The Young and the Restless: Marlena says, “You, Sir, Are No Irwin Allen!”

Jess Walton’s Jill has survived the Y&R plane crash

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

It’s way too early to judge the work of The Young and the Restless’ new executive producer Charles Pratt Jr. We’re familiar with his resume (head writer/executive/producer of All My Children, General Hospital, Santa Barbara and Sunset Beach, primetime producer of Melrose Place et al.) But he’s only been on the Y&R  job seven weeks. Even so, there are some early hints: This past week, the controversial Pratt launched four sweeps month stunt plots simultaneously in a snow storm!  Before we discuss them, however, let’s review Y&R’s week-old disaster plot action:

Plane Crash:  A plane flies to Chicago with a secretly blind Neil, his wife Hilary, his son Devon, Jill, Colin, Cane and Lily on board.  Neil announces to all that he is  not blind anymore and he knows Hilary and Devon are in love and having an affair because he secretly witnessed them sleeping together while they  thought Neil was blind. Neil has something undisclosed in his briefcase. Suddenly, the plane crashes and all survive on the ground unharmed except for Hilary, who is severely injured and comatose.  She periodically wakes up.  Devon goes off to find help.  Neal vanishes.

Building Collapse:  At the Undergound, Victor finds out Nikki is drinking again and confronts her.  The building the Underground is in collapses with Victor, Jack, Nikki, Phyllis, Avery, Joe, Nick and Sage trapped inside. In the rubble, all are unharmed except Jack who is severely injured and comatose but who periodically wakes up.  Victor rescues Jack with CPR. Nikki, Phyllis and Avery escape while help arrives.   Victor and Jack are trapped in the basement. A semi-comatose Jack, who has secretly known Victor’s dead son Adam is alive, utters the word “Adam” and Victor knows something crucial is up.

I Know What You Did Last Summer: On Valentine’s Day Abby inexplicably invites Kevin, the young marrieds Summer and Austin along with Mariah, Courtney, Noah and Fen to a cabin in the woods.  Fen secretly spikes the punch. Everyone collapses and then wakes up.  Austin falls out of the armoire, presumably dead.  All are accused, but especially Summer. Abby is suddenly disclosed kissing Austin the night before while Mariah confronts her. Outside, Austin’s body vanishes. The youths convene to discuss what to tell the police. Will they get their story straight? Did Austin fake his own death? Ho hum!

The Towering Inferno:  A fire suddenly breaks out at Lakeview Towers in lovers Chelsea and Billy’s apartment. Chelsea and all believe Chelsea’s late husband  Adam is dead, but the audience knows Adam is alive and secretly masquerading as Gabe. Sage and Adam/Gabe live next store to Billy and Chelsea  but  are absent when the fire starts.   Chelsea escapes with Katie and Johnny. Billy remains in the burning apartment with Connor. Billy is periodically comatose but wakes up.  Adam/Gabe arrives and rescues Connor  but leaves his enemy Billy in the smoke.  Later he returns and rescues Billy.  When last seen, Adam and Billy are escaping the burning building.

Oy vey!  Can you say overkill? The four disaster plots are achingly piled on.  Every daytime soap headwriter interweaves character storylines and hypes them in some shocking manner for sweeps month, but this is way too much of a fun thing.  A great role model for Pratt would be the late, great headwriter Jim Reilly (Days of Our Lives), a master creative genius at stunts, who was always original and never dreamed of doing his vastly entertaining and oft- hilarious sweeps stunt plots more than  one at a time.

Worse I’m incredibly annoyed that Pratt is copying his 2008-9 All My Children debut.  On that show, after his debut under the umbrella of a stunt tornado story, Pratt set the world’s soap stunt record with six, count’em six, starring such characters as Kendall, Bianca and Zach. Pratt’s entire AMC stint was much despised. .

