No One is in Jail on Nashville, a Great Nighttime Soap

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

Connie Britton (left) and Hayden Panettiere in Nashville

What’s to write about?   Everyone on General Hospital is in jail, or should be. Sonny has finally been arrested for the murder of A.J. Quartermaine. Carly and Duke are there, too, for helping Sonny cover up the killing.  Heather is in jail and presumably will be transported back to Ferncliff.  Franco and Nina aren’t in jail, but should be for kidnapping Ava’s baby.   And so should Ava, for the long ago murder of Connie.

So this week, let’s go somewhere new. Do you watch Nashville on ABC? It’s my favorite nighttime soap, and I’ll bet a lot of daytime soap fans agree.

Nashville is everything a daytime soap producer might imagine in his/her wildest dreams. For openers,   it’s a superlative job of world-building, capturing as it does with such impeccable authenticity the world of today’s Nashville, Tennessee – a thoroughly modern metropolis of the New South that also occupies a fabled position in our popular culture as the home of our uniquely American country music industry.

It’s not entirely fair, of course, to compare this weekly primetime juggernaut, with its audience of nine million and per episode budget of $4 million, with daytime soap opera’s five-days-per week worlds-without-end marathon. But it’s not the glitz and glamor and the fabulous music that make Nashville so compelling. It’s the series’ old-fashioned heart and soul of family drama – intersecting stories of love gained and lost, striving broken spirits who cry out and sometimes lash out in pain, and ambition both triumphant and failed, all at the confluence of family and fame.

Behind it all is the flow of creativity that all the characters share, the desire to make music that is their own. This becomes a struggle that infuses all the story lines, a battle between artistic honesty and fakery that is not unlike life itself.

Nashville is built around the world of Rayna Jaymes, a storied country superstar whose career is on down the line, as they say, at the point where she needs and wants to take charge. She does so by launching her own record label, the demands of which clash painfully with her other lives, as mother, wife and conflicted lover. Connie Britton plays her so truthfully, we can easily believe there is a real Rayna, right up there with Tammy and Loretta and Reba.

Rayna is divorced from Nashville’s slick mayor Teddy (Eric Close), engaged to fellow country superstar Luke Wheeler (the equally believable Will Chase), yet continually crossing paths with the man who surely will always be the love of her life, the alcoholic fabled guitarist/songwriter Deacon Claybourne, played by Charles Esten, who surely is the most attractive man on television.  Rayna and Deacon were lovers long ago and even have a daughter out of wedlock.  They have tried to rekindle their love on several occasions, but it’s just not right. I admire greatly that these characters are all truly adults, trying to honor their choices and do the right thing for their families and children. And all without saccharine.

Nashville’s parallel story line follows the fortunes of Juliette Barnes, one super self-centered hellion of a country/pop upstart from hardscrabble roots who launches herself as Rayna’s competition, becomes her nemesis, then her partner, then the object of public scorn. She’s played brilliantly by daytime alum Hayden Panettiere, who grew up on soaps on Guiding Light and One Life to Live.

Panettiere may be the bravest woman ever on television or in film. Rene Zellwegger deserved the kudos she earned for gaining weight for the title role in Bridget Jones Diary, and Panettiere goes her one better. In real life, Panettiere really is pregnant and has gained the usual pounds. Her Juliette is pregnant, too, proudly looking the part without either slimming camera tricks or insulting fat suit. A real woman playing a real woman. How refreshing.

There’s a whole bushel of intersecting secondary stories, each populated by superb acting talent to die for. These include Jonathan Jackson as aspiring songwriter Avery Barkley, father of Juliet’s baby. (You may recognize him from GH, where he grew up playing Lucky Spencer.)  Wonderful, too, are Clare Bowen as Deacon’s talented songwriter niece Scarlett, Sam Palladio as her ex Gunnar Scott, one time songwriting partner who belatedly learns he has a six year old son, and Chris Carmack as Will Lexington, a closeted country hunk who has made it big and is terrified he’ll be found out. What unites them is the steady stream of their soul-revealing music.

All of this is the work of Callie Khouri, who brought smart, flawed and therefore true-life women to the big screen in Thelma and Louise, now a classic. There’s nary a misstep in her Nashville, not a single thing I would change, not a moment when I want to look away from the screen. That is remarkable for such a broad and complex canvas. But Nashville doesn’t feel complex. Its storylines flow together like the lyrics of a country story song.

If you haven’t been tuning in – which I doubt – catch up somehow. You’ll be glad you did.

General Hospital: All Hail the Nurses Ball — and ABC Daytime!

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

Aren‘t we just having the greatest time watching General Hospital ’s Nurses Ball, the first part of which aired Friday?   I’d like to congratulate all the performers, writers and the crew who participated, especially those two great showmen, executive producer Frank Valentini and headwriter Ron Carlivati, for putting on such a great production. I’d also like to thank those two great women who created the Ball back in 1994: former executive producer Wendy Riche and former headwriter Claire Labine.

