Happy 20th Anniversary, Soap Opera Weekly!

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 http://www.hollywood-dreams.com/images/uploads/sowsept595.jpgweek, 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, Mimi Torchinwho 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, critcal condition 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!

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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.

Comments

  1. Greg says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Marlena once again for bringing back such wonderful memories. As a soap watcher for 40+ years (I started as a child), I relished in publications such as Jon-Michael Reed’s DAILY TV SERIALS & SOAP OPERA WEEKLY under Mimi Torchin’s regime with you as their STAR columnist because you respected your readers — sensationalized stories as many of the fan magazines carried were not to be found but instead intelligent, thought provoking reviews, interviews & features.

    I honestly have not bought SOW since shortly after the big changes were made & knowing that things are back as they were then assures me that I will not bother but will continue to look here (& a few other places out here on the Internet) that will continue the tradition begun many years ago.

    Marlena says: Actually, I think the current magazine is much, much better under managing editor Gabby Winkel and I read it every week. I was just angry that an entity above her (not Gabby, a great gal and the only original SOW staff member left) chose to “forget” Mimi and the rest of us in that one issue.

  2. Mimi Torchin says:

    Connie, thank you so much for such a loving and, might I modestly add, accurate accounting of the early, thrilling, ground-breaking days of Soap Opera Weekly. We were a family at Weekly and were of a single mind and purpose: To do the best, most intelligent, most accurate magazine covering a genre we all loved and respected. I think the word “respect” probably best describes what really made us different. We not only respected the genre and those who worked in it, we respected our readers. We never talked down to them and they responded in kind. My 11 years at Soap Opera Weekly were the happiest and most creative of my entire professional life. Personally, I made friends, both in my staff and in the industry, that will last a lifetime. I’m glad you were a part of our pioneering family. And I always liked your avatar better than any of my own column pictures! Happy 20th Anniversary! How could it be 20 years already? Wasn’t only yesterday I stayed alone at the office until 11:30 pm waiting to see if we would have Cruz and Eden’s split for our second cover the night before the deadline to have a cover at all? I might have had to have my bare butt, something we feared at other times, on that cover very early on, something that would have either made us an even bigger overnight sensation or would have shut us down at issue two! Needless to say, we got the Santa Barbara cover! And let me just add that my staff was the best, brightest, hardest working people with total integrity. Those 11 years were a total labor of love and I think it showed. I didn’t see the anniversary issue but I’m sorry the people who founded it and set its course weren’t mentioned. But, as Kurt Vonnegut said in one of my favorite books, “So it goes.”

  3. Kevin says:

    I’m glad you brought this up, Marlena!

    543 Critical Conditions?!? I seriously have about half of them all saved in a folder … not a web folder … but ya know, a literal folder in a filing cabinet.

    Your columns were so sharp, witty, articulate and spot-on and even to this day, I’d prefer reading them in the current Soap Opera Weekly magazines than the stuff they pass off.

    As much as I hate to say it, you get past the first five or six pages … and you’re almost done with the magazine. It’s nothing near as grandiose as it was say 13-15 years ago.

    Lotsa love to ya Marlena!!!!

    ~ Kevin

  4. DS0816 says:

    Dear Connie/Marlena,

    I bought the first issue of “Soap Opera Weekly,” in November 1989. At the time I figured, Why not look at, and consider, another magazine in addition to “Soap Opera Digest” (which I had read, at that point, for four or five years; not long after my beginning in following the network daytime dramas)?

    The 1990s were the period for me in relying on “Soap Opera Weekly” for facts and insight. For quality material and journalism.

    I bought every issue at local bookstores — and made a point of doing so the first day I knew a new issue became available (usually on Mondays). In fact, I traveled with my then-86- (going on 87-) year-old grandmother to New York City, in April 1993, and made a special trip to pick up a latest issue. (Oh, yes. I was definitely … devoted.)

