Sunday Reflections 6: Cheese-tastic Days of Our Lives; Great Production on General Hospital; Marlena Recommends

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Days of Our Lives: “What’s that you’re watching, Marlena? That old movie Earthquake (1974)?” My husband Moose was looking at the TV screen where battered and bloodied people were climbing out of the wreckage of a ballroom that had experienced a terrific explosion.

Kate (Lauren Koslow) hears baddie Ian (Ian Buchanan) declare his love for the dead Madison (Sarah Joy Brown)

“No, it’s not quite as cheese-tastic,” I answered. “It’s Days of Our Lives.”  Actually, I thought Days this week did an entertainingly good job of digging itself out of the wreckage of the stunt explosion that had occurred just prior to its two-week Olympic hiatus. The characters reacted so pseudo-realistically! Madison was found dead, a cut on her head (!) and a pregnant Nicole moaned and groaned, being pinned under some wreckage.  Abby broke down and cried like the real little girl she is when father Jack died after saving her from a  27-floor elevator plunge, and I almost shed a tear for him, as no one over the years could ever be immune to Matthew Ashford’s great charm as the character.But nothing could touch the cheese-tastic (and you know Marlena, I say that very lovingly) baddie Ian declaring his love to the corpse of Madison.  How I will always love Ian Buchanan, even in this thankless, one-note role!  The accent! That face!  That very strong and powerful, larger than life quality he shows when sputtering sheer evil!  Later he and Lauren Koslow chewed up the scenery until it fell down soap style in a long fight scene where Kate accused the newly aggrieved Ian of breaking up her marriage through their affair. In the scene’s/episode’s cliffhanger, Ian melodramatically blurted out: “I killed Stefano!” Speaking of divine cheese, next week Stefano is back from the dead for the umpteenth time.  Oh how truly great Joe Mascolo has been in the role for decades!

General Hospital: Not cheese-tastic at all were two sequences on GH that showed what great producing is about, specifically coordinating the writing, direction and performances in a set of scenes or an episode to make them emotionally gripping and real. Sam and Jason’s break-up scenes were just heartbreaking, even though I have always disliked the hit man-smart gal pair.  I wasn’t even nauseated by the obligatory montage of past love scenes. On Friday, fine production and direction were the stars as Jerry injected the “antidote” into Alexis and Josslyn in the hospital as relatives and friends watched over them.  As the two lay near death, Sean even led a “prayer circle” in the hospital chapel.  God is back on daytime TV!   The prayers worked, didn’t they, as the flat-lined Alexis and Jossyln came magically back to life. Great episode!

Marlena Recommends: Can you believe the gall of ABC showing a segment on Nightline whose theme was, though daytime soaps are dying (on their own network!) telenovelas are hot and here to stay?  The segment was actually a great introduction to Spanish serials, with the editor of People En Espanol explaining exactly why these shows are prospering, while ours aren’t.   Check it out here … Want an interesting read? Check out Deadline Hollywood’s wonderfully insightful interview with Matthew Weiner, who explains in great detail exactly how he makes the writing of Mad Men so superb (read it here )  His  process of writing is exactly the same as that of  daytime soap writers! As with  our shows, no advance notice of plots and events is given to the actors, which Weiner maintains makes their performances  better … Also, for a great read  check out accomplished actor Frank  Langella’s book Dropped Names, said to be a favorite of Maurice Benard and several One Life to Live actors.  In short chapter-long observations of actors (such as Rita Hayworth, Laurence Olivier and George C. Scott) Langella has known and worked with, he shows exactly how actors work and what their real attitudes toward the profession are.  You’ll be surprised!  Langella’s elegantly written chapters are very illuminating about the art of acting.  Read what really makes great actors tick!

Comments

  1. Ben Bryant says:

    This letter was sent to me at my Facebook account — Marlena

    Ben Bryant: I really loved the two “prayer” scenes on GH recently. They reminded me of how characters used to pray for the sick or dying on ATWT, AW, and OLTL and especially on DAYS, where the Brady and Horton’s faith was always an ever-running thread in their family lives. It works, too, because that’s what happens in so many Italian (and Irish) families when someone gets sick (Kate/Connie remembering that their Aunt Theresa would have prayed the Rosary and that Liv would have done the same, so the family did so as the show faded out that day).

    It’s also a big part of the African-American family tradition when someone is sick or dying, even among those who don’t “get church” as much as others in their families might. It seemed natural that Sean would suggest it and the intercutting scenes heightened the drama to an almost unbearable degree (even though I knew both characters lived–at least I thought I did!). It’s nice.

    Too often we only see God in media when it’s people trying to shove it down our throats or push a very specific point of view. A character who prays and talks about God is now the lazy writer’s “code” for conservative/judgemental, which isn’t like real life at all. Real life is multi-generational, it’s full of people on spectrums, who live good lives, but make mistakes, who feel faith deeply and/or who struggle with the faith of their fathers, etc, and people who pull closer to the traditions of their upbringing (like prayer and church) when they are in desperate crisis. And, c’mon, we know on soaps that the hospital-bed/chapel cry to God is Emmy gold in the hands of most of our favorites. Too long we’ve let extremists rule our perception of things.

    Congrats to Ron Carlivati for writing soaps the old fashioned way and amping up the dramatic tension insanely–not so much by INCLUDING prayer (which could feel clunky and agenda-driven), but, instead by NOT BEING AFRAID *to* include it when it made sense for the characters and the story. I was very, very impressed, because it was great, great soap.

