When All Soaps Are In Lockstep, Is Improvement Possible?

By Marlena De Lacroix

What’s a soap critic to do?  There are only six soaps.  I have a long memory and remember the very early 90s, when Bill Bell originated the homeless storyline with Stephanie, which way proceeded the current one.  Ken Corday is an enemy of free speech; he sought to destroy the critical arm of Soap Opera Weekly years ago. But alas.  The great and ultra creative Jim Reilly is dead and cursed now by Ken and followers.   All that is long ago and distant — to some and those who were not in the daytime world long ago in the first place.

The root of criticism in daytime is executive change.  You call for an executive change when you see a bad soap, a soap that is marked by cronyism, a soap that doesn’t  move, or centers too long on one character or is marked by favoritism or sexism or inside politics.  Yet, all the current headwriters and producers at daytime, as if in a time warp, seem locked into place.  We have Ken, enemy of the First Amendment at Days of Our Lives.  Fronsie eternal at ABC.  All the Bells and the bravura Rauch at Y&RJill and Bob at General Hospital.  They all seem to be on lifetime contracts.  What’s a soap critic left to criticize?  How does one call for change?

As I’ve written, I was not too happy Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati were spared their jobs at OLTL after rock-bottom ratings and an embarrassing streak of sexism never before seen in daytime.  But Frons gave them a stay of execution.  And the show has begun to show improvement.  Somewhere, somehow, the sexism disappeared and the two built a new family in the Fords.  I have to struggle to remember their names, but all three actors have come a long way.  The oldest Ford, as played by Nic RobuckNic Robuck has suddenly become a romantic hero.  Isn’t it cool your husband Cole goes to jail for murder and the same day your new boyfriend James comes to visit you and Starr tries to seduce him in her bedroom?  Even as your mom Blair flirts with the very same James  the next day.

What I’m saying, if shows are rethought and replanned and internally criticized, improvement is possible.  The sexism is magically gone from One Life to Live as if those at the network were reading all the professional soap criticism.  On the other hand we don’t see much of Dorian, and no Robin Strasser is soaps without sugar.  I fell immediately under the spell of John Wesley Shipp. What a magnificent actor! I love his villains.  Doug  Cummings was one of the best villains in As the World Turns history.  Those who wrote about John as a living torso should have shame on themselves.  John had primetime shows (Dawson’s Creek) and even starred on Broadway.  Already, his evil, evil Eddie Ford, all beer and prostitutes, is shaping up to be soap’s big thing.  The only thing Eddie doesn’t do yet is belch through his scenes.

I also watch General Hospital and follow the Brenda saga.  So she had a baby and left it somewhere. It looks like Jerry Jacks has something to do with all this and will be back soon.  There’s no reason to waste the marquee value and true chemistry of a couple like Vanessa Marcil and Maurice Benard.  And Robin looks like she needs a lot of help in the on-going saga in which Lisa is torturing her to take away her husband.  Fires! Endless kidnappings!  Stuck in a hole!  David Benzali (Murder One) is coming to General Hospital as a confidante for Robin.  The sexy bald master actor is wonderful. It wouldn’t surprise in the least if he turns out to be the much feared and talked about Balkan!

As for All My Children, I don’t have much good to say.  Killing off Thorsten Kaye is one of the dumbest soap moves ever (he has a lot of fans including me).  All this leads to is hope that Erica and Caleb will get together and that her boring fiancé Jackson will see the high road and take it and leave.  If All My Children can improve, than I’d say that was a soap miracle.

So, perhaps there is still some hope after all.  I’m still watching — for now.  How about you?  Do you have any hope for the future?

Comments

  1. Chrissy says:

    Hi Connie dear!

    Like yourself, I, too, am frustrated with the current state of Daytime (or should I sadly say LACK of Daytime.) I sincerely don’t know what to watch any longer.

    At one time or another, I was a fan of/and watched every soap on the tube and now that we’ve dwindled down to 6, only one soap seems to be keeping my interest these days, and that’s B&B. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that B&B has many of the same actors (and of course writer/EP Bradley Bell) since day 1 – that clearly makes a difference. B&B stays true to form storytelling wise and has an advantage at being 30 minutes.

