Winter Thoughts and a Book Review

By Marlena De Lacroix

Bonjour,  everyone.  Still watching.  I’ve particularly enjoyed One Life to Live‘s sweeps, with the downfall of Clint, and his acid confrontations with that bitch Aubrey.  Pine Valley seems to be emptying out and you have to ask yourself how long Alicia Minshew can carry the show on her boney shoulders.  I’m rooting for Sonny and Brenda  — how many brides and grooms can boast that they’ve both killed people?

As you know, the fare is so limited these days, the snowy afternoon ends much earlier than it used to. So what’s a girl to do?

How about browsing through a good new book on soap opera.  Whether you are a fan or a soap scholar, you’ll enjoy The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University of Mississippi Press), edited book logoby academics Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington.   The book is a compendium of mostly observational articles exploring what has happened to soaps these last twenty years — how the audience has drifted away and how the soaps have responded to this drift.  I particularly enjoyed the variety of the many contributions made by an assortment of familiar academics, bloggers, sophisticated  fans and former soap journalists.

 Ford’s examination of the life of Tom Hughes of As the World Turns is particularly readable and interesting.  I’ve always thought of Tom as one of the most boring men on soap operas — except when he was played by Justin Deas in the Mr. Big mid-80′s.  But Ford makes a good point that Tom is one of the few characters we’ve seen really grow up from childhood to full manhood.  He’s a barometer of soap men — the messy teenhood (I remember him doing drugs with a dealer played by Gary Sandy), the many girlfriends, the long, sometimes troubled marriage to Margo.  It’s a shame that neither As the World Turns nor Tom are not amongst us anymore.  But Ford’s Tom is living and breathing still within the pages of this book, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reliving and reexamining his life story.

I also like the survey of soap critics by Denise Bielby (no jobs, huh?). And I like very much the examination of the last bittersweet days of Guiding Light in Peapack, New Jersey, written by our own Patrick Erwin. Patrick was one of a group of enthusiastic bloggers GL took to Peapack two years ago to generate some buzz in an effort – in vain, as it turned out – to save the show. Patrick is a good writer, as you know if you’ve read his posts on this site and on his own, A Thousand Other Worlds. In this lively piece of reporting he captures perfectly the stress and chaos on the under-funded location: the producer’s office doubling as a hotel room set, the disgruntled musings of actors commuting long distances daily, knowing they are living on borrowed time. It was soap on the fly, and in the end the perfect venue for some insightful  investigative reporting.

What I really like about the book is its tone of intelligent optimism. Nowhere does it say what everyone else is saying — that soaps are dying.  It examines minutely a medium that is still — unlike Tom Hughes — alive and in the fight, even as its numbers dwindle. It’s a uniquely American creation that is still often worth watching — and thinking deeply about.

Comments

  1. Dale says:

    Marlena! There you are! You have been missed. :( Hope all is well!

    Thanks for the heads up on that book! There are not enough soap books out there, so I will be checking this one out.

    Glad to hear you are enjoying Clint’s downfall and all the soapy goodness that goes along with it! Will you be back soon to tell us what you think of the state of soaps in 2011?

    Marlena says: Darling Dale! Of course, I am always here and I will be back here soon with more comments! Love you all!

  2. Bob says:

    My friend, Giada, has great piece in the book wherein she gets some great insights from Marland protege, Patrick Mulcahey.

    Marlena, this post was such a great treat, thank you!

    –Bob

    Marlena says: Yes, our mutal friend Giada has a wonderful article on the always interesting Mr. Mulchaey. Thanks to Bob, great to hear with you.

  3. C.L.B says:

    Welcome back, Marlena!!!!! I’ve also been enjoying OLTL lately as well!! The paternity storyline with Clint and Natalie/Jessica/John/Brody/Ford has been fun and exciting to watch and I’m thrilled with the outcome it’s going to have in the weeks to come!!!! I also stoked that Tess is back again to wreak havoc on Ford’s life!!! (Though the Fords have been hogging too much air time on the show, at least Robert Ford is distancing himself from the teen scene to interact more with the adults for a change!)
    Did you also hear about all the comings and goings from all the ABC soaps that’s been going on in the past month? Mellisa Claire Egan is leaving AMC when her contract expires from the show. i’ll miss seeing Crazy Annie on the show! Brittany Underwood has been axed from OLTL!!! Can’t say I’m surprised by that firing, since the writers on that show have ruined her Langston character by having her cheat on Markko with Ford, and turning her into a sex-obsessed young woman!!! YIKES!!!!!!
    OLTL have also hired Austin Peck from Days of Our Lives and ATWT. I haven’t watched neither shows, but from what I saw on other daytime soaps’ web sites and blogs, I haven’t heard a lot of great things about his acting on DAYS, but he supposedly approved by the time he got on ATWT, though. I think I have to reserve my judgement on this one until his debut date comes around. (I also like the recent newbie characters Aubrey and Cutter as well!) What do you also think about the NuJoey?
    The “going” that I’m the most upset and saddened about though is TIIC at GH for firing Becky Herbst from the show!!! How dare they fire a legacy character like Elizabeth Webber!!!! Will Bob Guza ever let the cat out of the bag about Liz’s baby being the bio child of Lucky and NOT Nikolas before Liz leaves Port Charles? I hope to god so!!!! I’m also sick of the Balkan s/l, and can’t wait until it’s all OVER once and for all, and I’m DEFINITLY NOT looking foward for round 3 of Franco!!!! UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Marlena says: As you know I am not a Franco fan and not very excited he will be back again to hype his hosting the Academy Awards. And I’m mystified how AMC will get along without Annie. I’m rooting for a Clint and Aubrey relationship because Cutter is a big nothing. Tom Degnan is a good Joey.

