How Prospect Park Can Save Soaps

By Connie Passalacqua Hayman

aka Marlena De Lacroix

In the effort to salve our wounds this summer, the canceled All My Children and One Life to Live sacrificed an essential element of soap opera: believability.  All these people back from the dead simultaneously!  Dixie!  Leo!  Zack!  How are we supposed to buy any kind of reality behind it? On OLTL, the back-from-the-dead tale of the two Todds was explained away by the back-from-the-dead Irene Manning in a backstory so convoluted and fantastical, it might as well have come from the Passions playbook.  I didn’t believe any of it.

As I watched, I was reminded that even the most well-intentioned of soap headwriters can tip or even sink an entire summer.  As our soaps passed from old 

Prospect Park’s Royal Pains, on the USA Network, is modern and smart without trying to copy current fashion or wallow in political correctness.  That’s a good formula for soap storytelling.

hands to new and then newer still, anything could happen – and did. We know this only too well, and have come to expect the worst from each new regime.

Thus, the impending hand-over of our cherished AMC and OLTL to a company called Prospect Park for production in new online versions makes us nervous. We are overjoyed that the shows will continue, but …the new owners are free to do whatever they want. How will they treat our shows?

If Prospect Park treats their new acquisitions the right way, they could make soaps a lot better. They could make them seem fresh and alive again by restoring the heart and soul that has often been so compromised during the long slow decline. And, happily, there is reason to be optimistic.

It turns out that Prospect Park is no stranger to good television serial drama. In its own backyard the company is already producing a series that offers elements of good soap opera as guideposts. That show is Royal Pains, now in its third season and airing on the USA Network.

It’s the story of a concierge doctor who takes care of patients in the wealthy Hamptons in the summer.  A modest young physician named Hank (Mark Feuerstein)  and his wheeler-dealer brother Evan (Paolo Costanzo)  run HankMed, along with their highly competent Indian-American assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty), curing patients with McGuyver-ish medicine, their brains,  a little bit of humor and lots of warmth.

Hank and Jill, (Jill Flint) a hospital administrator, are having a soapy, on-again, off-again romance as are Evan and Paige (Brooke D’Orsay), a wealthy but flaky heiress. Hank and Evan are very close and are trying to reclaim their relationships with their jailbird father (Henry Winkler) as well as their wealthy but estranged grandfather (Ed Asner.)  Dark and soapy in a Barnabas-like way is HankMed’s mysterious ultra-rich  benefactor, Boris, whom Hank is trying to save from a fatal disease. Meanwhile Divya is in constant conflict with her traditional Indian parents over her arranged marriage — she wants to marry for love. 

I like this show.  It reminds me of good soaps.  As in our soaps, HankMed has become an extended family unit whose members really care about each other.  It’s classy.  It has no poop jokes and unlike today’s sitcoms doesn’t deal in sarcasm or meanness.  Like soaps of old (Dynasty, anyone?), it has luxe production values with nice sets and a beautiful locale.  No Peapack cheapness here.  And as in the soaps of the glory days,  the women of this show are intelligent professionals. Most of all, Hank’s Hamptons feel a single place, a village like those fabled towns where soaps were lived,  a place you’d like to visit every day. Soaps haven’t captured this feeling in a long time.

Royal Pains is modern and smart without trying to copy current fashion or wallow in political correctness.  That’s a good formula for soap storytelling.

Can a show about a very caring doctor really point the way to better soap opera?  Prospect Park has a lot to deal with as it takes on our shows: salaries, time slots, and all sorts of production decisions. As demonstrated by this bizarre soap summer, anything can happen.  Bringing back the quality, believability and intelligence of soaps, using the success of their own Royal Pains as a guide, surely would be the best decision of all.

Comments

  1. Esther says:

    \I really hope they can pull it off! I didn’t know they were behind “Royal Pains,” so thanks for that tip! I love the programming on USA. In fact, I’m usually watching that these days instead of the soaps. I have started tuning in to AMC/OLTL again and am in total agreement with you that I don’t buy any of it. It’s nice to see the actors again, so I guess I allow for it for that reason only but it’s painful. The Todd story could have been really cool but brainwashing? Irene alive and working for the CIA? Seriously? They couldn’t come up with anything better than that? And David with his miracle drugs on AMC….oh geez. But Dixie is the only one I can watch on that show. Personally, I just want to watch repeats of NCIS that I’ve seen a cazillion times. That’s better soap opera too, lol.

    Marlena says: {{{}}}Esther and thanks for writing.

