Soaps’ Scab Scripts: Seinfelds They Ain’t

By Marlena De Lacroix

We’ve just passed New Year’s, and a certain ennui has set in this week on soaps.  This winter of Marlena’s discontent is made worse by the arrival of scab-written scripts. Are they here so soon?  On General Hospital and The Young and the Restless, this would seem to be the case.  Are there more?  Perhaps.  I’m listening closely, trying to take some small amusement in detecting that moment when the generally bad writing we’ve all gotten used to turns a corner and actually gets worse.

One sure sign of wanna-be “professional” writing is the unchecked tendency toward self-indulgence, the show-offy use of existing characters as mouthpieces for what the author imagines to be his/her wit or erudition, or both.

On General Hospital, Luke’s heart attack, subsequent surgeries and recuperation has provided a playground for someone wanting to display clever wordsmith-ery.  How else to explain Luke’s monologue about living and dying the day he almost died on the operating table and went to “Heaven”? It  meandered on for a full six minutes and never made word of sense. Then Luke grabbed a microphone and belted out “My Way,” as if this were GH: The Musical, and maybe some writer’s Broadway fantasy.  While songwriter Paul Anka checked his royalty statements, I ran for the Pepto. I love Tony Geary as much as anyone, but a singer he’s not!  The episode qualified as one of the worst GH‘s — ever!

Worse are the dream sequences in which the ever-professional Geary, who can act the stuffing out of any script he’s given, was sent to Heaven, Hell (where two weeks ago, the world’s self-styled Grooviest Guy spies himself as grumpy grandpa to Lulu and Logan’s vast brood of kids) and, covering all bases, finally yesterday to Purgatory.

A whiff of a cigar rendered Luke comatose and when he was fully out,  he dreamed of himself on trial in Purgatory to determine his fate in eternity.  Geary played four parts — himself, his inattentive defense attorney, the priggish prosecutor and the stern judge.  The whole dreary exercise was built around just one joke:  Luke thinks he’s going to be vindicated, but one after another, characters from his life (cameos by some figures out of his life story like Scotty, one-time mother-in-law Lesley, daughter Lulu and son Lucky, adored galpal Skye and of course, current Wife Tracy) sit on the witness stand and recount his endless misdeeds, to which Luke responds with comic incredulity.  Ha, ha.  And his attorney, rather than defending him, agrees with them each time.  Ha ha again.

This was a really funny idea when veteran headwriter Larry David used it in the final episode of Seinfeld, which suspiciously sounds like the inspiration for this episode. To this writer Marlena says, paraphrasing the late Sen. Lloyd Bensten in his famous 1988 debate with vice presidential hopeful Dan Quayle:  “You, sir, are no Larry David.”

And how about a little originality, you new scabs who want so badly to get hired to full-time jobs?  I watched a Y&R episode this week which featured a Genoa City blackout, necessitating all the stranded citizens to hang out and talk to each other, on and on.  Nearly every soap has done the old blackout story since it was invented in 1993 by the then writers of Guiding Light.  What cracked me up was all those cozy in-the-dark scenes (Jack/Ashley, Victor/Nikki) that looked like the stagehands had hauled out the ornate candelabras left over from Y&R‘s glam days in the late 70′s in which a tuxedo-ed Lance and evening-gowned Laurie used to sing with a grand piano.

Gosh, and how amateur scab dialogue sounds.  Good writers follow the most important rule of writing: show don’t tell. On the same Y&R episode a jealous Victor yelled at his estranged wife Nikki, who is now involved with David: ”I am a very possessive  individual, you know.  What’s mine is mine!  I fight for it it! That’s you Nikki” Duh!  This kind of line comes from someone who has been watching Victor as a fan on the screen, not writing lines for Victor to say from his heart and his brain.  Here is how the real Victor would have expressed his jealousy and typically macho feelings:  “David Chow! Who is this little man?  Now you, my wife, love him and he thinks he should marry her! He deserves I should tear his eyeballs out!”

Professional writers keep it simple.  And if they attempt to make a special sequence, they use the special writing skills they’ve developed and honed over their years as professional writers.  Wait a minute … wasn’t the atrocious Black and White ball, which aired on GH just a month ago, written by a bunch of … professional writers?

Comments

  1. Alice says:

    Sorry I have to disagree, Marlena. Stealing plotlines (such as Luke’s trial from Seinfeld) is as old as, or probably older than, Shakespeare, who did it all the time. It’s not the plot, it’s the execution. And I actually thought the scabs, if that was who wrote it, did a good job. (My suspicion is that most of it came from Geary, himself.)

    I was glad to see that Geary still could act. As Luke, all he does is chew up the scenery. In fact, the only character in that scene that I did not like was Luke. At least there was some reference to the history of the show, something Guza seems intent on ignoring.

    And if the dialogue was written by scabs, I doubt that this early in the time-of-non-writers the storylines are being created by the new guys. My guess is they’re following Guza’s outline. Makes sense since he always seems to indulge Geary’s every weird whim and then lets him exit the canvas on the flimsiest of conceits.

    I hate strike breakers as much as the next guy, but I have to say the writing has been a lot lighter recently. People are actually being witty and smiling on occasion. If that is indulgent, I’ll take it.

  2. I haven’t watched Y&R in a while, but on GH I have to agree that the difference was pretty much immediately apparent, not only with the scenarios but with the dialogue as well. It stands out like a sore thumb in comparison to everything before, even though, as you note, everything before wasn’t exactly great.