    With a love for “Guiding Light’s” daring and mature 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons — my favorite period for any one drama in my 25 years of soap-opera viewing — this was reason enough to have “Soap Opera Weekly” serve as a guide. (After all, we did not yet have this called … the Internet.)

    I kept tabs (and watched, to some extent) other serials — “As the World Turns” was great in the 1990-91 season (with Kim/Bob/Susan triangle); “One Life to Live” got cooking with the 1992-93 season (the Billy Douglas homosexuality story) and its multi-Emmy-winning 1993-94 season (the rape of Marty Saybrooke).

    I found myself appreciative of this publication, which struck me as one that truly “knows” and “loves” the genre on which it is focused.

    “Soap Opera Weekly” treated the daytime dramas as art.

    I even had some letters published in “Public Opinion.” (I don’t want to reveal myself here.) That department was “must-read,” because critical opinions — from the viewers/readers — did not come across as “fan-like,” or puffy, nor did they feel ghost-written (to fill space).

    The interviews with daytime performers and behind-the-scenes figures (such as exec producers and writers) were probing and intelligent.

    The special “For Your Consideration” and “Dream Ballot” articles — related to the annual Daytime Emmy awards (launched with the 1992-93 season) — were ones I looked forward to reading. (In addition to reactions once nominations became official.)

    I really appreciated “Critical Condition,” your column, Connie, and that “‘Guiding Light’: Blue Print for No. 1″ was unforgettable … and, at this point, legendary.

    It’s a bit difficult for me to go over more and more of the content regularly featured in “Soap Opera Weekly” — because I couldn’t hold on to too many past issues (space limitations) — but, please, believe me: I’ve been watching/following the serials for two-thirds my life. (Certainly not every day. In fact, lately I’m disillusioned over the state of today’s dramas and have separated myself from them.) But this period — it’s one that I treasure.

    NOTE: Thanks for this article addressing the 20th anniversary of “Soap Opera Weekly.” I applaud them for surviving; we’ve seen plenty good publications go down over the past decade or so — like “Soap Opera Update” (I have saved a couple interviews, with “GL” players, written by the excellent Richard Spencer; glad I thought to do so).

  5. RENEE says:

    Wow! Marlena/Connie, reading your column about SOW made me think back to some of the earlier soap publications I used to read: Among them was a magazine I believe you edited for a few years — “Afternoon TV” — and a magazine that, I think, pre-dated Afternoon TV called “Daytime TV” which was started and edited back in 1969 by the late Paul Denis. Soap Opera Weekly came along ten years after that and I remember getting hooked on it because of your sassy column that spoke about soaps in a way that no one had quite done beforel. In a way you legitimized my love of soaps because of your quite serious and thought-provoking critique of the genre. ITA’d with with much of what you wrote before we even knew what ITA meant! It’s a bit ming-boggling to me to think that I’ve been reading about soaps — and watching them — for some four decades! (Yikes!) And I guess that explains why I feel so passionately opposed to what’s happened to them today. Daytime TV magazine and Afternoon TV are long gone from the newsstands, but thank God there are still magazines like Soap Opera Weekly, Soap Opera Digest, soap websites and columns like yours to bear witness to what soaps were, what soaps are and what they could go back to being in the future if only TPTB listened to soap advocates like you and Mimi and to longtime fans of soaps like myself.

    Marlena says: ReneeRDM, I’ve been watching soaps 40 years too. I was actually the editor of Afternoon TV from 1981-1983, my first big soap magazine job. Paul Denis founded the first soap fan mag, Afternoon TV, in 1970 and went on to create and edit Daytime TV for many years. He had been a movie magazine editor in the 50s and 60s. I got to know him in my early years of writing about soaps. He was a wonderful, older gentleman who was always kind to me, and I always liked him very much. He passed away, but I don’t know when.

  6. RENEE says:

    Correction: Sorry meant to say Soap Opera Weekly came along 20 years after Daytime TV!!

