From the “Latin: Illegitimi non carborundum. In any language, easier said then done, especially when someone’s been at it a long time.
In all forms of serialized storytelling, be it daytime, primetime, or even comic books, there’s an inherent, and necessary, tension between those who create the stories and those who consume them; there is simply no pleasing all of the people all of the time. For soaps, the best possible outcome is pleasing most of the viewers most of the time; at a minimum, some of the viewers have to be pleased at least some of the time.
But, somewhere over the past eleven years, As the World Turns’ Executive Producer, Christopher Goutman, stopped caring about pleasing any of the viewers any of the time. I’m guessing it was around the time Barbara Bloom took over at CBS Daytime and began turning ATWT into a full employment program for actors she had worked with while she was at ABC Daytime(see Sam Ford’s take here),who, with a handful of exceptions, played characters only tangentially connected to core families, if at all. And then there was Bloom’s role in altering the show’s narrative structure (discussed here).
Notwithstanding the rantings of many posters, I’ve never believed that there is a collective effort among those who make soap opera to undermine – or even destroy – the genre, although sometimes it certainly seems that way. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why. That said, a person can get worn down. In February 2009, I wrote,
And then there's the matter of the infamous Goutman quote: "I don't think there is an appetite in this society right now to watch this show five days a week; they don't have the time or the energy." Referring to As the World Turns as "this show" is certainly telling. And it doesn't take a Freudian to know that when he said, "they don't have the time or the energy" what he really meant was, "I don't have the time or the energy." Maybe it's all the micromanaging he's had to endure. Or it could be that ten years in the same job have simply taken their toll on his psyche. But the man clearly does not love the show he's producing, which means that it's time for him to be doing something else…
While the human psyche is certainly resilient, there are limits; when someone’s autonomy is being continually undermined, one way of coping is to look for places where they can impose their authority. In Goutman’s case, that would be the actors – and the fans – people who neither signed his paycheck, nor held the fate of his show in their hands.
Piecing together what several actors – Scott Bryce, Forbes March, Elizabeth Hubbard, Jon Hensley – have told the soap media, the ATWT set didn’t sound like a happy place these past few years. Not that the set was a picnic in the early days. Don Hastings told the Soap Opera Digest/Weekly Farewell Issue, “It was an Irna Phillips and Ted Corday production. There was not a lot of laughs.”
Forbes March’s observation to Nelson Branco, though, is particularly revealing. Comparing the atmosphere at One Life to Live, where “there’s a lot of creative conflict on the set…because everyone cares about doing their best,” March says of ATWT, “everyone is professional. They show up, say their lines verbatim, and leave quietly to be with their families.” Liz Hubbard noted, “Now we've been through all sorts of regimes where you're not even allowed to put your feet on the table. You're not allowed to do this. You're not allowed to do that.”
Both were echoing what Scott Bryce said in early 2008, after Goutman fired him from his role as Craig Montgomery (a role Bryce created in 1982), “It's hard to go to work when you don't really have the support of the captain of the ship, which is what I felt…I worked hard. I respected the story as much as I could. I played the good soldier and didn't bitch. I called him sir. I showed up on time and did my scenes in one take.” Then, of course, there was the very public contract dispute that ended with Martha Byrne leaving the show after playing Lily Snyder for more than twenty years. For what it’s worth, both roles were soon recast with actors who had worked with Barbara Bloom at ABC.
To digress for just a moment, for all the bitching and moaning from fans and critics about how interference from TPTB is ruining soaps – most of which is more than justified – there is one example from years back that illustrates a larger truth: what’s really important is the person who’s making the decisions, not necessarily their title. When Laurence Caso took over the New York office of CBS Daytime in 1983, he soon realized that ATWT would never succeed by continuing to copy what the ABC soaps were doing. He pushed Procter & Gamble to replace Mary-Ellis Bunim with Robert Calhoun. And when P&G balked at hiring Douglas Marland as head writer (P&G was likely still smarting from Marland’s abrupt departure from Guiding Light after Allen Potter fired Jane Elliott in 1982), it was Caso who hired Marland to write the legendary 1985 bible that would restore ATWT to its previous glory.
