Back in 1994, it might have been the 6th of June, I was in my bedroom deeply immersed in an episode of Guiding Light. Where I was watching mattered, because that television didn't have a VCR, so I can't go to the video. But even as I was watching, I realized that it was one of the best hours of soap opera I had seen in I don't know how long. And back in 1994, soaps weren't nearly as bad as they are now.
I can't recall all the details of the episode; it's been a while, and as I said, I can't go to the video. But I do remember Vanessa and Bridget talking in what I think was the boarding house kitchen about Peter, the baby Bridget had with Roger Thorpe's son, Hart. I also remember that Nadine, Buzz's ex-wife, who was married to Billy, Vanessa's former husband, had been trying to pass Bridget's baby off as her own. And the late Michael Zaslow was still playing Roger; he was in the episode, as well. But beyond that, my memory fades. If anyone call fill in the gaps, please do.
It was really nothing more than a series of conversations exploring the relationships among the characters, steeped in the show's history so even casual viewers had some idea of how the characters, on and off the screen, were connected. Real conversations: where characters actually listened to one another and not just talked at each other. An hour of soap opera so engrossing, that even if I had been watching a tape, there was nothing I would have wanted to ff through. But I wished I had a tape because it was a few years before I would repeat the experience.
That would have been one of six 1997 episodes of All My Children. I was able to narrow it down because in the episode, Palmer Courtland reamed Judith Sheffield, in public, the country club, I think, for rejecting her gay son, Kevin. According to IMDB, Maeve McGuire, who played the homophobic Judith, was only in those six episodes. And, I have to say, the pleasure of watching of watching her public calling out was only deepened by knowing that the actor playing Palmer, James Mitchell, is himself gay.
As for the rest of the episode, it included Kevin and his best friend, Kelsey along with Trevor and Janet, who, I believe was played by Robin Mattson at the time. I actually do have a tape, where I don't know. I saved it because it occurred to me that this episode, as the earlier one from GL, if shown to people who look down on soaps, might just change their minds.
t wasn't until 1998 Daytime Emmys, when All My Children submitted that episode for Best Show and Best Writing, and won, that it occurred to me that these episodes might just be created specifically for the show to submit to the blue-ribbon panels that judge the reels. Now I've never actually pinned down a headwriter or executive producer and gotten them to admit that this is the case. But it makes perfect sense: panel members are not likely to be soap opera viewers (why they're not is a whole other story), so the reel is designed to engage non-soap viewers, like the panelists.
But what a treat for viewers: almost exactly three years ago, 27 June 2005 to be exact, As the World Turns ran such an episode. Sam Ford and I screened that episode a few months ago for his MIT soap class. What a joy it was to watch, both for us, and the students. Meg has just returned and hooked up with Dusty at the Snyder pond. And because these characters had history going back almost 20 years, it held so much more meaning than what's become all too common with soap couples, "Hi, nice to meet you. Want to fuck?"
It was an expensive episode with so many characters on the canvas that day: Lucinda dealing with her breast cancer; Lily and Holden making up (again); Jack and Carly (the more things chance, the more they stay the same); Rosanna and Craig and the beginnings of Will and Gwen. There were more than the usual number of sets - certainly more than now. The lighting looked great, as did the camera work. I believe Chris Goutman directed. Say what you will about his work as EP, but as a director, he's always had a unique visual style.
I wasn't the only one who noticed. The fan boards lit up like a Christmas tree. Because whatever the purpose these episodes may serve for the blue-ribbon Emmy panels, they are also a gift to the show's longtime viewers. They illustrate the best soaps have to offer, to the longtime viewer and newcomer alike.
This last point is what TPTB have failed to grasp. Marlena de la Croix relayed a conversation from the mid-1990s last year in Savoring Soaps (the link is no longer active):
"You see which stations you stop and pause a the longest? It's the channels that have the most attractive people. They are young. They have immediate sex appeal. That's who you stop and watch. That's how television is going to work from now on."
Maybe. But consider this comment from a TVwP thread titled, The Moment All of Daytime Jumped the Shark:
"I'll second the "models who act" nomination. Greg Vaughan is one of the prettiest actors on daytimes, and when I'm channel surfing, I may stop for a second and go "wow, he's pretty!" but my pause isn't going to last long enough to register with a Nielson rating once I realize that, pretty though he may be, he can't act his way out of a paper bag."
What if the poster's right? They're not the only viewer channel surfing. Looking at the dropping ratings, maybe TPTB don't have their finger on the pulse of daytime viewers, past, present and future.
So here an idea: If TPTB can produce an Emmy episode with nothing but conversation between characters exploring relationships and revealing history once a year, how about once a month? Or, better yet, try once a week. It doesn't have to be as expensive or expansive as the ATWT, episode I described above. Just characters having a conversation - like they say, talk is cheap. And for TPTB who are hesitant to mess with their show's status quo, take a look at One Life to Live's numbers. More on that next week.
© 2008 Lynn Liccardo
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