and Angie, Back in Pine Valley, I sensed I’m not the only one having problems with an illness in the family.
First let me assure you that the ABC family problem of which I speak has nothing to do with the very welcome return of Angie and Jesse. As I watched the wonderful clips of Morgan and Williams culled from AMC vintage early 80s — even without sound — teens Jesse and Angie immediately sprang to life as multi-dimensional human beings. And of course they had come straight from the head and heart of AMC creator and headwriter Agnes Nixon, mother of us all, creator of Marlena’s favorite soap in that era which offered the best soap writing ever! Two devastatingly real characters fully realized in all their emotions by two great artists!
But then I saw in the same network special AMC clips from a totally different, later era — clips of Rebecca Budig’s Greenlee. A rich girl opening her mink to reveal her pert self in a bra, panties and high heels! A character with average range! An actress with the subtlety of a high school cheerleader!
Was the special really equating Budig’s work on AMC with that of Morgan and Williams? And, as you know, that’s not the only gross inequity. Over the past few weeks and this weekend, Budig’s return to All My Children has been bally-hooed in a bizarre over the top promotion campaign. Budig has been touted as if she had had the daytime wattage of Susan Lucci, Deidre Hall, Susan Flannery, Genie Francis and Tony Geary all rolled into one!
Budig? A peppy performer and I’m sure a nice girl, too, but hey folks, far from the top tier of all-time soap opera performers. In all my decades of watching soaps, I’d rank her somewhere around 235 out of about 4,000 actors and actresses I’ve seen.
But what prompted the over-hype that has accompanied Budig’s return? We all know that All My Children is now shockingly facing ratings oblivion. Over the last twelve years ABC Daytime has mismanaged the once sparkling show via bad headwriters and stupid gimmicky stories like those starring the ever-shallow Sex in the City-esque Megan McTavish-written Fusion girls, prominent among them Budig’s Greenlee. ABC doesn’t want AMC to be cancelled. So bringing back three big names from its past isn’t a bad idea. Every soap’s doin’ it!
But the campaign for the “Real Greenlee’s Return” (including a website countdown and daily insulting “bugs” on the screen (some over Sabine Singh’s face!) has a suspiciously personal flavor. The magnitude of how overdone it is feels icky to me, and makes me suspect an ulterior motive. It is as if Greenlee were Eqyptian Queen Cleopatra being paraded through the streets of Rome and presented to future lover Julius Caesar on a platter (it happened that way in history as well as in Rome, the recent HBO mini-series.)
Even my husband Moose, who only watches soaps occasionally, sensed something sexual going on here in the over-adoration of Budig. “Marlena,” he observed with a kindly shake of his head, “She’s cute, but she’s no Kelly Monaco.”
So, who at the network authorized such a monstrously overdone and inappropriate return campaign? Can this be more than a simple case of corporate mismanagement? Obviously, there’s some kind of illness, a corporate pathology going on over at ABC Daytime. As a journalist I worked with and knew the whole top executive team at ABC Daytime throughout the 80s and 90s, and the classy ultra-professional women who ran the joint (pre-Disney) would have never authorized anything as inappropriate as this. Even Richard Nixon couldn’t have authorized an operation so corrupt!
I leave the inevitable investigation of this soap Watergate to the people at Disney. It’s an illness in their own family — and their disease to cure.