Back to the Future: Soaps Try to Revive 80s Glory

By Patrick Erwin

The death of the soap opera may have been widely exaggerated — they’re still alive and kicking.  But it’s no secret that the patient is ailing.  Ratings for many of the shows are anemic, and they’ve continued to shrink.

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Happy New Year! Thinking Soap Fans Pick B&W of 2007

Happy New Year, mes chers!

Marlena toasts you with a glass of champagne, wishing only soaps that are good this year.  Speaking of, so many of my Thinking Fans sent in their own Best and Worst picks for 2007, there’s barely room to post them all!  I love the intelligence of them and appreciate how discerning all of you are when writing about a field of soaps that is less than enchanting.  Bold and battered, Thinking Soap Fans march on in 2008, using their soap savvy and quality critical judgement … [Read more...]

As The World Turns’ Unique Christmas Gift to Us

By Marlena De Lacroix

On the very pre-Christmas Friday when ABC stabbed us in the eye with Georgie’s funeral on General HospitalAs the World Turns showed us that it remembered what Christmas, family, hope — and soaps — are all about.  The ATWT holiday show was purely a gift to us — the fans!  We, the people, who really count!  It was a special episode that was crammed with creativity, originality and an overall feeling of family and cast fellowship.

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Patrick’s Hope: Soaps, Scrooge, and Christmas Miracles

By Patrick Erwin

I admit it — I’m feeling an awful lot like Ebenezer Scrooge this year.  Even Saint Nick himself knows that soap fans have certainly had a lot of reasons to say “Bah humbug!”

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Marlena Vs. The Scabs: Solidarity Forever!

By Marlena De Lacroix

I am 100% behind the Writers Guild and their strike.  I come from a union family — my late grand-aunts spent just about every Sunday of the 1930s-60s freezing their tushs off in Union Square participating in rallies and demonstrations supporting organized labor, honoring the working man.  Solidarity forever!

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Can Guiding Light and As The World Turns Survive The Big Change?

By Marlena De Lacroix 

There’s nothing soap fans hate more than change. Whether a show’s longtime leading teen is recast with a skinnier actress or the show suddenly changes dramatic style with the entrance of a new headwriter, viewers freak out because what they have always prized about daytime drama is its continuity and constancy. Now, in 2007, soaps have shrinking budgets to correspond with miniscule ratings. So some soaps have to make big, big changes – or they will face cancellation. 

This week Procter and Gamble announced its two classic soaps, 55-year-old Guiding Light (70 including radio) and 51-year-old As the World Turns, both on the “bubble” of cancellation (that’s programming talk for “maybe , may not”) will institute new, cheaper production techniques. New, smaller (and less expensive) digital cameras and other technology will be used to shoot the new soaps partially outdoors on location in real towns around the New York City area and on sets with four walls instead of three.

 Will this kind of radical production change save GL and ATWT? Artfully executed, opening up stuffy old studio-bound soaps like ATWT and GL could have its benefits. American fans of the cult British soap Hollyoaks rave about the realism of the show, which is regularly produced on outdoor locations. Plus, GL executive producer Ellen Wheeler and ATWT executive producer Christopher Goutman (who started their soap careers as actors twenty five years ago on P&G) have always been careful, intelligent producers whose shows are produced meticulously. In contrast, Soapnet/ABC’s latest soap General Hospital: Night Shift, put together cheaply, was a sloppy production nightmare. ATWT‘s Goutman has done a superb job with recent location work shot with digital cameras (such as Luke’s accident and three other storyline events, all shot on Staten Island over a three-day period). The casts of both ATWT and GL are both solid, trained acting veterans who could perform anywhere under any circumstances.

Can’t you just see GL‘s Kim Zimmer (Reva, in fur, of course) mushing a dog sled through the frozen New Jersey tundra in the middle of a February blizzard? ”Buck, Buck…!”

On the other hand, one of the major mistakes that can be traced down through soap opera history is penchant survival-threatened producers and networks have for changing the surface values of a show rather than review and change key elements of its core drama such as writing quality and style. When ABC reworked its failing soap Loving into The City in 1995, network executives crowed about the hip, modernizing benefits of moving the cast of a Midwestern-based soap into a hip Soho, New York City, loft. The show was canceled in 1997. When ABC’sPort Charles (originally a General Hospital spin-off) faltered, in 2001 several of the key characters were turned into vampires and the show became quasi fantasy/sci-fi. It was canceled in 2003.

 These two late soaps are extreme examples of soaps that made stylistic changes and failed anyway. By the time both original shows were reworked, neither soap was older than twelve years. GL and ATWT are iconic American classics that have been around for decades.  Can the radical production changes planned by Procter and Gamble save these shows? Or will soap fans, who historically hate change, just tune out?

Crème De Lacroix: Bruce Weitz, Anthony Zacchara, General Hospital

Can I be the first? Although we’ve only heard super Mafioso villain Anthony Zacchara’s voice from behind the closed double doors of his mansion on GeneralHospital, actor Bruce Weitz already seems sublime to me. Just the high-pitched tone of his crazily agitated voice suggests many entertaining scenes to come. His skill as an Emmy-winning character actor (he played barking detective Becker on Hill St. Blues) portends all kind of hilarity and solid drama as he faces down mob rival Sonny and everyone else in Port Charles. (Zacchara comes face to face with Sonny on October 19). Marlena sincerely hopes that Zacchara’s madness is of the comic kind, and not an excuse for one of those preachy mental health stories.

Originally published on www.jackmyers.com.