    Last spring, I found myself unintentionally taking a hiatus from soap watching and… gulp! I didn’t miss them! How terrible!

    So last month I was determined not to give up on the weekday entertainment that I have loved since 1980 and I set my DVR for Y&R, B&B, AMC, OLTL and GH (heck, I might as well throw DAYS in there for good measure so I can say I record all 6!) While I still record all of these daily, the only one that interests me is B&B.

    There HAS to be a way to get me interested in the other’s again – we have to snap outta of this soap funk!

    I often feel that sometimes new blood is the answer, but just take a look at the soap I’m loving – that’s B&B where NO changes have ever been made at the top. So go figure.

    In any case, the Holiday’s are just about upon us, and I always love my soaps around this time, even if they stink!

  2. E.O says:

    Hi Marlena,
    I’m glad you have noticed the improvement on OLTL. The show is on fire! I agreed with your sentiments whole-heartedly a few months ago regarding OLTL, but as you say, something changed.

    It could be due criticism like yours, or Jean Pasasanante joining, or (as RC and FV claim) the excitement of getting a two-year contract, but the show has done a complete 180! The storie around Who’s is Rex’s Parents is the highlight of the show because it revolves around veterans. It has done the unthinkable and has made me like Rex once again. Kelly finally removed that stick from you know where and is actually fun and cute before, like how she used to be! Plus Marty has infused the Buchanan twin WTD storylines with some excitement.

    I actually am excited to watch OLTL and recommend others to watch it too. I’m interested to hear your opinion on these stories Marlena.

    Marlena says: I hope that they don’t turn Marty into an insane kidnapper (of dingbat Natalie’s baby.) After all, she has reasons to be mentally ill–her husband is dead and her son is off to prison for 10 years. Kelly should stop trying to be Dinah. Otherwise, the Rex story is fun, although I have no idea why Clint wouldn’t want to claim his son.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Hello, Marlena…

    What’s the old chestnut: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result? I think part of the problem over in Bell-land is the horror of the Lynn Marie Latham era, when the show became so unrecognizable and unwatchable that her successors were afraid to do much beyond copying the style of the past. Saying “we put things back as they were!” got them a few pats on the back for a while, but now people are realizing that “the way things were” wasn’t perfect, either.

    I think I am not alone in the belief that the best thing that could happen to ABC Daytime would be for Brian Frons to leave. Not only would certain favorites of his *finally* be de-emphasized if not fired entirely, but the shows themselves would have the chance to re-develop individual identities.

    I am loving OLTL right now, almost as much as I was enjoying it a year ago before the Big Purge. Though I am not quite ready to call the Ford family a welcomed addition, I can at least see what they want to do with the various members of the clan. James (the middle child, lest we forget Bobby) seems to be the most useful, even if he veers into cheesiness at times when appearing with Starr. The most genuine acting I see out of the actor, however, is the unspoken horror registering on his face whenever his father is near him. I do like what John Wesley Shipp adds to the mix, but I am not really interested in Inez (Jessica Leccia). It’s still difficult to picture her as the mother of a 26 year-old son (Bobby). I’ll never accept Bobby as a viable love interest for Langston after the year they’ve had, and I wish they would stop pushing that story.

  4. Marilyn Henry says:

    I’m so glad you’re finally watching episodes of OLTL–the show is so good these days! October was as exciting as a sweeps month and then here we are in sweeps and it continues to be ‘ must tune in tomorrow’ good! Love Bo and Nora, but then, I always have. JPL strikes me as not much of an actor, but his character of Rex is once again likable so that helps. I was never that fond of Kim Zimmer but her Echo this time is both sly and touching. Never sure which is the real Echo–a good thing. Clint is sooo handsome and interesting (I just hope they don’t take his evil turn too far). I like the way they introduced James–letting him be around Starr just enough, while they wound up the relationship with Cole. And they took over a year to show Cole’s hot-headed side, so that his eventual crime seemed believable. And we know how very good John Wesley Ship is at villainy–didn’t he get an Emmy years ago for a guest stint as a wife abuser on SB?

