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.

Isn’t Downton Abbey Just Like Daytime Soaps? Consider the Similarities …

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

Name me a daytime soap fan who doesn’t watch and probably love Downton Abbey. Even though a lot happened this busy soap week (Genie’s coming back, Prospect Park made a deal with the Writers Guild) what everyone’s talking about is the megahit Masterpiece Theater miniseries. Downton’s third season premiered last Sunday on PBS.

I love Downton Abbey now too, but I briefly gave it up in frustration during season two.  The similarities between it and daytime soap opera became too much for moi. Hey, haven’t I seen these plots many  times  on daytime?  When paralyzed war vet Matthew suddenly stood up in his wheel chair, I couldn’t stop thinking of paralyzed Josh doing the same thing on Guiding Light.  A pair of lovers, Matthew and Lady Mary, overcome wrenching obstacles to finally get engaged and married!  Haven’t we seen similar couples break up and make up like that a million times on soaps?  Isn’t obstinate argumentative Mary just like [Read more...]

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 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...]

Kiboshing Kish: Betrayal and Malfeasance

KishBy Marlena De Lacroix

I’ve had a lot of problems with One Life to Live over the last two years, but Kish (Kyle and Fish) was never one of them. The shocking write-off of these characters is wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels.  Of all the ways this failing soap could be improved, dumping Kish NOW isn’t one of them.

Goodbye Kish: Scott Evans as Fish, Brett Claywell as Kyle

The first rule of soaps is to respect the fans.  Kiboshing Kish shows no respect for any of the fans, and especially Kish’s gay fan base.  This story was meaningful and

Besides betraying the trust of loyal fans, did the network ever even contemplate what a huge public relations disaster getting rid of Kish is?

easy to relate to for so many gay viewers.  Beneath the fury of betrayal expressed all over the net this week at their story’s abrupt [Read more...]

A Letter to Marlena De Lacroix (a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman)

Dear Ms. Passalacqua Hayman: 

I wanted to write to tell you how much I enjoy reading your columns and your insights into the soaps.  You are the reason I started buying Soap Opera Weekly so many years ago and I was sad when you left.  I bought that magazine every week, at first for your columns, but then cause I just loved it.  I would not get a subscription

I hope something comes along and saves our shows from themselves, but that alarm has been ringing for a long time.  Why can’t those in charge hear it?

because I wanted to buy it every week so the cover would not be damaged with those damn postal stickers.  Their covers used to be so good — those were the days!  I was pleasantly surprised to find your web site recently and am excited to read what you have to say about the state of soaps today. 

I, too, am just saddened by the state of the soap business these days.  I, of course, do not pretend to know all it takes to make soaps or [Read more...]

Guiding Light’s Last Fade-out: Only Love Can Save the Soap World

By Marlena De Lacroix

I thought Kim Zimmer looked absolutely gorgeous in her last scene on Guiding Light set a year after the action, when Reva and Josh pledged their love “always.”  Clad in a  emerald gown, the top of her blond hair nicely swept back, she looked truly amazing.  A goddess, indeed.

Surprised I wrote this?  Well, I m going to surprise you even more. I really don’t want to nitpick the details of the last episode of GL.  Bitching and moaning about which characters’ stories were poorly concluded and which other characters’ stories

At least if it had to end, GL was still about love when it went down.  Not misogyny, not hate. And truly, truly, I really do believe that if the soap world is to survive, only love can save it.

surprisingly didn’t get a windup is way too easy.  The ending of a 72-year-old soap  needs deeper examining.  What does it mean to the long history of the show?  What does the end of Guiding Light [Read more...]

Celebrating the Glorious Life of Guiding Light: From 1992, Marlena’s Analysis of GL at its Peak

blogtalkradioDon’t miss Marlena’s farewell to Guiding Light on blogtalkradio’s Brandon’s Buzz at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 or later on the network’s archive.

____________________________________________________  

 By Marlena De Lacroix

In March 1992, Guiding Light reached the apex of soap quality, that perfect blend of excellence in writing, acting and production.   I thought it had everything going for it to  reach #1 in the ratings.  Here’s my column from Soap Opera Weekly, March 2, 1992,   Volume 3, Issue 9, in which I analyzed this blueprint for building a perfect soap.  A framed copy of this column hung over the desk of GL’s then executive producer Jill Farren Phelps for the duration of her stay there.

Intelligence, integrity, heart — GL had all three. It was a soap that not only deserved to rise to the top of the ratings, but should have stayed there forever. What a tragedy we are losing America’s oldest and historically beloved soap on Friday.   Farewell, Guiding Light.  You were glorious!

Here’s my column as it appeared originally. If you can [Read more...]