Clearly Pratt’s muse for all of this is the late Irwin Allen, creator such 1970s classics as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, all of them unabashedly cheesy, over-the-top movie fun. His name identifies the disaster movie genre embraced by so many imitators then and since. But even Allen, who pioneered the burning set and the rock and roll camera to simulate thunderous explosions and building collapse, confined his story-telling to one disaster at a time. His formula called for intersecting human dramas of marriages saved and parents and children reconciled played out against the disaster du jour, in a world saved ultimately by heroic first responders and the selfless sacrifice of military personnel who die trying to save people.

Sentimental, exciting, romantic, heart-warming and even a bit tear-jerky. Pratt provides dollops of all these elements, and evidently the stew is tasty to some viewers – he did well in the coveted 18-34 ratings category two weeks ago.

But for moi, a soap must have some grounding in real life to be believable, and these unoriginal plots don’t make it. Pratt throws in everything including the kitchen sink, much of it disconnected and out of the blue. For example, this week, apropos of nothing, Police assistant Kevin in the cabin plot revealed he is also a short story writer who has written a story with a murder scenario that is similar to Austin’s death.   What?

Even worse is the fact that these multiple disaster plots are being produced by Jill Farren Phelps, who has done swell sweeps plots on six soaps. (Santa Barbara, Guiding Light, Another World, One Life to Live, General Hospital and Y&R ).  Her 35 year soap career is a soap phenomenon!   While some dislike her, I’ve always admired Phelps, if not all her plots. It is she who hired Pratt for Y&R after working with him on GH.  Phelps often has exquisite taste in her hires. Time will tell if this is one of those times.

Beside Phelps, what also redeems poorly written plots like these is the high quality of the actors and the production crew. Y&R has always had some of the best!   The sets, particularly the plane crash and building collapse, are wonderfully Irwin Allen-esque.  But the disaster plots are not at all organic to past or present Y&R, as created and headwritten by the late Bill Bell, who would NEVER do stunt plots, though some have been tried since he stepped down from the show in 1998.

Overall plot-saving kudos have to go to the actors, most of whom are longtime Y&R veterans and soap superstars like Peter Bergman, Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott who play Jack, Victor and Nikki in the building collapse plot.  I’d also like to single out Kristoff St. John who is always great as Neil, but has been dynamite here and in his entire blind, wife Hilary unfaithful to Neil with his son Devon, plot.  The work of longtime vets like these and Tristan Rogers (Colin) and Jill (Jess Walton) in the plane crash plot, or Joshua  Morrow (Nick) and Gina Tognoni (Phyllis) also in the building collapse plot, or Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea) in the Towering Inferno plot, make Pratt’s stale disaster stunt plots more  palatable.

And so this week the building collapse and plane crash aftermath go on.  Will I be watching?  Yes, I can’t take my eyes off Pratt’s own four-ring circus of disaster stunt plots. They are that bad,  By the end of his entire Y&R stint, will I have to ask if has there ever been a daytime headwriter who is as creatively impoverished as Pratt?   Hope not for all our sakes!

General Hospital: When the Veterans Come Marching Home

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

The late Jim Reilly used to say that writing a soap was like baking a cake.  You mix in various ingredients, maybe a little bit more or less of some, bake it, and then, voila,  there’s the show, rich and delicious. The main ingredient mixed into GH this past year has been veterans.  With the 50th anniversary coming up April 1, veterans are becoming more than the flavor of the month — they are almost the entire show.  In addition to all the characters we have “mixed in” already, coming soon are Kin Shriner (Scotty), Rachel Ames (Audrey), possibly John Stamos (Blackie) and the beloved Jackie Zeman (Bobbie.) [Read more…]

A “Bah Humbug” Christmas … Plus, The Borg is Back!

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

Oh how I miss soap Christmases the way they used to be. Today, all soaps have been scrubbed of religion. This year only two of the four soaps — Days of Our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful — continued with at least some of the traditions that made the holiday a really special time to watch daytime drama.  