    If Thorston Kaye would only show up in Llanview now–how perfect would that be? Marty needs him!

    And Dorian IS on, as well as Viki and Charlie and Clint–the main vets. Love ‘em. I’d like to see more Roxy, but hope the Rex thing will involve her. ( I DO wish they would bring back A Martinez for Dorian.)

    Actually, the show is really doing what good soaps should do and do best. Plenty of stories going, weaving in and around each other. Interesting characters, mostly well played. Characters of all ages and walks of life.
    And the ratings are up!

    As for GH, it seems stuck. Stuck in old scripts, much too much Sonny as usual, too much Brenda, too many threads dropped, too many holes in stories, too often putting one story on hold too long just to tell another while both lose momentum and credibility. The structure is bad, the continuity bad, the sets depressing, the characters too often ruined of what ever made them likable. They still refuse to give Alexis a story or a romance and Nancy is a favorite of many fans. Once I watched primarily for Geary, but no more. I have no use for this drunken lout with no purpose that Luke is now.

    There is still something there–just not at all sure what. I watch, but distantly, staying uninvolved. Although many critics and so many fans have criticized and complained and tuned out because Guza cannot let go of the Godfather, nothing changes. Many of us stayed because we hoped someone at ABC would take notice and give us back our soap, but I’ve lost any hope I had.

    Marlena says: On OLTL, I surrender–but it’s only because they have made definite improvements. But GH–when you, Marilyn, stop having hope for this show and dislike Luke–oh that is dark and foreboding. Watch out Guza and Jill–your show is definitely doomed.

  5. rcade says:

    Fans of soaps should appreciate the current storyline on OLTL that’s putting all of their vets onscreen. It isn’t every day that we see characters on the far side of 60 embroiled in a paternity storyline.

    For all of its faults, OLTL is closer to what made soaps enjoyable than the other shows on ABC. I don’t understand how GH can be mired so long in repetitive mob violence storylines. And I don’t understand AMC at all. That show’s in a rut worse than the one Michael Malone inherited when he first became OLTL head writer.

  6. Deborah says:

    I don’t have any hope the for soaps. Viewers think that just because Days was renewed for two years doesn’t mean it can’t be cancelled. If the ratings continue to dip and they lose money (which is what is important), Days can be gone too! I have stopped watching soaps altogether once they cancelled Guiding Light. That was a travesty that the soap world will not be able to survive Once SoapNet was cancelled, then the nail was in the coffin for me. Good Luck to the remaining soaps. They are going to need it.

  7. TV's Tim says:

    OLTL has improved, but not by leaps and bounds. The Fords are finally developing into an interesting family (though, much like yourself, I sometimes have trouble telling them apart) and the addition of JWS is a big step in the right direction. Zimmer as Echo has also been a pleasant surprise, but I hope this “Rex Looks For His Parents” plotline will be over soon and they finally decide to position him as Buchanan (as we know they’ve wanted to do all along). And I know it’s sacrilege (to some of us) to ever suggest such things, but a little Dorian goes a long, long way for yours truly.

    But there are still problems that need to be addressed sooner than later. Aside from the ever-present diversity issues (which are even more appalling when you consider the show’s past), the fact that Todd is STILL being presented as a romantic anti-hero is still a huge issue for me (and for you as well, I’d imagine). And I hate to be “that fan”, but a significant part of the problem is the casting: Trevor St. John is a decent actor and has fine chemistry with Florencia Lozano, but he’s just not Todd Manning. Roger Howarth understood that Todd was a tortured villain and insisted on playing him that way, even if that meant leaving the show when the writers and producers tried to take the character in other directions. The writing for Todd has been atrocious over the years, but much like David Canary and Peter Bergman and Erika Slezak and other actors that are rightfully held in high regard by fans and peers alike, I think Roger could have risen above that obstacle and given the type of performances that Trevor simply cannon. IMODO, obviously.