  4. Chere Marlena, thanks so much for the kind words. I am honored that I was included in the book – just wish my GL essay would have been an observation and not an elegy.

    I was ready to let go of my lifelong soap habit once the last episode of ATWT played out, but I have to say that OLTL is *thisclose* to wooing me back to daily viewing. I’m enjoying nuJoey, Jerry verDorn as a badass (!) and Terri Conn as Aubrey. I am enjoying Zimmer as Echo too, though it’s really hard for me to not see Reva.

    I just can’t cope with the Buchanan girls, particularly Natalie, or any of these teens. And why is the show so DARK? I don’t mean mood, as I usually do – I mean, who forgot to pay the light bill?

  5. And PS to all reading – I owe Marlena a deep debt of thanks. She taught me so much about soaps and about journalism….and for that I am forever grateful! xoxo

  6. Marlene says:

    Hi Marlena,
    I was so happy to see another one of your fine blogs. You have been missed. I am checking to see if the books you mentioned are available for Kindle,either way I’m looking forward to reading them.
    I must,( and rarely do) disagree with you about one little item…your comment about being mystified how AMC will get along without Annie. I think they will get along just fine. I am not an Annie fan. The actress does do crazy well, but just my opinion, when an actor/actress does one thing well and they play that up for him/her just to allow them to chew the scenery up to outshine the others doesn’t make for great writing or acting to me. In most of her other scenes she is adequate and seems she is just doing as directed. It’s the everyday little scenes that the really talented soap actor does that make it seem natural and real that counts for me. The wonderful David Canary and Thorsten Kaye are masters at it. You feel they real people. With Egan,there’s little give and take with other actors. I always remember the scene between Lynn Herring and Jon Lindstrom when Kevin was confessing to Lucy about the abuse his twin suffered at the hands of their mother, he too was mentally ill. There was no scene chewing just quiet emotion that ran so deep you thought you were there. Lynn Herring was the right mix of what a supporting actor in a scene should be. They were mesmerizing. Melissa tends to overact.

    Annie should have left a long time ago. There is a lengthy list of transgressions this character committed with no resolution, she just skated by. It has not made her dear to my heart. I’m glad to see the character and actress go.
    Other wise great column.

  7. David C says:

    Marlena,it’s so good to have you back where you belong. One Life has been so much fun in the last few weeks. Maybe Carlivati DOES know what’s he’s doing because what’s playing out right now has taken months to reach a climax.
    Also, the highly debated Eli storyline was also great soap story telling because all of his evil acts did have solid motivations and not just at a last minute-whoops have to salvage the rotten story-way.Also, Carlivati did have Clint donate his bone marrow for Shane way last year and we were happily led down the garden when Clint explained he just wanted to help out.
    Two years later that’s playing out. Like him or not, Carlivati’s solid years on One Life have built a fine foundation.
    By the way, as a suvivor of the last two wretched years of Peapack Guiding Light, I must debate any hint that LaZimmer is playing any whif of Reva Shane in her work as Echo. Echo and Reva are wholly different creations and LaZim has once again, breathed life into another diva.
    Enjoying my favorite diva on soaps is equalled only by enjoying the reapperance of my favorite soap critic diva, Madame Delcaroix. Both are great treats in this terrible winter.

    Marlena says: Darling David. xo And they’ve given Echo Di Savoy an older woman’s life. I’m not anti-Carlivati anymore, although I doubt he believes it. His show has improved immensely in the last six months!

