Merry Christmas, Baby, from Marlena!

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

Michelle Stafford

The Young and the Restless: I’m always looking for improvements under the new regime at The Young and the Restless.  One of the show’s former problems was loading heroines with too many problems, and I think the current writers have done a nice job these last few weeks in giving Phyllis (Michelle Stafford) a bit of rest.  In other words, instead of being called upon to carry on as the ever screaming, jealous wife, adulteress and murder suspect, she’s allowed us to be reminded of the kind of person she really is.

She’s not particularly man-crazy at the moment but showing some independence in the wake of the disappearance of her lover Ronan. Her new work at Newman shows her to be the intelligent and top professional woman she used to be. Her great compassion and support for pill-addict boss/ex-husband/good friend Jack has brought out her natural humanity.  Continuing to reach out to her wayward daughter Summer with great love, she’s let us see what a great and determined mother she is. I even notice she stopped wearing her usually slutty clothes.  Altogether, Phyllis is less of a headache, again a smart, convivial gal you’d like to actually know.

Although I don’t like Y&R‘s teen cyberbullying story, it certainly makes much  better use of fireball Emmy winners Christian LeBlanc and Tracey E. Bregman, whose marriage as Fen’s parents Michael and Lauren has been too happy for too long. Giving happy couples problems certainly worked with Adam and Chelsea, and certainly gives better acting opportunities to super actors Michael Mulney and Melissa Claire Egan.

I’m not a big fan of crabby Abby Newman, but I’m glad Marcy Rylan, who plays her so engagingly, is rejoining the show. The young character’s obnoxiousness is a spark the show surely needs.

But what I’m most excited about is the imminent arrival of Mark Pinter as politician Marcus Wheeler.  Pinter, of course, was brilliant as the Shakespearean villain Grant Harrison on Another World.   He’s the kind of powerful actor who can make waves for those corporate sharks Jack and Victor, played by the formidable actors Peter Bergman and Eric Braeden. Uh oh …do you think they’ll get Marcus mixed up with … Phyllis?

General Hospital:  I really like Felix (Marc Samuel), the new character on GH.  Felix is very, very, very smart.  Didn’t he make student nurse Sabrina do weeks of extra bedpan duty in exchange for an introduction to his cosmetics boss Lucy Coe? Of course it turned out Felix had never met Lucy, but Felix can talk himself into anything. GH is a show that needs humor, and Felix and his funny remarks certainly brighten scenes.  Anyone who calls that bitch Britt “Dr. Miss Thing” is certainly okay by Marlena!

By the way, Marlena, Moose and Nigel wish you all a Merry Christmas.  Getting read by you and receiving your wonderful comments are year-round Christmas presents for moi. Joyeux  Noel!  Buon Natale!

Marlena’s Best of the Best, 2012

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

It’s the end of 2012, time for best and worst lists.  Because soaps are in such danger and I’ve already recorded most of the worsts in the weekly column I’m choosing only to do the bests here.  And Marlena being Marlena sometimes I have multiple choices in each category.

Best Actress:  The Bold and the Beautiful’s Susan Flannery. Can there any other?  Her work in the month leading up to Stephanie’s death was just so human and full of intelligence, two full career-long defining traits of arguably daytime’s best ever actress.

Doug Davidson

Best Actor:  Doug Davidson, The Young and the Restless.  Tragedy usually becomes soap performers, but it’s still difficult for some actors to pull off crying scenes believably and effectively.  Y&R‘s Doug Davidson was just grand as the drowning-in-guilt Paul, who shot and killed his own son, when Ricky was about to commit murder.   Davidson was just so realistic as a father in this ultimate pain, especially when he was unjustly arrested for Ricky’s murder.

Best Supporting Actresses:  Too many to choose just one. B&B ’s Katherine Kerry Lang should get the Emmy she deserves this year as Brooke for that character’s loving support of Stephanie on her deathbed … Kelly Sullivan has just been terrifically entertaining and often hilarious as Crazy Connie on General Hospital. (She also plays Connie’s alter, fashion editor Kate.) …  Will’s coming out scenes on Days of Our Lives wouldn’t have been half as effective if not for the understanding and support of his grandmother Marlena. Deidre Hall, as ever, is brilliant as a character who represents the ultimate in womanly love and acceptance … Robin Mattson was just deliciously evil as always when her crazy, cunning Heather returned to GH, bringing with her a swath of misdeeds, including a role in the switch of Tea and Sam’s babies.

Best Supporting ActorGeneral Hospital ‘s Jason Thompson was every bit as good in crying scenes as Y&R’s Davidson, as Patrick so heartbreakingly mourned the death of his wife, Dr. Robin. The exquisite sensitivity the character showed in his grief was totally unexpected.

Best Couple:  Anna and “Duke”/Faison on GH.  In the 80s they were a supercouple — Finola Hughes and Ian Buchanan had amazing chemistry, and their great acting skills beautifully complimented one other.  And they stayed a dazzling duo when both returned this year to GH and played out the twisty and shocking Faison-is-the-fake Duke story.  The actors also did just as great work apart:  Hughes as Robin’s grieving mother on GH and Buchanan as the scheming meanie Ian on Days, who also wildly grieved when his love Madson died in his arms.  Buchanan is this soap year’s prince of melodrama.

Best Show: General Hospital, for making the comeback of the year.  A year ago, the smart money bet this show would be cancelled. But executive producer Frank Valenti and headwriter Ron Carlivati turned the tide splendidly, transforming GH into such a highly entertaining show that fans don’t want to miss even one day!  May GH’s rising ratings portend a new era of success for dayime soaps!

Cher readers, do write in and tell me your personal bests for 2012.

Also, listen to Connie/Marlena chat about soap bests and the biggest soap news events of 2012 with soapcentral.com’s Daniel J. Kroll on http://www.voiceamerica.com/Show/1661.

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...]