where the writers are
less of the good stuff…

Boston's in the midst of a heat wave. It's after 10pm and the temp's still pushing 90; the humidity's turning my brain to mush. And reading Jim Romanovich's hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing comments before and after last week's Daytime Emmy broadcast is only exacerbating things. I keep looking for the internal logic, but all I've been able to find is cognitive dissonance. Romanovich is President, Worldwide Media and Entertainment for Associated Television International (ATI), the company that produced the 2009 and 2010 Daytime Emmys.

After this year's highly-rated Emmy broadcast he said, "As one who is doing everything for soaps I can, I will feature Lion Kings, Kabuki dancers and the roster of Motown if that's what it takes to keep them on TV." Because Jim Romanovich is a man on a mission:

The soap opera fan alone cannot sustain the Daytime Emmys. Like all awards shows, you need entertainment as that wide net to capture as many fish as possible. If I can do that with some magic and music, while still maintain about an 80 per cent weight to the soaps, then we all win. What I'm hoping to do with the Emmys is prolong their relevance so that these six remaining shows can have a life beyond daytime TV when the Internet and à la carte television options presented to us in the near future is our only way of watching TV.

I'm a writer. I get metaphor, so I'll give him a pass on the fish analogy. However, about that eighty-percent... I may have majored in English, but I can count. Sara Bibel was right on the mark when she described the arrangement among ATI, CBS, the Las Vegas Hilton, and, I would add, "Feed the Children," as a "Faustian bargain." And we all know how those turn out.

Soap fans would have been thrilled with eighty-percent. What we got were the sloppy seconds: no  in memoriam; no clips for nominated actors; no on-stage gathering of As the World Turns' actors; the ATWT tribute cut from two-and-a-half minutes to fifty-four seconds; and, the final indignity of watching  Agnes Nixon acknowledge the standing ovation for her lifetime tribute with "I only have thirty seconds."

And it wasn't just how much of the show had to be sold to get it on the air. It's that Romanovich truly believes that the only way to save the Daytime Emmys is to minimize the time allotted to daytime soaps.

Yet while his analysis of soaps' decline is at best simplistic, and his timeline flawed (viewership peaked in the mid-1960, too early for either 1987's Black Monday or the first Gulf War to have been significant factors), Romanovich's observation that "Stories on many of the soaps were revolving around plot devices rather than characters in order to keep the trigger-happy TV audience tuned in. What were seen as attempts at revitalizing a genre did nothing more than attempting a complete design makeover for the Titanic moments after it hit the iceberg,"  is on point. Now he was talking about soaps post-OJ, and that "revitalizing" actually began in the early 1980s, but the salient point is that soaps are about character, not plot devices.

So if soaps that revolve around plot rather than character are doomed, what's going to happen to the Daytime Emmys if soaps continue to play a smaller and smaller rolel? I'm guessing the irony was unintended. Prior to the broadcast, Romanovich posed a fundamental question. Of the low-rated 2009 Emmys he asked, "Did we kick-start something new? Or did we just prolong its decline?" While ratings for the 2010 broadcast would suggest the former, for many soap fans watching at home, the words of Chekhov are all too sadly applicable:

Whenever there is someone in a family who has long been ill, and hopelessly ill, there come painful moments when all timidly, secretly, at the bottom of their hearts long for his death.

As for Romanovich's hope that "these six remaining shows can have a life beyond daytime TV when the Internet and à la carte television options presented to us in the near future is our only way of watching TV," I applaud the idea, and were that it had been pursued earlier. But, truth be told: too little, too late.

For me, storytelling in general, and soaps in particular, means the most to me when it portrays, in Irna Phillips' words, "life as most of us know it." It's been a long time since the daytime soaps have done that consistently. So, I've had to adapt. Just as I did when I realized that much as I love chocolate, the cheap stuff just didn't do it for me any more. Now I have less of the good stuff - my current favorite is the eighty-five-percent single-source by Kallari.

As for soaps, I'm finding stories that reflect "life as most of us know it" on shows like Life UnXpected, Men of a Certain Age, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, even Castle, and on the web series, Anyone but Me. Not five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, but like chocolate, less of the good stuff.

 © 2010 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