Like my Red Room colleague, Jennifer Gibbons, I've been in a bit of a funk of late and haven't felt much like writing. Like Jennifer, the election and the economy are sapping my energy. Then my 92-year old uncle died and two days later Paul Newman. So...
But that's real life. Then there are the soaps. A couple of weeks ago, Soap Opera Digest published an interview with CBS Daytime Vice-President, Barbara Bloom, and As the World Turns Executive Producer, Christopher Goutman. Have to say, the initial report by Roger Newcomb and comment by Sara Bibel, both of whom focused on Goutman's comment, "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," didn't have me rushing to the keyboard, although I'm on complete agreement with Sara's suggestion that Chris Goutman is long overdue for a long vacation. Today, Snark deconstructed Goutman's choice of words, "this show," and agreed; his Freudian slip is showing.
But I didn't really get depressed until I had a look at the whole piece. As I discussed previously, it's been a while since I read either Soap Opera Digest or Soap Opera Weekly on a regular basis. So I didn't get to actually read the whole thing until last week. And, as I said, that's when I got depressed.
Of all of the complaints about soaps today, the lack of connection among the individual stories looms the largest. I've heard it called "pod storytelling" (where I can't recall). A recent post on Daytime Confidential, Lipstick on a Pig, discussed how isolated Aaron and Ali have become on ATWT. Posters on every board beg for an umbrella story to pull their show together. But no one has put it better than Patrick Erwin in his recent post, Tearing apart the tapestry:
On soaps, the stronger the tapestry is - the more ties there are to a thread in the rug - the stronger the story is. Things that happen to that one thread (or one person) affect the rest of the canvas, and make for a compelling story.
Contrast this insight with Barbara Bloom's observation in the SOD interview, "Chris has been working on some wonderful story with Jean (Passanante, head writer). Not only is it cross-generational, but it focuses on each core group of families." Bloom lists the three stories, the Hughes and Stewarts, the Ryans, and the Snyders, then goes on to say, "There is some overlap, but there are these three wonderful stories that will each be accompanied by a location." To which SOD editor, Stephanie Sloane replies, "You've done a great job integrating the veterans into current story." As opposed to what most fans would have asked, "What do you mean, ‘some overlap'".
I might have written this off as the usual blather from TPTB had it not been for the fact that a couple of days before I read the SOD piece, Dylan Bruce announced that he would be leaving his role as Chris Hughes on ATWT. Connecting the dots, it became so very clear that five days a week or four, ATWT was ripping apart the show's tapestry with gusto.
And I'm struggling to understand why. As Patrick went on to say in Tearing apart the tapestry:
Most of the shows have followed trends over the last 20 or so years that have been counterintuitive to this concept. These trends may have caused immediate spikes in ratings or audience interest, but in the long run, I believe they've done more harm than good.
And yet here's Barbara Bloom all but admitting that the best viewers, at least ATWT viewers, can hope for is "some overlap" among stories. Again, why?
A while back I wrote in An Ironic, Self-fulfilling Prophecy:
For the sake of argument, let's assume those responsible for making soap operas today are, indeed, trying their best. Clearly, their best is not working very well; in fact, exactly the opposite. The harder The Suits try to fix soaps, the more things deteriorate.
I wonder if TPTB at P&G haven't taken a look at this trend and just decided to go with the flow. As Patrick noted, this soap trend has been going on for some 20 years. So I'm looking for some kind of logic here, however misguided it may be. Both P&G soaps, Guiding Light and As the World Turns, have felt like a series of unconnected stories for a while now. On GL, the roots of the disconnect lie in the 1993 decision to kill tent pole character, Maureen Bauer, in a car crash. It was a wildly unpopular and still-discussed decision that marked the beginning of the end for GL's longtime core family, the Bauers; Rick is the sole survivor, and he is far from the center of the action
The roots of ATWT's schizophrenia also lie in a car crash; in 2001, Bryant Montgomery crashed his car after finding out that his girlfriend, Jennifer Munson had cheated on him. (Not a lot of points for originality here; Maureen Bauer crashed her car when she found out that her husband, Ed, had had an affair with her best friend Lillian.)
The reaction to Bryant's death was muted when compared to Maureen's, but no less devastating to the Oakdale canvas. Bryant was in his early 20s, and not thought of as a tent pole character. But, in fact, had he lived, he had the potential to become one. A while back, Tom Casiello, who was writing for ATWT when Bryant died, posted Drinking the Kool-Aid, in which he said, "To this day, I believe we made the right decision." Take a look at the post for all the reasons why he felt that way.
Here's my response:
What I objected to was not how the aftermath of his death played out, but what had been squandered in the process. Bryant and Jennifer should have been the couple around whom the future of Oakdale was built, not because they had chemistry and were adorable together (they were). But because of how intertwined these characters' families were. Bryant's father is Craig who's Margo's brother; his grandmother's Lucinda, who's connected to the Snyders. Jennifer's mother is Barbara whose Aunt Kim is married to Bob whose son Tom is married to Margo. I look at what this show's become and think of what could have been if not for this kind of short-term thinking and I just want to cry.
Not to gloat, but Tom eventually came around: When I'm wrong. But when I look at how much damage has been inflicted on this show I have to ask myself the question Patrick Erwin posed in another piece, When do you give up and walk away? Don't know yet. But I fear the time is close...
© 2008 Lynn Liccardo
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only. Lynn Liccardo
Causes lynn liccardo Supports