  7. renee says:

    Marlena, Marlena, Marlena
    Remember that joy thing? You brung the trade in spades muh deah.

    The grin on my face would light up the Empire State Building with a bright red top, then white, and a fade to sky blue to represent the page layout SOW so favored. I never favored their soap recaps but their columns, like tu’s were miles above anything SOD wrote.

    I’m so sorry, the hideous gargoyle precurrent management had no appreciation of what came before them, that allowed THEM to even exist – you horrid trollops. You should bow in gratefulness. I speet on you. Shame shame shame. Hmmph.

    I’m done.
    So love you. We love you. I know you can’t forget that they were hurtful, but bask in our love and adoration.
    You are Ms. Divine, Ms. Thang. Just so precious..

    Marlena says: Well Ms. Thang II, you are divine too! Love you my sweet, speeting friend! xxooo

  8. Jonathan Reiner says:

    Excellent entry (as always)! Critical Condition was one of the most popular departments, behind the news, and its success was solely due to your unique voice, passion and perspective. It really was like lightning in a bottle back then, and I was VERY, VERY lucky to have been there for all the highlights (personal and industry-related) and laughs.

    Thank YOU for 543 columns.

    Love,

    JR

    Marlena says: Thanks as always Jonathan! It seems like only yesterday (1993) that you, Marc McGarry and Robert Schork were our first interns, bringing so much intelligence and young spirit to the SOW mix. You were always so funny and dear! So, so proud of all you’ve accomplished over the years, JR! xxxoo

  9. Kristen says:

    For several years in the early ‘90’s it was a requirement that I go on Friday afternoons to a newsstand that usually put out SOW just after lunch. At one point I did subscribe. But many weeks I ended up with two copies because my subscription copy would not arrive until Saturday or even Monday. Of course that was too long to wait! I remember one time I was especially anxious to read the latest issue. My baby, who was several months old at the time didn’t want to cooperate. He was fussy and didn’t want to let me read. I started reading it aloud. He must have liked it because he calmed down! I might have to share that memory with my “baby” tonight. I’m sure that would get one of those great sarcastic eye rolls that 17 year olds do best. :-)

    Marlena says: Thanks, that’s a wonderful story Kristen! Don’t kids grow up fast!

  10. James says:

    Chere Marlena,

    Ahh, those glory days of Soap Weekly.

    I initially dismissed Weekly because it looked like a National Enquired style tabloid. Figured it was just exploitive and not worthy of my time or my dollars.

    Oh, how wrong I was! When I finally discovered what Weekly was about, roughly a year into its existance, it changed the way I viewed soaps. Here was intelligent, respectful writing about soaps, including thoughful criticism that made me love soaps even more, made me want to watch soaps even harder.

    I, too, would make a stop by the newstand every Friday morning en route to work to pick up the new issue. I’d quickly glance through it to get the latest news there in the newsstand, then at lunch, would savor it fully. Sometimes I couldn’t even wait for lumch and would end up reading it at my desk, often getting in trouble for doing so.

    Critical Condition Mimi’s editorials were always my favorites. Thanks for the many wonderful memories. And thanks for making me a more discerning soap viewer.

  11. tess says:

    Marlena, I always enjoyed your magnificent Critical Condition columns. Once upon a time, I was an avid fan of AS THE WORLD TURNS and I was particularly appreciative when you wrote an article called AS THE WORLD TURNS BLOOMS.

    Lorraine Broderick and Felicia Minei Behr were working diligently to turn the show around and make it engaging and in my opinion, they were doing a brilliant job and via your article, you illuminated that, and I was grateful because I got the impression from things I read that CBS did not have Felicia Minei Behr’s back. And her contributions to WORLD were signficant, breathing new life into the show.

    And the audience was grateful, but alas, CBS wasn’t.

    Again, Marlena, you’re the best and I loved what you brought to SOW and I enjoy coming to this site to read about your opinions and insights.