    And the “Who’s The Daddy?” (times two!) story with the four most boring, vapid characters on the show is putting me to sleep. It’s nice to see Marty develop some backbone after all there years of being pushed around, but otherwise I couldn’t possibly care less about the rest. It’s very telling that only character I have the slightest bit of empathy for is slimy reprobate Robert Ford! Just another cliche-filled, poorly-written, poorly-acted (Melissa Archer is nice to look at, but the bug-eyed takes have got to go) mess taking up airtime from the vets like Bo and Nora (who are in grave danger of becoming coffee-pourers) people are actually vested in and want to see.

    All that said, OLTL’s faring better than its compatriots at ABC Daytime, which continue to slide down the tubes at alarming rates. Losing David Canary AND Thorsten Kaye in one year (I assume Vincent Irizarry is coming back soon, but you never know with this crew) is a huge blow to AMC and one they might not recover from, and the less said about GH, the better. I assume the rest are safe for now, but with SOAPNET closing up shop in a little over a year from now and no new shows on the horizon, I don’t think the future for soaps in general have ever been bleaker.

    Enjoy them while they last, folks.

  8. C.L.B says:

    I’m afraid you made a mistake regarding the James Ford character played by Nic Robuck on OLTL. James is actually the middle child brother of the Ford brothers! Robert Ford (played by David Gregory) is the eldest Ford brother! (Nate is the youngest of the bros.)
    I agree with your column and the other comments on this site saying that OLTL is greatly improving everyday since October!!!!
    I stopped watching “All My Children” after they killed off David Hayward and began to shove Ryan and Greenlee down our throats!!!! I personally don’t want Erica to hook up with Caleb and to throw poor Jackson under the bus! Why must they have Erica hook up with every new man that enters Pine Valley? It’s not Walt Willey’s fault that Jackson is boring. It’s just that the current head writers made him that way!!!!
    Vanessa Marcil’s return to GH as Brenda Barrett has been kind of a disaster so far because I’m kind of bored with the Balkan storyline and I’m pissed off that Bob Guza and his writers made Sonny’s long lost son Dante father a child with Sonny’s true love Brenda!!!! (even though Brenda and Dante first met a few years before either one of them found out that Dante was Sonny’s teenage love child with Olivia!!!)
    i also share Marilyn Henry’s comments that Bob Guza has horribly trashed Luke Spencer’s character by turning him into a boozy drunk. The day that Jill Farren Phelps fired Genie Francis is also the day that Luke’s true character died with it!!!!

  9. horselover says:

    Unless ABC fires Jill Phelps and Bob Guza AND replaces them with people that are passionate for the medium who write smart, intelligent and well-thought storylines, I see absolutely NO HOPE for General Hospital. This sleazy, dreary and sexist show is too much for viewers to watch anymore – especially those viewers that watched in the 80s and early 90s. Fans ask for less violence and mob and we just end up getting more violence and mob. Fans ask for more family, friendship and love and they kill of the Qs and give us one night stands. I can’t root for any of the characters. I don’t even like any of the characters. If ABC won’t TRY to change, then I just wish they’d put us all out of our misery and cancel the show.

  10. Ingenue says:

    Marlena, I completely agree that letting Thorsten Kaye slip through their fingers was the biggest bonehead move of all for ABC! I can’t imagine how that could bode well on any possible level. I, too, am a huge TK fan & I’ve loved Zach Slater so much it’s hard to put into words- sometimes it’s not even rational & borders on obsession! This man has a huge & very vocal following & it seems something could’ve been worked out. Now I’m going with him & I have no idea how this miserable excuse for a show is going to make it w/o him. It’s a real shame. Really- it is. Do you think anybody at AMC is listening? If I had the means to do it I would gladly pay him whatever he wants myself!!

  11. Marilyn Henry says:

    Just an observation about the ruination of Luke Spencer:

    If they had actually done a real story about the downfall of Luke, if they had examined why he turned to booze after Laura collapsed (and he did not drink much before that or during her returns) and why he lost his gusto, his gutsiness, his smarts (his balls, so to speak), letting it all go as he panders to witchy Tracy, letting her pound him down…IF they had written a story about it and shown us what was at work here, then it would have been interesting and given Geary another Emmy opportunity. If they showed us that Luke cannot think of the loss of Laura and therefore blocks out the pain of loss of his great love and tries to cover it by pretending Tracy is his great love, if they showed that Luke has numbed his heart and his drive in life to settle for an easy life as Tracy’s charity case–as self-protection because his center is gone–THEN another return of Genie would be meaningful and fascinating.

