Paul Rauch, R.I.P.

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

Paul Rauch, surely the greatest executive producer in daytime soap history, died today in Manhattan at 79 following an illness.  

Paul Rauch
Nobody did soaps better

Marlena had the honor of covering and knowing Paul from 1980 onward, during which he was executive producer of Another World, Texas, One Life to Live, Santa Barbara. Guiding Light and The Young and the Restless. He generously taught me so much about soaps during our many interviews.  In the industry, Rauch was known as intimidating, but I found him to be a tremendously charismatic and complicated man who was great creative leader and a premier innovator in the art of soaps. No one knew soap production better than Paul.  He was always moving with the soap times. I always maintained he was a genius — which he loved.  Rest in peace, Mr. Rauch.

He is survived by his wife, concert pianist/playwright Israela Margalit, two children, two stepchildren and three granddaughters.

When Paul became executive producer of his last soap, Y&R, in 2008 (the job lasted until 2011). Marlena wrote this column about having known him over the years:

                                                                                                    

PAUL RAUCH FOR REAL!

September 19, 2008

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

Paul Rauch. That name may send you screaming from the room if you ever worked for him unsuccessfully, if you judge a man in totality by his bad soaps (Santa Barbara, Guiding Light) or if you are a typical internet poster who relies on rumors, innuendo and chapters of tell-all memoirs.

But now that Rauch is back as co-executive producer of The Young and the Restless (at the age of 74, after recovering from a heart attack) I’d like to offer some first person testimony. And I can do it freely and ethically because I am a journalist, and don’t have to work for him.  I knew and interviewed Rauch regularly from 1980-2001.

I’ve always maintained that, despite his stormy temperament and the people he is said to have hurt, Paul is a genius.

I knew him when he was in New York executive-producing Another World, Texas, One Life to Live and Guiding Light.  Like everyone, I had terrible, terrible times with him (I have stories — let’s just say no one could intimidate a young girl reporter better than Paul) but then again I had incredibly engaging and enlightening conversations with him over the years, too.

Ironically, it is the same young students of soap opera out there cursing at him on the net who would probably die to have to chance to have an audience with him.  Every time I interviewed Paul, I learned more in 20 minutes about the fine art of making soap opera than I ever could any other way. A serious art collector (it always cracked me up that Paul had a print of Edward  Hopper’s classic painting “The Lighthouse at Two Lights” in his office at Guiding Light), he has an incredible eye for the visual composition and texture of the image on screen.  Between that and his up-to-the-second technical knowledge, his explanations of such things as his lighting ideas, why he photographed scenes in radical new ways, and his innovative location shooting techniques, made you appreciate what he was after in a fresh way. Or he could make you understand why soaps are now casting models with perfectly beautiful faces by explaining why the technicalities of cable competition (which was new in the late 90s) called for such a (to me, awful) thing.

And he has amazing taste in actors.  Before you scream “Kim Zimmer” at me, this is the man who gave great actors like Ray Liotta (he grew up on Another World) their show-biz starts.  I used to see him all the time at the New York theater in the 80s scouting talent.  He recognized and relished using superb leading actors like Vicky Wyndham (AW), Beverlee McKinsey (AW and Texas) and Erika Slezak (One Life To Live).

He’s produced soaps for 40 years (two Emmys), moving with the times from style to style.  There were the classic, almost Shakespearean quality of AW (which was soap opera nirvana for the Thinking Fan); the campy, high budget days of OLTL, and even the very early days of GL (before he and those boobs Brown and Esensten poisoned us with the clone story).

Because he moves with the times and is a genuine Thinking Producer, Paul is a great choice for Y&R.  Among other things, the show needs a definitive post-Bill Bell style, since it’s been drifting all over the place since Bill’s death. Y&R is his kind of show: it is rich in dramatic texture and has many sophisticated characters (the Abbots, the Newmans) that are tastefully wealthy.  Although I haven’t seen Paul in years, I’m sure he still approaches his work with all the intensity and meticulous attention a show like Y&R badly needs to stay on top in these troubled, troubled soap times.

Welcome back, Paul!

Sunday Reflections 22: Bad Plots on Young and Restless and General Hospital Draw Marlena’s Ire!

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

The Young and the Restless:  There’s a lot of squawking on the net that, compared to General Hospital, Y&R  is slow, not that entertaining and a bit hard to watch.  I agree somewhat, but counsel patience: the new writing and production regime has been in place less than two months. They have a lot to repair. They’ve barely had enough time to review the entire show. Even so, I do have a few comments on two new storylines.