    Marlena (Connie!) says: James, Tess, the Renees, DSO, and all my longtime readers whom I consider friends: I’d like to thank you all so much for writing in this week and sharing the anniversary with me. And for continuing to follow me here at marlenadelacroix.com. Your continued readership is very precious in my life and your letters always make my day. xxooo and love to you all!

  12. oliver says:

    Like many on this blog I have bought every edition of SOW for the past 20 years. I remember the bad paper of the early editions that always seemed to make the colors overlap like it was a 3-D image. I remember those amazing photos of soap stars as Tinkerbell and Batman. I remember all of the soap vocabulary we learned and all of the soap acronyms.

    Most of all I remember being a 16 year old away at boarding school, finding comfort in a cheap soap mag and some licorice.

    Thanks.

  13. Michael Bird says:

    Those Marlena deLacroix columns and the editor’s notes from Mimi Torchin, to me, define soap criticism. I would never have become as big a fan of my shows – or as knowledgeable about the backstage doings – without SOAP OPERA WEEKLY. I was a reader from issue #1 all the way through the early 2000s.

    My personal favorite was when Connie/Marlena wrote about George Reinholt from ANOTHER WORLD coming out as a hustler. Her commentary was so hilarious, I remember it all these years later.

    Looking back on these 20 years, I feel so sad that the business is in such a state of decline. I was so enthralled with soap operas that I wanted to become a soap opera writer. I did grow up to become a public school band director, radio disc jockey, and newspaper columnist near my hometown, and I often write about the soaps in my newspaper space, but I never got to – as Agnes Nixon said – “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait”.

    The articles and issues I saved were the ones where we learned about behind-the-scenes events at our favorite shows; where the studio was located in New York City, what actors once taped there or performed there when the show was live, what organist played the theme music … I even tracked down a copy of Charles Paul’s handwritten score to the original theme of AS THE WORLD TURNS. Yes, I’m a fan, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed! WEEKLY gave us the power to take our favorite genre seriously!

    Just last year, I bought ATWT writer Susan Dansby’s book on how to make a soap writing dream come true. Even after being married all this time and fathering six children (a soap opera unto itself) and being in my 14th year as a public school teacher …. that painted dream has never left the back of my mind.

    Like many others who posted, I would go to the supermarket or bookstore on Mondays looking for the new WEEKLY. Once, I even spotted the magazine guy loading the rack at the grocery store, and asked him for the copy on the top of the stack – I think it was for ATWT’s 35th anniversary, the one featuring Lisa, Bob, Nancy, and Kim on the cover – and he looked at me like I was from another planet!

    But I got the first copy of that April 1991 issue.

    Thank you for those 543 “Critical Condition”s, and keep up the great work in the blogosphere. As Mimi Torchin might say, see you next WEEKLY.

    Michael Bird
    Tallassee, Alabama

    Marlena says: Thanks Michael for your constant support and friendship over the years. I love journalism and soaps. But over the years I have also found that there is nothing more fulfilling than teaching and developing the minds and talent of the next generations, as you do in your job! BTW, George was falsely accused of being a hustler. He never was one and wrote to Marlena to clarify the ridiculous rumors in a lovely poem. That incident is still one of the great thrills of my career, as the Another World Steve-Alice-Rachel started me on soaps.

  14. Melanie S says:

    Has it really been 20 years?? That seems impossible. I remember when SOW came out (I was in my mid-teens – yikes!) and I absolutely loved it! I kept reading SOD (just for the recaps mostly) but SOW was the magazine I would rush to the store to buy. And your column was the first thing I would read. Thanks to everyone that worked at SOW – past and present – for creating one of my favorite magazines.

  15. Nelly M says:

    What a beautiful post, Marlena! Amazing, those were some wonderful times!

    I’d love it if your next post was about Lorraine Broderick’s legacy in the soap world given the news that she has been hired as an Associate Head Writer on AMC again. And I see some comments here mention her.

  16. Greg says:

    ATWT cancelled. :(

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