    Remember when Luke trashed his Blues Club and tossed money away at Ruby’s cafe out of the pain of Laura’s being sent to a mental hospital comatose–that could have been used as the beginning of this slid into drunken oblivion he has experienced.
    See, I could accept Luke like this if they gave it a name and a reason and made a real story out of it, one worthy of Geary and of Luke. They keep looking to boost things by bringing on temps like Franco, when all they need to do is create some well-written in-depth stories for the super actors we already care about.
    But to try to make comic relief out of the ruining of a major iconic character–that has been just more careless writer stupidity and another reason that ratings are at the bottom and the show has slipped so alarmingly in the last couple years.
    And as for the Genie returning rumor, well, Genie doesn’t need to be a party to the show’s slide. Laura is a great character and should be the center of this show, but that won’t ever happen with Guza in place.

    And just a quick observation about OLTL–I feel the Ford brothers are filling the spot held once by the Angel Square family we barely see now–with only Chris there and his mother recast. And TPTB are settling them in now and each brother has a definite personality and individuality. JWS only ups the interest there.
    That show has so much going for it now!

  12. Adam says:

    OLTL, for me, is better now than it has been in a long while. Part of that is the balancing of the stories, compared to what was going on just a few short months ago. However, my beef with the series is the way in which characters under the current regime do not grow naturally. In fact, they often revert or develop split personalities-or so it seems-based on the “dictates” of the “story at hand”…and that’s a shame. In particular, what is with Clint?

    Since when has Clint thought the sun rose and set on Asa? Since when was Clint 100% about big business and worrying about “family fortunes and keeping out the riff raff”? This is the same Clint that left his father’s home when he was 16 and didn’t speak to him for nearly a quarter of a century? Who became a newspaper-man? This is the same Clint that recently told Viki “I never understood your love of journalism”. I might be missing something here, but when did Clint get a total personality and history transplant?

    If OLTL can fix this, and I doubt they can, unless he’s under Mitch’s control or suffering from a brain disorder of some sort-then I have real hope for the series. Until that time, and as long as these sorts of history and fan slapping in the face storylines continue, the series will never be able to achieve the greatness it deserves and is capable of.

    Marlena says: Bravo Adam. My question exactly. And since when does Clint not worship journalism? Hrmph!

  13. DS0816 says:

    Connie/Marlena writes, ” I’m still watching — for now. How about you? Do you have any hope for the future?”

    I checked out “As the World Turns” in its final weeks. I also viewed Sean Young on “The Young and the Restless.” And I did tune in for Kim Zimmer on “One Life to Live” — just to watch her act with Erika Slezak and, though it seemed brief, Robin Strasser (likewise all other cast members).

    I don’t know the exact first day it too effect, but I tuned in a few minutes of the Nov. 30 episode of “Days of Our Lives” — and I’m thrilled it is now available in high definition. That kind of investment — in a daytime soap (and in a genre that is “dying”) — is very encouraging. (Thank you, NBC!)

    But the passion, for me, is gone. (For now.) I know there’s always going to be award-caliber work (and I discussed at another site who may be the 2010-11 best-actress Emmy contenders; I’m thinking: Susan Flannery, Kathryn Hays, Debbi Morgan, Melody Thomas Scott — and, now, Laura Wright — would make a strong lineup), but it’s really difficult to get back that urge to tune in … and stay tuned.

    I have had the experience over the years of being in the position to come and go, stay for a while and be gone for a bit. My No. 1 wish is that none of the six remaining broadcast network serials — “All My Children,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Days,” “General Hospital,” “OLTL,” and “Y&R” — leaves the air at any time this decade. That, somehow, there would be an uptick in viewership, which would suggest a renewed interest. And, even if it takes another 20 years, soaps on ABC, CBS, and NBC have a comeback. (Perhaps a new one or two gets launched.) Even if they have to be produced in a different form (as Justin Deas told Michael Logan in one of a series of star interviews timed for the Sept. 18, 2009 end of “Guiding Light”).