Hunter King as Summer

I really don’t like the cyber-bullying story in which extra mean kids Summer and Fen are torturing Jamie, a kid who is so fragile he  looks like he’s having a nervous breakdown.  I know it’s a well-intentioned story, but it’s kind of the issue du jour and has been done many times elsewhere in practically all media, most recently on daytime on One Life to Live with that miserable Jack Manning as the bully. The story has a dimension of realism inasmuch as Y&R’s kids come from parents with checkered pasts themselves, such as Summer’s psycho slut mother Phyllis and Fen’s father, former bad boy Michael.  For years we watched these elder characters mess up their lives as their younger selves. Now they’re grown up and trying to project authority as parents when they haven’t yet healed themselves. The result for the viewer is a succession of messy scenes of intergenerational yelling and rancor, so far not leading anywhere. Classic soap opera it’s not.

Max Erich as Fen

I don’t watch soap operas to see endless scenes of parents fighting with kids. Blech!  I had enough of that as a teenager myself, plus there’s no romance there (at least not yet!).  It’s obvious that the writers have some experience with real teenagers — Summer and Fen are realistic terrors.  When Fen sulks and stalks away from the dinner table and his frustrated  parents Michael and  Lauren — well, honey, Marlena played that same role herself a million times as a less than adorable teen.  However authentic, again, this kind of misery is not what I watch soap operas for.  Whatever happened to the days when kids (like Beth and Phillip on Guiding Light) spent their teenage years discovering the joy and mysteries of love? I’m sorry, but there’s no reason to sit through agonizing shouting matches with rotten kids like these — unless they are your own.

I’m also very disappointed in the excuse they’ve suddenly given to Sharon for all her dastardly acts against the Newmans in a former writing regime.  She’s been diagnosed as a manic-depressive, which is balderdash.  A bipolar disease is one that is life-long and very serious, not some handy alternative for writers who are in desperate need of a device to redeem a character. She can’t come down with the disease overnight!  Burning down a house (as Sharon did the Newman ranch) is psychotic, not manic.  Y&R is doing the audience a real disservice by using this widespread and harrowing disease as a handy plot device, even if being bipolar seems to be the illness du jour in drama and real life these days.

General Hospital: What a surprise to see a bomb of a story take place at the end of GH’s successful sweeps.  This is the one in which Sky, Carly and Todd rushed to Llanview to stop Blair’s wedding to Tomas, who they contend is really Alcazar. (Both roles were coincidentally played by the same actor, Ted King:  Tomas on One Life to Live and Alcazar on GH.)  But soon after the threesome arrived and before the hyped up confrontation, Tomas skipped town, meaning King didn’t appear at all.  So the whole effort — and story — was futile.  Why bother to do the story at all when you are not even going to include Alacazar/Tomas/King in the scenes? Was King unavailable?  I did not laugh when the CIA agent who arrived at Blair’s house to deliver the news that Tomas suddenly had to leave on assignment identified himself as “Theodore King.”

Sunday Reflections 18: Fiery Doings on The Young and the Restless … General Hospital’s Friday Cliffhanger Was Thrilling, Classic Soap Opera

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

The Young and the Restless:  As the weeks go by, Y&R’s plots are changing radically under its new headwriter, Josh Griffith.  Here are some thoughts on the latest story twists:

 As I wrote in Sunday Reflections 15, there are plenty of presto chango plot revisions that a) make your head spin, and b)creatively launch new stories, GloWorm  has burned down, torched by an associate of Adam’s, giving Gloria and Jeffrey  $7 million insurance money to play with.  Jack has had a quickie back operation to ease his pain (and lead to pill addiction?)  In a November sweeps month plot, Victoria has just been kidnapped by an ex-con named Eddie G.  He’s the gambling buddy of Billy’s, played by Coleman from General Hospital (in other words, actor Blake Gibbons, a weird choice because the non-contract thesp is still playing the bartender on GH.)

Joshua Morrow as Nick Newman

But by far, the biggest change is in the character of Nick Newman, a schlemiel I never thought much about even though he was born on the show decades ago. He’s been the ping pong husband of either Sharon or Phyllis, continually stomped on by both of them and his father, The Great Victor Newman. Headwriter Griffith has chosen to suddenly make Nick grow up overnight and become a real man — rejecting Victor’s command to reclaim Newman in order to have more time to take care of his kids (in a terrific scene), divorce Phyllis once and for all, and get involved in a mature, idyllic romance with Avery (after their unfortunate one night stand earlier), the smartest, most contemporary women on the show.  I like the new Mr. Newman at last, or at least notice him now.