As for As the World Turns’ final months, Sam Ford speaks for many fans:
What I think is such a shame is that the cancellation news came out so long in advance and yet, rather than spending those many months dedicated to a continuous build and satisfying conclusion to the characters and families of Oakdale, the show continued with a variety of short-term story arcs and then, as the end neared, rushed through wrapping up their stories.
The real question is, why, after bending to the will of others for so long, after the show was canceled, and there was nothing left to lose, couldn’t Christopher Goutman have manned up, followed Doug Marland’s wise advice, to put his “own personal likes and dislikes aside,” and spend those final months crafting a satisfying conclusion for viewers who’ve been watching the show for decades?
You have to understand, As the World Turns isn’t the first soap opera Chris Goutman brought to a close. In late 1998, he took over as Executive Producer of Another World. But in April 1999, NBC pulled the plug on AW. Goutman had barely two months to wrap up the show’s thirty-five year run. According to a former soap opera journalist, Goutman wanted to bring back the beloved Beverlee McKinsey as Iris Carrington for the end, but was overruled by his bosses at Procter & Gamble Productions. So, Another World concluded with a wedding that was interrupted when a gorilla carried off the groom. There blogosphere was in its infancy in 1999, but many fans still cite the absurdity of that final episode when they call Goutman a “show-killer.”
Another factor: how badly that other “show-killer,” former Guiding Light Executive Producer, Ellen Wheeler, was treated on the boards last year. Comparisons between the final days of both shows abound, with strong opinions on both sides. I’ll consider those differences in detail in a forthcoming post, marx probably wasn’t talking about soap opera when he said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce… But the title should be a clue where my sentiments lie. Short version: I think Wheeler did pretty well with what she had, which wasn’t much, and explained why here, here and here. Nevertheless, she was, and still is, crucified on the boards. People posting under the cover of pseudonyms were merciless; this incivility on the Web has become endemic, and is taking its toll everywhere, not just on soaps.
So, it’s not hard to see Goutman saying to himself, “What’s the point? No matter what I do, I’m going to get pounded; why should I bother even trying?” And even if he had, it would have been a thankless task, given the multiple, and often competing, fan bases that have evolved in recent years. This speaks to something Scott Bryce told Michal Logan. Bryce described his relationship with Goutman as “odd, and very disconnected,” which perfectly describes not only Bryce’s final storyline, “We called ourselves ‘the Odd Squad,’ or as the fans call us the ‘Quad from Hell,’ We were pretty much stuck in that one story,” but ATWT’s storytelling in its final years.
Bryce went on to talk about how dark the show had become under Goutman, “The plots on the show are so much darker than they used to be - dead babies, pornography, methamphetamines - and maybe I didn't fit into that vision.” That’s not to say that earlier stories on ‘World Turns didn’t explore the darker aspects of the human condition – the incestuous relationship between Henry Lange and his daughter, Angel, is a powerful example. But if Goutman thought that casting James Rebhorn, who played Henry, as a different character in the final days was some kind of insider wink that long-time fans should recognize as referencing a previous story… Well, that’s just sad – and more than a little disturbing. Of course, it’s possible, as my friend at Red Room, Jennifer Gibbons, suggested, “they probably thought ‘Oh no one is going to remember Henry Lange!’" Less disturbing than the former to be sure, but still, displaying a profound lack of respect for fans who do remember the show’s history.
As noted above, not letting the bastards grind you down is a lot easier said then done. With a handful of exceptions – the return of Larry Bryggman and his scenes with Liz Hubbard being the highlight – the show’s final months have been a pastiche of superficial, amphetamine-fueled stories cobbled together with bubblegum and spit.
This week, the last five episodes of As the World Turns will air; what little anticipation there might have been was destroyed in August, a full six weeks before the end, when, in one final act of defiance and contempt, Goutman revealed all to TV Guide. (Well, not quite all; today we find out that Parker’s decided to join the police force.) But in the end, the bastards really had their way with Christopher Goutman.
© 2010 Lynn Liccardo
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