And haven’t the musical numbers in this year’s revived Nurses Ball been wondrous so far?  I especially loved Spinelli (Bradford Anderson) and a glamorized Ellie (Emily Wilson) who did the comic and so imaginative “She Blinded Me with Science.” The introduction to the ball, starring all the nurses spearheaded by Epiphany (Sonja Eddy) was great, and so was the pas de deux by Anton and Sam, performed straight from Dancing With the Stars to you by Kelly Monaco and Maxim Chmerkovskiy.  I found myself sobbing (again) when Frisco sang “All I Need” to Felicia at the cliffhanger of Friday’s episode.  I was never their greatest Frisco and Felicia fan back in the day, but it brings back the old days of GH to us, special days we shall never forget in so many ways.

So we must all hail all General Hospital’s 50th anniversary celebration, which has been on-going seemingly everywhere this past week.  You have to give big kudos to ABC Daytime for publicizing the hell out of the event.  There was Tony Geary’s sentimental appearance on The View, during which they showed the clip of Luke singing “My Way.”)   There was a superbly produced 50th anniversary special edition of the Katie Couric daytime talk show, showcasing many of the actors (Tony, Genie Francis, Kin Shriner, et al.) who made the trip to Manhattan to tape the show. Included were Jack Wagner singing and doing a hilarious kissing scene with Katie.  Last night, GH even offered a very nicely put together hour long special edition of 20/20 called “The Real Soap Dish.”  There were segments on love, sex and the great supercouples of Port Charles.  I even saw a New York City local news report on the anniversary in a screen in the back seat of a cab I was taking to a Broadway show on Friday!

All in all, I can’t remember such a hoopla being made over any show in all my many decades of watching and writing about soap operas.  Do you think ABC finally, finally, sees the errors of their ways in destroying their other two great soaps, the cancelled All My Children and One Life to Live?   By devoting such love and attention to General Hospital, is ABC saying they are really going to stick with this show and make it live another 50 years?    I’m certainly hoping so.

 Altogether, GH’s anniversary celebrations and the Nurses Ball certainly made it a momentous and quite sentimental week to be a daytime fan.    

General Hospital at 50: They’ve Only Just Begun …

Marlena says:  It’s a special time at General Hospital.  The 50th anniversary is coming up April 1 and it’s been just about a year since headwriter Ron Carlivati and executive producer executive producer Frank Valentini took over a dying show and made it must-watch TV.  Marlena’s dear friend and veteran journalist Ed Martin, who first started watching GH in the glory days of the early 80s, expresses the feelings of many avid fans at the current state of the show in this column, reprinted from his regular gig at TV Worth Watching. Ed’s been a guest columnist here many times, and I’m so happy to share his latest GH thoughts with you.

By Ed Martin

April will mark the 50th anniversary of ABC’s General Hospital. I’ll be marking my 35th anniversary as a steady GH viewer just a couple of months after that. One year ago, I was almost certain that neither anniversary would come to pass, what with the show in a death spiral after more than ten years of dreadful mob-based stories that had gutted virtually everything [Read more...]

Au Revoir, All My Children and One Life to Live

By Marlena De Lacroix

Last week I had a nightmare that All My Children and One Life to Live were canceled.  And then the bad dream came true.

But before we wallow in our own  grief, let’s take a moment to remember all the jobs that are being lost — and all the acting careers that are now ending.  So many people out of work!  They are the true victims of ABCamc logo Daytime, the reality shows, and our genre that is now collapsing.  The rest of us will just have to knit.

It’s hard to imagine a life without the daytime icons that have filled the histories of All My Children and One Life to Live.  I’ve lived my life with Erica and Viki, and now I’ll never know if they find forever husbands — or lasting happiness.  People like Tad and Blair and Dorian and Bo have been almost lifelong friends and it’s hard to think what life will be like without them.  

Somehow I can’t see myself making lifelong friends with Mario Batali or Tim Gunn.  Imagine, [Read more...]

An Open Letter to Anne Sweeney, Co-chair, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group

Dear Ms. Sweeney:

I am writing to strongly protest the current Todd and Marty storyline on One Life to Live. It’s in effect the long delayed second chapter of a story that began in 1993, when Todd was the leader of three college students who gang raped Marty. The two chapters couldn’t be more shockingly different in intent.Todd and Marty 

The 1993 chapter, though brutal,  was told with intelligence and sensitivity, shedding light on the humanity and compassion gained through this tragic crime. It deservedly won numerous Daytime Emmys. The current chapter — in which an “amnesiac” Marty was kept in captivity again by Todd for five months,  fell in “love” with him and begged him to have sex with her (which he did) — lacks any such redeeming insight. Instead, it is simply revolting.

Starting with the hackneyed soap opera device of amnesia, the current writing team seeks to exploit the audience rather than enlighten it. The current story extends ancient rape myths (“I raped her because she wanted it”).  The story’s aim is far from social issue education. Rather, it is the  [Read more...]