  14. DS0816 says:

    Marilyn Henry asks, “And we know how very good John Wesley [Shipp] is at villainy — didn’t he get an Emmy years ago for a guest stint as a wife abuser on ['Santa Barbara']?”

    The actor won two Daytime Emmy awards. For the 1985-86 season, he was prized for supporting actor as Douglas Cummings on “As the World Turns.” And the following, 1986=87 season, saw Shipp win a guest performance Emmy (on a list of contenders both male and female, including Oscar winners Eileen Heckart and Celeste Holm) for his work on “Santa Barbara.”

  15. Michael Bird says:

    I haven’t watched anything since ATWT ended in September, but on a recent trip with our school band (to Chicago! Home of “Painted Dreams” and Irna Phillips!), I was in the hotel room and had a chance to check out some shows.

    I saw Dorian on OLTL … with Reva-Echo. Good stuff. Don’t know why Clint is mean all of a sudden.

    Zach died on AMC, but seeing Erica on screen looking like she did 20 years ago did my heart good.

    Over on Y&R, Victor and Nikki had a smackdown that could have come from an ’80s episode.

    Then, in some most encouraging way, I saw Joe Mascolo acting his heart out over on DAYS with what seemed to be real drama (no demonic possession or serial killers seemed to be

    around). And then … Big Red herself … Maggie Horton was the center of the action. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And ears, too – was that a real orchestra playing instead of that synthesizer junk they have used for background music on DAYS for so long? If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was watching a soap opera.

    There may not be a show worth investing day after day in any more for me … but it sure felt good to turn on the tube and see veterans of glory days past on the screen.

    Marlena says: Great to hear from you Michael! Miss you! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family

    ATTENTION MARLENA DE LA CROIX FANS: I warmly support Colleen Zenk to appear on next year’s Dancing With the Stars. Go to AMC.com and vote for her there or join her Facebook page. Go Colleen, a great daytime star, dancer and a terrific all around gal!

  16. Michael Bird says:

    Colleen just had a fabulous chat on her Facebook page with some of us fans … and this DWTS thing is gathering momentum. If Facebook can put Betty White on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, then we can get Colleen Zenk on DANCING WITH THE STARS!

  17. Ja-Min Kim says:

    Marlena,

    I have been a OLTL fan since 1978 and I miss those days so much,and while I still watch the show today, I have not been excited about storylines since the days of Linda Gottlieb as EP and Micheal Malone and Josh Griffith as Headwriters. OLTL problem right now is producing and writing,Oh how I miss the days of Gary Tomlin. I hope and pray for someone other than Jean Passante to be added to the writing team. I was thinking maybe Matthew Labine ,Eleanor Mancusi, Josh Griffith, Claire Labine, Scott Hamner, David Paulsen or Patrick Mulachy. I miss the days when Robin Strasser and Erika Slezak were front and center, the plots were riveting and the directing was intense. The only thing refreshing about OLTL these days are episodes directed by the multi-talented Jill Mitwell who in my opinion should be EP. Here is hoping Santa Frons grants at least part of My Grown Up Christmas List.

    Happy Holidays To You and Yours

  18. antmunoz says:

    Marlena, I looked for another place to contact you, but couldn’t find one. I hope you will devote a column to the luminous Jacquie Courtney soon. Today’s daytime viewers need someone with true perspective, like yourself, to sum up what Alice Mattthews and Pat Ashley meant to daytime from the 60s to the 80s.

  19. Ann says:

    I have given up on GH until Frons, Guza, and Phelps are gone! They do not appreciate the rich history of the show! Nor do they have a clue about what their audience wants to see.
    I echo Marilyn’s comments about the character of Luke. It is sad to see one of the greatest character’s in daytime history ruined.
    I think Daytime TV needs new blood badly! Writers move from one soap to another as do EP’s and daytime execs. If they weren’t successful at one soap, then chance are they won’t be at another one.

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