  3. Mike says:

    I usually agree with everything you say, but Y&R actually became watchable with the first scab episode after Christmas. I do believe that this is Sony’s gift to the viewers! Longtime director Sally McDonald is now the producer, the actors seem to enjoy themselves, the scripts are sharp and the whole production harkens back to the pre-Lynn Marie Latham days. I, for one, hope with all of my might that Sony keeps Lynn Marie Latham and her team of hack writers (all nineteen of them) out of Genoa City for good.

  4. Esther says:

    I can almost guarantee you he (Geary) probably wrote that stuff himself. He LOVED rewriting scripts. Now that he wouldn’t be offending his usual writers, I’m guessing it’s next to impossible to rein him in. Usually his stuff IS better….but this stuff sure wasn’t.

  5. cilla says:

    I once loved Luke but in the last 2 years, his character has nothing to do.
    He wanders around the Q mansion, drink in hand, with absolutely no purpose until he disappears for weeks. Tracy, a spirited, vibrant, independent woman has been reduced to either running after him or waiting for him to return from parts unknown. It is a total erosion of each character. I like Tracy and Luke better as business partners or rivals than husband and wife because I just don’t buy into their marriage.

    I thought these dream sequences were the worst scenes Tony Geary has ever done. I was embarrassed that Luke has been reduced to a caricature; I didn’t find it witty or even campy. No one would survive that many heart attacks. And in these “dreams” the 30 year love of his life, Laura, doesn’t appear–is mentioned once in passing–like she was never on canvas? Please….

    If Luke is reduced to this rubbish, please just let him die of one of these attacks and put us and him out of our misery. Leave his character’s legacy in tact.

  6. Fabobug says:

    I could be wrong, but I think OLTL is scabby now too. The writing and pacing seem different. Robin Strasser seems like she’s having to work a little harder to overcome the writing, like in the DH days.

  7. Dale says:

    A hap-hap-happy 2008 to you, Marlena!

    I managed to catch Luke singing “My Way” and had to do a double take. I actually watched it because I HAD to! That’s more than GH usually makes me do! I thought it was so bad it was good!

    I fear for my precious OLTL! What will become of my dear Dorian? I hope she does not revert back to the cartoon filler she was pre-Carlivati!

    As for my other fave, GL, I am most interested to see what goes down on that show. The strike is most unfortunate for all involved, but can GL get any worse? I’ll have my answer soon! We are a looooong way from the time you wrote that GL was a “Blueprint for #1 (is that what JFP framed?).” I am looking forward to your review of that show’s current state. Nobody hits the nail on the head like Marlena!

    Marlena says: Bless you Dale, especially for remembering the name of that long ago column which I wrote about GL. Both Patrick and I will have words on GL in the coming weeks. Here’s a preview of mine: the only GL character I still really care about is Buzz! And its all downhill from there….

  8. Carl says:

    How is Luke’s self-indulgent dream sequence any different from the self-indulgent dream sequence he had a few years ago?

    Y&R has been better with the new writers. The show no longer has breakneck pacing and they are actually trying to let us know the inner workings of the characters. The writing for Victor in particular is much more balanced, as we see his turmoil, yet also see that what he is doing is wrong. I would rather see that than hear Victor talking about “tearing eyeballs”, which he would never say.

    The soaps have never been as poorly written as they have been in recent years. It’s hard to imagine them getting any worse.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Actually – those dream sequences were all written by Mr. Guza and his team. The first episode to be written by scab writers was the one that aired on Friday (January 4th) and it was actually one of the best written episodes I’ve seen in a while! According to the Opening Credits on that episode, the new head writer is Garin Wolf.

  10. JB says:

    I smell a Geary re-write on that one Marlena, ala Endgame back in 01… Can you please tell me the date of the ep of when Victor says those things to Nikki? Hell that’s the only romantic thing he’s saying to her these days…

  11. Sina says:

    According to an article in The LA Times, Guza said he laid out an outline through March or something like that and the last written episode by all the real writers was December 26. So that means that Luke episode was written, not by the scabs, but by the actual writers.

  12. Bridget says:

    I’m glad that you’ve pointed out the “show don’t tell” rule. A lot of writers — professional and amateur — forget that. And when they do, we get scenes chock full of exposition via dialog that isn’t necessary (and is, sometimes, an insult to the intelligence of the viewers as some writers seem to enjoy stating the overtly obvious) or could, at the very least, be shown through action. For example, a scene in which a woman runs into her ex-boyfriend in the shampoo aisle. Instead of saying “She was nervous to see him again,” a good writer would use her actions to display her nervousness, perhaps by having her scurry out of the aisle and grabbing the wrong shampoo (I’m using this as an example because I once wrote a short-story with a scene like that for a Creative Writing class and I remember my professor making a point of mentioning it in his in-class critique…and I just couldn’t think of another example off the top of my head).

    I think the only good thing to come of the scab writing — aside from a little more wit, though not all good or appropriate — is the way Maxie’s character is being handled. (Well, that and the way Sam totally has Elizabeth’s number…) I like that they’re showing an honest grief with her. That sort of character development makes Georgie’s death meaningful beyond a simple display of Guza’s obvious lack of connection with his audience (although, it’s not really his audience right now, is it?).

  13. Kat says:

    One thing I noticed with General Hospital was that Sonny and Jason both seem to be a bit less vocal. Neither one is on screen all the time and we’ve actually seen other characters. We can actually go a day or so without having Sonny or Jason on. Its amazing!

    If the scabs can start to bring the balance back to General Hospital then I’m all for it. Especially since its been lacking for so long.

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