The Horton Ornaments

On the soaps of old (actually, not even so old), every soap gathered its central families together at a family party.  On cue, a leading cast member broke the fourth wall at the end of the holiday show to wish the cherished viewers: “From our family to your family … Merry Christmas.”  Thus viewers felt particularly bonded with their other “family” — their soap family.Plus, I really missed those Christmas traditions particular to each soap! Remember all those years Dr. Steve Hardy told the Christmas story to all the kids at the hospital on General Hospital? When Mike Bauer sang Christmas carols in the Bauer living room on Guiding Light?  When all the characters of Passions, religious or not, turned out for one of Jim Reilly’s crazy midnight Christmas Eve masses?

Well, it was mostly “Bah Humbug” to Christmas on half of our surviving soaps in 2012 – a most peculiar choice, given the medium’s on-going race to stay in business. Instead of a gathering together en famille on Christmas week The Young and the Restless, Jack’s son Kyle and business associates Phyllis and Neil staged an intervention for pill-popping Jack. Peter Bergman brilliantly fired all rockets in these scenes in which obstinate Jack managed to give in to no one.    On General Hospital on Christmas Eve, surrogate mother Maxie had cramps and found out that she was indeed pregnant with Dante and Lulu’s baby.  Please oh please, tell me this wasn’t supposed to be symbolic of another Christmas pregnancy.

Thankfully, Days and B&B celebrated Christmas the old fashion way. Days offered warm family gathering, and as they do every year, rolled out the Horton family ornaments engraved with character names. B&B assembled the Forresters in a lovely tribute to the recently deceased Stephanie, as Eric (the talented John McCook) beautifully played the piano. And indeed B&B honored the old soap tradition as executive producer Bradley Bell broke the fourth wall to wish the audience a good holiday at the end of the Christmas episode. It made me feel extra good.   Happy holidays right back to everyone at B&B from Marlena!

The Young and the Restless:  On an up note, however, how unexpected is it that mega-popular Steve Burton (formerly Jason on GH) is joining Y&R?  He’ll certainly bring many of his fans with him.  I think the kind of role that’s written for him (as yet undisclosed) should have a lot to do with the actor’s success.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if his new character is on the right side of the law, unlike his unrepentant hitman Jason (nicknamed “The Borg” by the audience) on GH?

Introducing “Sunday Reflections”: General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives

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

Sunday is a great time to reflect on what’s happened during the week on soaps. So Marlena happily presents the first of a feature called “Sunday Reflections.

General Hospital: Leave it to this regime at GH to bring in a GQ mobster, Joe Scully Jr., as played by the mighty fine looking Richard Steinmetz (ex-Santa Barbara, Sunset Beach) He’s no Paulie Walnuts or Bobby “Bacalla” from The Sopranos.  I dig Joe’s artfully clipped hair. But what I really like about Joe is that he’s definitely a Brooklyn “des,” “dems” and “does” guy withoutrichart steinmetxhaving to say the actual words “des,” “dems” and “does.” Joe’s is a master liar who usually got away with everything in the past (sound familiar?)  I can hardly wait to see the super melodramatic prison reunion this week between Joe and Kate, the woman he raped long ago. This rape produced a son, obviously Trey, played by slick looker Erik Valdez, an actor I don’t especially like. So that makes a show with how many rapists? Todd, Joe, Luke. And how many murderers walking around? Sonny, Jason, Heather, Johnny. That’s exactly double the number of such criminals GH had under Guza. Sopranos creator David Chase could hardly dreamed up this line-up, no?  Ladies and gents, please no letters on the good looks of Maurice Benard and Steve Burton. I already know.

The Young and the Restless: When a friend tweeted two weeks ago “I can’t believe that I’d be so glad to see Christine again,” I just laughed. Now I agree. Lauralee Bell is demonstrating a wonderful maturity and great passion as she now plays a lawyer who is out to prosecute Phyllis for her long ago hit and run involving herself and Paul on their almost wedding day. Speaking [Read more…]

When All Soaps Are In Lockstep, Is Improvement Possible?

