By Connie Passalacqua Hayman
Happy 20th anniversary, Soap Opera Weekly! Congratulations to the generations of writers, editors, production, art and business people who have worked on the magazine over the years. I was lucky to be one of them, from its launch on November 21, 1989 through the magazine’s first eleven years. Each week, under the pen name Marlena De Lacroix, I wrote Critical Condition, the magazine’s ultra popular, original critical/humor column — 543 of them!
Some say SOW was an instant success because soaps were so much better then or because there were so many more millions of soap viewers in 1989. Both are true. But I think SOW‘s success can be attributed primarily to the fact that it was a timely, excellent, fair-minded, professionally done magazine. It became a legend because in its first 11 years, it demonstrated courage and integrity in being absolutely honest about the soap opera world.
Jon-Michael Reed‘s break-though Daytime TV Serials Magazine in the 70s pioneered the serious view of soap opera and a few other soap magazines had periodically done the same in the 80s. But it was Soap Opera Weekly that widely popularized the smart approach. Through well-written articles, readers learned
Readers knew that we at a soap magazine were watching the same shows they were, and having the very same reactions. The industry respected us, read us, responded to us. But we weren’t bitchy or nasty in our coverage; in our hearts we had real love for soaps. We treated all in the soap world professionally and with respect, whether or not we liked their work.
not just about the personal lives of the stars, but how soap operas as network television productions really worked. Refreshingly, the new SOW didn’t kiss the asses of the networks, the shows or the stars. As far as I know there were no corrupting relationships or protective gentlemen’s agreements with the networks or producers. SOW worked because it was real journalism: balanced, researched through checked sources, dealing in facts rather than unfounded gossip. SOW presented an uncorrupted picture of the soap opera world.
None of this could have happened if not for the leadership and fair-mindedness of its founding editor, Mimi Torchin, who was at the helm for eleven years. Mimi was a rare gem in that she mixed real integrity with total professionalism and heart. She built and nurtured a pleasant, hard-working staff (unusual for soap publications) who wrote first-rate, intelligent stories. A whole new generation of young soap journalists learned their professional craft as staffers and interns at SOW.
And for its first 11 years, SOW distinguished itself through its commitment to the independent critical voice, long before the internet. My Critical Condition was written to be entertaining, but broke new ground in soap opera magazine honesty and candor. For me, it was kid gloves off in evaluating the soaps, the stars, the writers, the producers. I was opinionated, but as a journalist I always backed up what I said with research, facts and examples. Mimi was a daring, wise, principled editor. She let me write whatever I wanted. A lot of sacred cows, bullys and big boys in the industry really squirmed, and some notoriously came running after I wrote them bad reviews. How can I forget the obnoxious exec producer, always a creative zero, who kept faxing me letters about his “greatness” when I neglected to write about him at all?
No matter what I wrote, Mimi always backed me up. Those were the days my friend! What fun it was! Journalism is truth!
The new SOW was a phenomenal hit. Readers knew that we at a soap magazine were watching the same shows they were and having the very same reactions. That alone made SOW a best seller! The industry respected us, read us, responded to us. But we weren’t bitchy or nasty in our coverage; in our hearts we had real love for soaps. We treated all in the soap world professionally and with respect, whether or not we liked their work.
But that was long ago. In 2000, the independently owned SOW was acquired by Soap Opera Digest. and eventually Mimi and I both left. Some brave, original staffers stayed behind. Most eventually moved on to bigger publications, other professions and other lives. The magazine went through some dark years and many changes.
About a year and a half ago, I was happy to note, the magazine turned another corner, and was again well-written and striving to reach a serious soap-loving audience. But when the 20th anniversary edition appeared last Friday, I was shocked at the back-sliding. The “celebration” of two decades consisted of a handful of old covers and a review of on-screen events during the mag’s entire history No mention or thanks to the original staff or generations of the staff who followed–except the present one! No mention of how we in the first years of the mag changed soap opera journalism.
Most unconscionable of all there, was no mention of in the 20th anniversary issue of Mimi, the editor who founded SOW, who piloted the magazine to great success and overwhelming reader devotion. How petty of the current management. Sacre bleu!
Blog Talk Radio Alert: The SOW story isn’t just the story of Marlena De Lacroix. It’s the story of a great, hard-working staff of professionals who made soap journalism cutting edge and truly responsible to the fans and the industry. As a guest on Brandon’s Buzz, I’ll take questions about SOW and the writing of 543 Critical Condition columns. Tune in at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, for some honest and humorous recollections of those first great years.