An author writes and submits a piece, then waits for it to appear in print – it’s called lead time. At least that’s the way it used to be.
Media in the digital age has greatly reduced lead time for print magazines; and blogs allow for immediate editing and correction. Then there are books, in particular, academic books, where many months, sometimes more than a year, can pass before a finished piece finds its way into print, where the words can’t be changed.
But a lot can change in a year – especially when the topic is the fluid world that is broadcast media and soap opera. Last month, I approved the final copy edit of my essay, “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Operas,” which is part of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era, coming out in December from the University Press of Mississippi. I completed the final draft in early 2009; since then, there’ve been a number of corrections, ranging from mundane typos to the cancellations of Guiding Light, As the World Turns and Jay Leno’s foray into primetime. I only hope that Helen Wagner’s recent death will noted before the manuscript goes to the printers.
A few weeks ago, I posted not your mother's soap opera..., in which I had “integrate(d) the essay I wrote for the book with a piece I posted last fall, cracking the code...” But by the time a manuscript is in the final copy editing stage, it’s too late for any major rewriting, so much as I wished I could have had just one more rewrite… But what bothered me even more was reading what I had written about One Life to Live.
However, as a genre, daytime soap opera is nothing if not resilient, and common sense prevailed on another soap when longtime OLTL writer Ron Carlivati was named the show’s head writer in 2007 and took OLTL back to the Basics of Soap Opera 101. And what exactly are the Basics of Soap Opera 101? In 2008, a Media Domain poster summed them up perfectly:
OLTL is a perfect example of how good writing and an understanding of the soap technique (and it is a separate technique from most TV writing) can lift a genre out of the doldrums and make it soar. All ages of characters, all good actors with story, story building out of story, interwoven and yet with new twists, characters staying in character and pulling story thru that, beautiful sets, appropriate costuming, the now-and-then outdoor shot…..well, it is all coming together to create new excitement and interest in soap fans.
While some storylines under Carlivati’s reign have generated controversy and not every story or character has resonated with viewers, OLTL has generated much passionate, thoughtful and contentious discussion among fans: a sure sign of successful soap storytelling, day or night.
Never mind how much things can change in a year; only a few months ago, I would have stood by those words, but now… I feel as though I’m watching some surreal, plot-driven mess of a mash-up of High School Musical and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Funny, how these are all shows owned by Disney.
Whatever – it’s not a pretty picture. And it while seems to have happened very quickly, looking backing, TPTB had been laying the groundwork for a while – Mitch Lawrence and his bat shit crazy minions – to shift to the focus of the storytelling by getting Jessica back in high school. But, as the screenwriters say, I believe the inciting incident was when Amanda Setton, who played Stacy Morasco’s stripper sidekick, Kim (did she even have a last name before she married Clint?), decided to not to sign a contact with the show.
I’ve written about OLTL several times over the past two years, here, here, here and here. One of the things the show has been able to do (and compared to As the World Turns, still does) is address the needs of their various viewing constituents – those who like old-time soap storytelling (not your mother’s soap opera…) and those who prefer the faster-paced stories that focus on younger characters.
It was clear that one of the stories planned was a custody fight for Stacy’s baby, Sierra Rose, which would have involved Stacy’s sister, Gigi, Schyler, who thought he was the baby’s father, the baby’s real father, Oliver Fish, and his partner, Kyle, and Kim, who had married Clint Buchanan, to increase her chances of winning custody.
It would have been a great umbrella story that would have explored the impact fatherhood had still-developing relationship between Fish and Kyle (Kish), along with the possibility that Clint and Kim’s marriage of convenience would evolve into a real love story. Setton’s decision to leave the show at a critical juncture left a big hole in the planned story. It was just a month after news of Setton’s departure broke, that the show announced the Kish story would be ending. I don’t think the timing was a coincidence.
Now, I will concede that Frank Valentini’s contention that, “We are concluding the story that we set out to tell with Kyle and Fish,” bears a striking resemblance to Ellen Wheeler’s words last year regarding Otalia, “I am very satisfied with where Natalia and Olivia end up… We wanted to explore the romantic nature of all kinds of love, between parents and children, between friends. Just watching Olivia and Natalia become friends was so precious,” and rings just as hollow. But, while it’s pretty clear that both decisions were imposed from above, I still believe that bringing the Kish story to a close was somehow related to Setton’s departure, and not simply negative viewer reaction to the gay story. What I find more than a little odd is why Valentini chose to announce the decision publicly, and, just before the GLADD awards were presented.
The most recent news from OLTL, which in September, will be the sole surviving New York soap, is, shall we say, less than encouraging. Here’s what show reps recently told Michael Logan at TV Guide regarding rumors about head writer Ron Carlivati’s future, including the recent hiring of ATWT’s current head writer, Jean Passanante:
Jean was brought in to help Ron at Ron’s request,” clarifies the rep. “There are plans to take the show in a new and different direction, and we have absolute confidence that Ron will make that happen.
For soap fans, there no more frightening words in the English language than “There are plans to take the show in a new and different direction.” All too often, that “new and different direction” leads the show straight off a cliff.
And as for ABC’s contention that “the network is firmly behind him (Carlivati),” keep in mind the words of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, who cautioned, “You will be better advised to watch what we do instead of what we say.”
© 2010 Lynn Liccardo
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