    Marlena says: Fascinating letter, friend Ben. I particularly like your point that God is used to connotate a conservative or perhaps politically incorrect person on daytime. Excluding religion does seem to be an unfortunate trend in all entertainment right now. But, as always, it is intrinsic to the greatly personal and emotional nature of soaps and I too admire Carlivati’s rare use of it (specifically prayer) here, too. As you point out the choice of Sean to lead the prayer circle was most apt. I agree, this episode was a great and powerful one. I remember too when God used to be a leading character on soaps — He after all, was the original Guiding Light, not a light tower, as the show depicted the meaning of its title starting in the politically correct 90s.

    • Brandon says:

      Ben’s great letter reminds me anew of my old favorite “One Life to Live,” and of how that great master Michael Malone made religion the pulsing subtext of so many of his storylines and plots. (Who can forget all those scenes of evil Todd Manning and that poor innocent holy roller Rebecca, who tried against hope to convince Todd that God loved him and that he was worthy?)

      I still get chills when I remember the climax of the homophobia story in 1992, when Andrew — a reverend named Carpenter, wink wink! — stood before his congregation holding in one hand the fabric patch that he was about to add to the AIDS Quilt to honor his brother William, and holding in the other the rock that had been hurled through the rectory window earlier that morning (accompanied, if I’m not mistaken, by a note scrawled with the word “FAGGOT”). As he wrapped the panel over the rock, he gave a sermon about the differences between love and hatred, about how hatred is so hard and uncompromising and how love is so gentle and warm. As I recall it, the crux of his point was that love can never completely vanquish or conquer hate, it can only welcome hate into its own soft folds and buff down its hard, sharp edges until it vanishes entirely. It remains one of the most powerful pieces of work I’ve ever seen (in ANY medium, much less on a silly soap!).

      (I actually had Bob Krimmer as a guest on my radio show some time back, and I asked him about this sermon specifically, and he confessed to me that he was daunted by the power of the words when he first received this script. As he reported to me: usually on a soap opera, actors wonder how they’re going to make sense of the dialogue, but in this instance, he was terrified that he wouldn’t be able to do justice to the poetry of the page’s words.)

      Marlena, isn’t it interesting how Mr. Carlivati and his brilliantly capable team have managed to make Port Charles feel something like an intertwined community again, a small town in which something that happens to one person affects practically everybody else in one way or another? I generally loved Ron’s work on OLTL, but my one big gripe was that Llanviewites often felt a bit isolated from each other during his tenure. (As opposed to, say, Mr. Malone’s era, which regularly saw folks interacting at church, at Rodi’s, at Serenity Springs, at the Palace Hotel, Llanview had largely stopped feeling like a community by the end of its run. Perhaps it was merely a budgetary issue, but most of the action was taking place in people’s houses and mansions, and it had a deadening effect on the storytelling.)

      But now in Port Charles, people seem to be mixing it up again in communal gathering places (the Floating Rib, Kelly’s, the Metro Court, and — miracle of miracles! — the HOSPITAL!), and we actually get to see old friendships being rekindled (Luke and Anna, Elizabeth and Jason) and new ones being born (Alexis and Sean, Trey and Starr). Praise be that in 2012, a soap can actually feel like a soap again, non?

      Marlena says: Oui, darling. Carlivati certainly has a grasp of that old soap technique of interweaving characters on the canvas, and I too thrill at the glimmers of great traditional soap writing he sometimes takes the opportunity to do. Port Charles does feel like a town again, and at last the titular hospital seems to have its own life again. Michael Malone, a miraculous writer in our medium and in his own career of writing novels , is such a gem —and in real life the man is too. I remember that sermon–chills! (I was at the taping of the show with the actual AIDS quilt on location in New Vernon, New Jersey. I remember those words and that truly emotionally devastating day was as if time stood still.) Malone was allowed in those days to show and use religion in his writing ; he did a beautiful job of using it to underscore the emotions and the ideal loving, liberal (am I allowed to say Christian?) morality of soaps. Of course, that philosophy is universal to all religions. Is there any universal love on soaps today? Hmm… That was another era, unfortunately. Andrew Carpenter (never got the reference before, thanks!) was such a special character and Bob Krimmer played him marvelously. Thanks for the inside view of him from your show!

  2. Chris says:

    MORE BREAKING NEWS FROM B&B!!! : Susan Flannery (Stephanie Forrester) is also exiting the soap after 25 yrs. with the show too! Thoughts on this Marlena, since I know that you’ve been a longtime fan of her work?

    Marlena says: Hasn’t it been written that Ms. Flannery has wanted to retire for some time? All the best to her! A real genius, she’s had a glorious career of more than 40 years in soaps and movies. On B&B, she’s irreplaceable, as she is in her hearts and minds. She is the ultimate thinking actress. Bradley Bell sure has his work cut out for him now that she and Ronn Moss have announced their exits so closely. The show must go on. P.S. I just heard Flannery is staying on with a great new storyline. Hurray!

    • Chris says:

      Actually just now, it’s been revealed that Susan Flannery will now be still leaving B&B exiting the show in December! :-(

      Marlena says Yes, that was announced just after I updated my post yesterday. Hard to keep up things go so fast these days in our little industry! Still so sad to see Susan go….

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