By Marlena De Lacroix

What’s a soap critic to do?  There are only six soaps.  I have a long memory and remember the very early 90s, when Bill Bell originated the homeless storyline with Stephanie, which way proceeded the current one.  Ken Corday is an enemy of free speech; he sought to destroy the critical arm of Soap Opera Weekly years ago. But alas.  The great and ultra creative Jim Reilly is dead and cursed now by Ken and followers.   All that is long ago and distant — to some and those who were not in the daytime world long ago in the first place.

The root of criticism in daytime is executive change.  You call for an executive change when you see a bad soap, a soap that is marked by cronyism, a soap that doesn’t  move, or centers too long on one character or is marked by favoritism or sexism or inside politics.  Yet, all the current headwriters and producers at daytime, as if in a time warp, seem locked into place.  We have Ken, enemy of the First Amendment at Days of Our Lives.  Fronsie eternal at ABC.  All the Bells and the bravura Rauch at Y&RJill and Bob at General Hospital.  They all seem to be [Read more…]

The Daytime Emmys: Happy At Last

newFor another view of the Daytime Emmys, read the post following this one by Marlena’s longtime friend and colleague Ed Martin.  A veteran TV industry journalist and analyst, Ed is a columnist for JackMyers.com.

By Marlena De Lacroix

From out of a dying soap industry, from out of a cable network I never watch, last night arrived the most unexpected shock of my decades-long soap watching/journalism life: a Daytime Emmys that was pretty good.  Who know that after most of us gave up the fight and moved on to other lives that daytime would finally get what we (the actors, the press, and hopefully the fans) had fought for forever: a Daytime Emmys that wasn’t condescending to daytime soaps!

Hooray!  No soaps-are-stupid jokes!  It’s taken the always awkward Daytime Emmys since 1974 — the year they were first broadcast by themselves — not to make fun of what they’re celebrating.  Even though this year’s ceremony was on 

Best of all, without the traditional sneering and disrespect for soaps, many moments of actual warmth emerged.  It’s called professional showmanship with heart, and the producers of the Emmys this year have it! Yes, yes — emotion — that’s what daytime soaps are all about.  And used to be about. 

such a small scale, it grew large because it finally treated soaps with dignity. They are not, as most people in the world think, and we soap fans know in our hearts — a punch line!

Unlike in past years, the host wasn’t sleazy or smarmy (like Bob Barker) or totally miscast (as Eric Braeden and Melody Thomas Scott unintentionally were [Read more…]

Jim Reilly, Very Fondly Remembered

Thinking Fans remember James E. Reilly: Jonnysbro says nobody else could have written Passions … Fabobug says Reilly “knew how to think outside the bubble” … Jenn appreciated how he used his Catholic background … and more. See Comments below. 

____________________ 

By Marlena De Lacroix

It’s one thing to write an obituary for an actress you’ve seen and admired on television, and quite another to write one for someone with whom you were friendly for many years.  To tell you the truth, I don’t really feel like writing at all right now because Jim Reilly died today unexpectedly at the age of 60 while recovering from cardiac surgery.

Jim and I were friends for years for two reasons:  we both liked to laugh, and, as two stay-at-home writers, we were self-chosen outcasts in the fairly social soap industry.  He was an infamous recluse.   Whether he was writing Days of Our Lives or Passions, I knew he was alive because I’d get phone calls from his various lavish new homes, successively in Los Angeles or Amagansett or Connecticut.   He met

Timmy, invented by Jimmy and played by Josh, was a character who evoked pure joy.  At least for me … and I’m sure for a lot of you out there.

me for lunch once in Westwood around 1992 when I in Los Angeles, and as we ate he kept saying, “I won’t come out for anyone. Bill Bell, yes, and you, yes.  And especially not for Ken (Corday, by then his hated Days boss).”  But when he said [Read more…]