  2. JONNYSBRO says:

    Marlena first of all isn’t it amazing how high OLTL ratings are at this time. Show is just on FIRE ratings wise? Anyways I think things are becoming more encouraging about Prospect as Royal Pains is big success. As well as them adding very important people to this mix. It seems they have a game plan. IMO Prospect needs to bring these shows and kind of revolutionize them in ways that keep some of their old formula but modernizes them in ways. Soaps need to stop being dated OLD DINOSAURS. IMO what I am hoping is OLTL on cable as well as online. I just hope this all works out well.

  3. TV's Tim says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Soaps will only survive if they get back to good storytelling and creating characters people WANT to spend time with every day.

    I’ll freely admit to watching OLTL every day to see the “Two Todds” storyline play out, mainly because I’ve missed RH in the role. However, I’m not about to pretend that the actual story is anything more than plot-driven nonsense and hokey drivel. And, sadly, it’s the best thing on the show right now. As for AMC…the less said, the better.

    But as noted, successful shows have strong, likable (or at least compelling) three-dimensional characters, not one-note villains and paper-thin caricatures. And the stories aren’t nasty, hateful or depressing to the point of being repellent. Yes, soaps need drama, but you shouldn’t feel like you need a long shower after watching a show that’s supposed to be entertainment and a break from the hassles of the day. Constant yelling and screaming isn’t “soapy”. Excessive violence and misogyny aren’t “sexy”. And plot-point writing and shock value will never take the place of true well-crafted drama.

    As for PP…well, we’ll see.

  4. guilty pleasure says:

    Why is it that TIIC at ABC Daytime are letting go of vets like Robin Strasser (Dorian), Gina Tognoni (Kelly), Trevor St. John (Victor Lord Jr.), and David Fumero (Cristian), while they’re still keeping newbies like Terri Conn (Aubrey), Josh Kelly (Cutter), Nick Choksi (Vimal), and Shenaz Treasury (Rama) at OLTL? I love Royal Pains, too! I wonder if we have to pay a subscription service to view AMC and OLTL on the web, or watch them for free like on Hulu?

  5. Bruce says:

    Connie, you hit the nail on the head when you mention these back-from-the-dead returns as being out of the Passions playbook. I compare them to a Days of Our Lives storyline with David Hayward and Irene Manning each playing the role of Stefano DiMera. While I am enjoying the fallout of the “Tale of Two Todds” and the returns of several AMC faves, the premise for both storylines is flimsy at best. Daytime should institute a storytelling rule: Dead is dead. I’m afraid to count how many resurrections that have happened on our soaps in the past years.

    Here’s hoping that both soap operas thrive online during the Prospect Park era both creatively and financially. It will certainly be interesting in the coming weeks and months ahead to find out which writers and actors will be making the jump to the online venture. Soap operas started on radio and eventually thrived for decades on broadcast television. It appears now that the future of soaps is on the Internet. May All My Children and One Life to Live lead the charge!

  6. Marilyn Henry says:

    Hi Connie, nice to see you are back.

    I have to admit that OLTL has had me absolutely riveted for months and months now and I sit there laughing and even clapping at some of the fun on that show, and even give a little groan when the hour is over, sometimes muttering, ‘No no no…they can’t be leaving us at this point….for the whole weekend?!!’ when they do one of their expert cliff-hangers. This show is SO enjoyable if you watch every day. Sure, it can be unbelievable, vastly sometimes, but the actors carry off most of it so well…I take a big swallow and enjoy it. The only boring spots for me are the teens and even there I can respect the necessity for them. Small price to pay to have such stellers as Ericka, Jerry, Ilien, Kassie, Ted, Robin, etc. on my TV screen every day.

    The two Todds have been such fun and such good drama and suspense. As for story holes, I wonder if maybe they had to find a way not to diminish Trevor’s work, while still bringing on old Todd in Roger’s return. The writers had a real problem here. Fans of Roger had been clamoring for his return since he was at liberty, and at the same time Trevor’s fans were livid at the idea of him being replaced after 8 years, just to please Roger’s fans. It wasn’t a good situation in many ways, and I think they had to dream up a story that wouldn’t hurt anyone and yet be exciting and fun (and it has been). One that would keep the audience curious and excited. I never envy headwriters their jobs…never! And both actors have just been superb, I feel for them both and take no sides!