And the smartest choice by far is having Adam come back into Sharon’s orbit now that he’s protecting her from being charged as an arsonist. (He just, however [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 16: Divine and Not So Divine Moments from The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital and Days of Our Lives

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

For Marlena, this week wasn’t about the shows or the storylines.  It was about individual moments, some divine, some not so…

Divine:  Nikki and Victor’s long embrace, promising each other to rebuild among the ruins of the Newman ranch, all set to The Young and Restless theme (Nadia’s Theme). I love this traditional soaps move, playing a crucial plot moment for their lead characters or couple against the theme music of the show.  It is such a mood moment, in this case such a romantic and a greatly grounding one for two characters who have endured so much together and always come through.  A very nice touch by the show’s new production regime.

Divine:  Every moment in the consecutive episodes in which Stephanie told her loved ones (Brooke, Thorne, etc.) she was going to die, by giving them a [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 15: Presto Chango — How the New Production and Writing Regime Reshaped Y&R in Only One Week

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

If you are a soap opera watcher who loves the soap opera behind the soap opera (as I think most Thinking Fans are), this was a tremendous week for watching The Young and the Restless.  The show’s new head writer Josh  Griffith and new new executive producer Jill Farren Phelps  made the fastest changes I’ve ever seen in Week One of a new regime.  The thing is: do you admire how efficient they were at making storyline fixes? Or as a fan who watches soaps just for the on-screen entertainment, were you confused or a bit annoyed by the sudden radical changes? To wit: 

– In the presto chango department, the instant dismissal — in one episode – of the long anticipated trial of Phyllis for attempting to run over The Bug and Paul 20 years ago by a new judge (the old one had suddenly taken sick) was the craftiest (in a good way) soap opera writing [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 13: General Hospital and Young and the Restless — When Entertainment Value and Hot Sex, Respectively, Defy Logic

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

General HospitalConfluence, according to the dictionary, means when three things meet at a certain point (rivers, for example).   And that’s exactly what happened on General Hospital early this week – confluence in Tuesday and Wednesday’s episodes when three great storylines in which one couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. This was stunning because, although soaps usually run three major storylines simultaneously, ordinarily only one is great and two you are tempted to fast forward through.

Kelly Sullivan
as Connie/Kate

First, Sonny was left agape as Connie confessed she was married to Johnny, right at the beginning of the Sonny-“Kate” wedding ceremony. Second, Liz confessed to Jason she had changed the DNA lab test reports, confirming that Tea’s baby son was biologically really Sam’s. Third, oily Joe held Kristina at gun point, threatening to kill his rival Sonny’s daughter.

What truly exciting soap opera!  And rare, too!  I can’t remember a confluence of great stories in a few episodes like these since Guiding Light’s blackout story in the 90s.  Becky Herbst was Emmy-terrific as Liz. Kelly Sullivan stole the show, as bride Connie called groom Sonny a pig and a bully. (How true!)  GH even had some nice humor, as lab assistant Ellie, attending the wedding with Spinelli, couldn’t be dragged away from combined craziness (everyone was slapping and punching each other) exclaiming, “This is a great first date!” [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 12: Young and Restless’ Blah 10,000th Episode … General Hospital’s Sabrina and Her Fantasies, and Connie and Her Body Shot

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

The Young and the Restless: So, what did you think of Y&R’s 10,000th episode, aired Thursday?  This was the one in which a “dead” character came back for his own funeral. In this case, it was Victor Newman, in what seemed to be his 438th resurrection.   (It was actually his third).  Well, in the episode’s defense, it did feature the entire cast, including characters like Esther, Traci and Danny, albeit in overcrowded group scenes.  The relief at seeing Victor alive (in a $10,000 suit, after months of grimy togs) along with such Newman family characters as Victor’s daughter Abby was kind of sweet.    And Victor and Nikki had an episode-ending reunion love scene, a rarity in the history of soaps:  a scene where a couple actually ends up happy.