  8. Adam says:

    This is in regards to the comments about Carlivatti. I find there is as much to love as there is to abhor in the way he writes OLTL. He reminds me, in a way, of J.E.Reilly, in that he is immensely talented in one thing and does that one thing better than just about anyone else around, but he has trouble with pretty much everything else. I love his slow builds but I do wish he’d stop acting as though being a teenager gives you a right to be a criminal and I wish he’d understand the role parents have-or should have-in the life of a child. I will never forgive him for the line Blair spoke, regarding Starr. “It just isn’t my place to weigh in. She’s my daughter.” Excuse me? Oh, and the other thing he’s done-the utter destruction of Clint’s history. The only way he can redeem himself is if he explains it has either been a brain tumor, somebody is controlling him/doppleganger or that Clint started losing it years ago when Broderick, Tomlin and Whitsell decided that despite Vicky giving birth, with Clint there in the backseat of the limo, in the snow, to a single child…not twins. The red headed menace does not exist. If Ron C wants to do anything for the audience, he can fix these things. But, I’d settle for a little heart instead of teens written as nothing but walking, raging, angst ridden, brainless genitalia.

  9. Blake says:

    Glad to see you post again Marlena! I was beginning to get worried there.
    I would love to get this book and read all the dish. I am especially interested in what Patrick has to say, and the info on the last days of Guiding Light has got to be worth it!
    In fact, I can’t wait for Kim Zimmer’s book. I would love to hear what she has to say about the Ellen Wheeler years on the show, especially the last two years where it went to filming in Peapack, NJ!

  10. Melanie S says:

    I’ve missed your column so much! I pre-ordered The Survival of Soap Opera but *still* haven’t gotten a chance to read it. I’ve also only been able to watch my shows here and there. Unfortunately, it continues to be a struggle to watch OLTL, for every one thing I like, there are three things I hate. But I would like to say that it’s wonderful to see Jerry Van Dorn (long wasted on GL) get some really meaty stuff to play on OLTL.

    Now as excited as I am to read Survival of Soap Opera, I have to ask… When is Marlena’s book coming??? :)

  11. Monica G says:

    Dear Marlene,

    I only now discovered your site and I’m so thrilled to find intelligent criticism of soaps. My babysitter watched GH in the early-mid 90′s and so I caught the Brenda-Sonny-Jax saga from the start. I was never much into soaps or tv in general, but I remember Vanessa’s mad chemistry with her co-stars. And I don’t just mean Maurice and Ingo, but the actors who portrayed Robin, Lois, Ned and Lila. Everyone adored her, on and off set, and that familial quality was addictive to watch. Claire Labine was a fabulous, inspired writer. She had a social conscience and she wrote strong women.

    I feel so validated to hear you say Guza is a misogynist. As a feminist myself (and unashamed to admit it, which seems rare these days!) I’m often looking at film, tv and media in general for reflections of our social values and norms. The state of General Hospital today is deplorable. There is no moral compass whatsoever, or strong female characters. Carly is a joke if that is considered strong. She defines herself around the men in her life and yells and screams to imitate them. Sonny, Jason and Carly are the holy trinity at GH and they are all deplorable.

    I told you I watched soaps vaguely back in the 90′s. Since then, I have watched GH again for a few months because I heard Brenda is back. I had no idea what happened in between; suffice it to say I’m in shock! Guza has destroyed every beautiful character that Claire Labine developed, killed off the Quartermaines and made GH into a bad mob-obsessed, plot-driven, character assassinating story.

    Brenda is a microcosm of what’s happenning in the macrocosm of the soap world. I know you said you never bought into the Vanessa Marcil hype, but did you watch the Wire Scene? Do you remember the scenes when she stood up to Sonny, demanded more and got it. Do you remember her emotional vulnerability matched equally with her emotional strength? I watched her as an impressionable pre-teen and learned a lot about how to be strong and assertive in a relationship. We all need to see positive role models in television and media. The character of Brenda today is a weak, fragile victim who acts as a doormat to Sonny.

    For example, in yesterday’s episode Sonny tells Brenda he sold the dream home he gave her because it was not safe (due to his mob lifestyle). Claire Labine wrote an episode back in the 90′s of Brenda describing to Sonny her dream home. The next day he drew up blueprints for that home. 15 years later Sonny makes that old promise a reality and in a matter of 5 minutes in yesterday’s episode, Sonny informs his now-wife Brenda that he takes it back. And her response?? Ok, fine.

    Guza is trying to insult anyone who ever appreciated character-driven storylines, great writing and soap history.

    I’m so very angry, so I ask you two things: first, since you know Claire Labine, is there any way to get her back to GH? Second, what is your position on Vanessa Marcil staying on for a 2nd year? I hope she stays because she makes Maurice’s character a bit more respectful and a bit more human.

    Thank you again and keep on writing!

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