    But to succeed Prospect must NOT lose Robin Strasser (isn’t Robin having back surgery?) or Gina (I adore Gina T) and other key players in the transition. Most of all they mustn’t lose their inspired headwriter, Ron and the sterling producer, Frank. Ron’s sense of fun and of human drama is super good. On the premier night for Vicker Man, I was nearly falling off my chair over and over, laughing, clapping and having more fun than any show has given me in a long time.
    I’ve been delighted with Jerry verDorn and his turn to villainry (is there such a word?–oh, well, there should be), and I find Vimal’s innocent gullibility endearing, so I like old and new for the most part. Because of the actor I even half-believed in Rick the Porn guy (which was really stretching it). It had potential to be really crude and offensive and they kept it funny and only mildly suggestive in a witty way.
    The serious stuff has been touching and involving, the humor delicious, so I am not at all surprised at OLTL’s rise in ratings, mostly by word-of-mouth. Okay, so it stretched reality. Given what is on prime-time these days, we could all use a big break from ‘reality’ these days!

  7. Shawn says:

    I do agree that the back from the dead stories on AMC are far fetched, but it is nice to see that Agnes Nixon and Lorraine Broderick have been trying to undo all the damage that Brian Frons, Megan McTavish, and Chuck Pratt caused to this once great show. Hopefully, Agnes and Lorraine will be able to make this show worth watching again once it is far away from Brian Frons and company.

  8. Cyberologist says:

    Even though these are Frons’ old cronys, I think they have a chance as long as he stays out of it…if he’s involved with all his politics of tweeking his favorite actors in preferred writing its sure to sink…This is a new day and tlhe only baggage they need to bring is Ron and Frank a winning team I’ve just always liked these two…unlike their boss they truly love soap opera.

  9. David C says:

    Oh it’s so good to have you back Dolly, I mean, Connie.
    Yes, the last fifteen years of horrific disrespect by TIIC of daytime soaps had ignored the cardinal rule of compelling characters in compelling (i.e.not infantile and insulting) stories. It’s a good sign that Agnes Nixon and Lorraine Broderick are penning Children and Carlivati has done the best he could with the two Todd stories and by the way, the massive surge in One LIfe’s ratings isn’t simply because viewers are returning out of guilt. It’s fun and decently written soap opera, much like the news stories in mainstream media in the last few months, but I digress.
    Yes, there is hope for both of these shows and at this point, that’s better than the final days of Edge, Search, Another World, etc… who remain dead to this day.

  10. Dee says:

    I really do hope to God that this experiment does work and all the backstage politics are kept out of the way, I really do. The Two Todds stuff has been really outstanding on OLTL, and I believe that they’re gonna handle the Erin Torpey return the way they handled Roger’s return- it will end up with Erin’s character ending up being the REAL Jessica and Bree Williamson ending up to be an imposter and ultimately her twin Tess. As for all the killed-off characters being brought back on AMC, sounds kind of ridiculous, but if this is gotta be the way to end the show on a good note, I guess I’ll take it.

    Hopefully, the momentum from all these stories will carry over to the Internet versions and can attract viewers, as well as bring former ones back as well.

  11. Blake says:

    OLTL is on fire and has been for a long while now! So great that it’s #3 in the ratings and is # 2 in key demos lately also! Proof of what idiots Brian Frons and Anne Sweeney are. Ugh.
    I hope AMC and OLTL show up on cable instead of just online.
    I really hope that Dorian and Kelly can return at the end of the ABC run and can come back for good in the Prospect Park version.
    I agree that it sucks that we are losing those veterans actors only to have newbies on instead, but seems that has to do with the budget. From what I read the exec producer wants a smaller cast right now and then have a big cast towards the end, or at least more vets towards the end. Maybe they will just find ways of getting rid of some of the newbies or not write for them so much towards the end. Characters like Rama and Destiny get on my nerves and I would not be upset if they were gone.
    I am glad to hear Wendy Moniz is returning to soaps after a longgggg break. She was delicious as Dinah Marler on Guiding Light from 1995-1999, (if you haven’t seen her in action watch her clips on youtube! She does not disappoint!) and she’s coming on to play the mayor since Dorian is gone. I’m glad she’s filling the void that Dorian has left, but I pray Dorian comes back soon and goes to Prospect Park’s OLTL!!!!
    The two Todd’s story has been exciting but I am glad it’s about done (well, not the murder mystery). I’m glad the original Todd is back, though I wouldnt’ mind seeing Victor come back sometime.

  12. Dee says:

    Hey, Marlena, what’s your take on the “new” General Hospital under Garin Wolf? It kind’ve has gotten back on track, but the three main stories (Sonny’s downward spiral, Lucky’s drug addiction, and Jason’s brain injury) seem like retreads of 2005-2006. This is a big problem that GH is having: There’s less of the violence, but they are still hellbent on recycling the same old stuff over and over again. What do you think? Also, what’s your take on the whole Jackal, PI stuff? The return of Franco? And what’s going on with Scrubs; are they going to break them up again?

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