Victor and Nikki, together again
Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott

This celebratory episode was a treat for viewers who have never seen a soap before, but longtimers who had seen it all before were probably left feeling blasé.  For some, it may even have bordered on soap self-parody, as was accurately predicted by former Marlena contributor Patrick Erwin in a letter last week.  The over-arching problem with the episode was that it was pedestrian soap opera.  And a Y&R special shouldn’t be that un-special after 10,000 episodes!  The episode was also emblematic of the last two years or so of the inexplicably top-rated Y&R, which may be summed up with one word:  blah.  Both the show and the special episode were produced and co-written by the recently fired Maria Arena Bell. [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 11: Mucho Macho Man on Bold and Beautiful … Victor Lives Again on Young and Restless … Mourning a Great Actor from General Hospital

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

The Bold and the Beautiful: I’m not going to apologize or use nice words.   My favorite character on B&B is “Dollar” Bill Spencer because he has balls, something almost all the men on this show in its 25-year history have lacked.  Unlike the romantic ping pong balls that have been Ridge and Bill’s son Liam (the biggest wuss of all) Bill has strength and is aggressive.  He’s a manipulator.   Lately, he’s been taking his poor excuse for a son (who spends all his time on earth bouncing between Steffy and  Hope) and trying to make him into a man.  Sure, it’s been weird — he’s forced Liam eat steak and smoke cigars.  But at least someone’s been trying to make Liam strong enough to choose between his two young women and determine his own fate.  Will Bill succeed?  In real life he probably would, but since the ratings are so high for the interminable young triangle, Bill will probably be force-feeding  spinach to Liam in perpetuity.

Don Diamont

With his silver jewelry, sexual swagger and often bared chest, you’d think Bill was a soap joke.   But Don Diamont, who started soap life as Liz’s (Glorina Loring) boytoy on Days of Our Lives three decades ago, makes Bill’s ever-aggressive nervous energy seem quite real.  Let’s face it — soaps are still a women’s medium, (go ahead and write me) and uber strong masculine men are few and far between.  Think usually liberated Marlena is being a bit backward here?  No — forceful people (men and women) make the world go round.   And the soap world too!

The last man of this strength on B&B  was Bill’s father, Bill Spencer Sr., as played  by James Storm at the beginning of the show.   He was the only figure in the show’s history to match la Stephanie in the cojones department. (They were friends.)   It puzzles me, however, how Katie, one of the most intelligent women in soaps, stays married to [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 10: Katie Couric’s Talk Show is So-So … GH’s Fast Wrapping Up Remote … Y&R: Why did “Red”’s Hair Suddenly Turn Brown?

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

So what did you think of Katie, Ms. Couric’s new talk show?  I have mixed feelings about it.

Couric herself doesn’t bother me.  Au contraire – we should be proud that daytime television, which marginalizes older women, is spotlighting a 55-year-old.  Katie’s usual intelligence does shine through on the show.  Plus she’s the real deal as a journalist, a terrific interviewer.  She has the professional acumen to ask the difficult questions — on her first show she asked Sheryl Crow if she knew about Lance Armstrong’s drug use while she was dating him. (Crow copped out and said she doesn’t talk to him much anymore.)

Katie Couric

One of the show’s main problems, though, is that so far it hasn’t measured up to the Couric intelligence.   It’s been focused too much on what I call the girly-girl lightweight subjects, like weight and romance.  Wasn’t the interview with shallow Jessica Simpson just a bore?  Who needs yet another recommendation for Weight Watchers, as Simpson went on about her weight loss and even brought on her WW counselor.  Katie gave over an entire show to a feel-good author named B’rene Brown who just burbled on for endless segments about how beneficial it is to make yourself vulnerable to romance and all in life. She was so New Age-ish and so full of hot air that the show just went on interminably.

As I’ve written, a daytime talk show shouldn’t appeal only to women. It should appeal to all people who have brains, as The View does.  Katie herself seems [Read more...]

Sunday Reflections 9: On General Hospital,Your Emotions Are Played With as Sam and Jason Ask “What If?” … On The Young and the Restless, Sharon Heads Off to the Sanitarium

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

Ever wonder how your emotions are expertly manipulated by soaps? A great example was Thursday’s very unusual General Hospitalepisode in which Sam and Jason wondered what could have been had they made different decisions in their relationship. It had me screaming at the screen in anger at the beginning, but by its conclusion I was having a good cry.

Jason (Steve Burton) and Sam (Kelly Monaco)
What might have been …

The episode was set in the hospital, as sick Sam and a wounded Jason faced “death,” poisoned by the water almost all Port Charles-ites had drunk which had a fatal element added to it by crazy Jerry Jacks.  Sam was the reflective one, as the show introduced imaginary flashbacks of the story of the birth of her healthy baby boy, who in soap reality had supposedly died shortly after birth. (He was given to Tea instead by Todd.)  What the hell is this, I shouted at the screen, as the scenes labeled “April”  “June” etc. seemed totally out the context of the regular running GH.  The scenes felt very strange to watch. Plus, the flashbacks were obviously new scenes shot just for this episode.  You know they were new because, just returned from a year’s absence, Kirsten Storms was playing [Read more...]