where the writers are
not exactly what i had in mind…

For a the past few years, primetime soaps have provided a real refuge for fans disenchanted with the current state of daytime soaps. In fact, some of us (mine are here and here) have been arguing that TPTB of daytime soaps would do well to take a good look at why. What I hadn't anticipated was that a primetime soap might emulate daytime's folly.

But that seems to be what's happening with the return of ABC's Dirty Sexy Money. Watching the second season's first three episodes, I've been reminded of the soapy cliché of the returning character, "There just something... He looks like (fill in character's name). But... I don't know. It's been a while. I suppose we all change"

To be fair, DSM was clearly hit hard by last year's writers strike. The truncated first season contained ten episodes, the last of which aired on 5 December 2007 - a month into the strike. However, according to IMDB, an additional three episodes had been planned. Whether those episodes were written, but not shot, or shot, but not aired is not clear.

Two weeks after the strike began, ABC ordered a full 22 episode season, but decided the show would not return until the Fall 2008 season. During that time, DSM's first showrunner (and executive producer), Josh Reims, was replaced by Daniel Cerone, who was quoted in The Futon Critic saying, "I don't think there is any desire to significantly change the show at all," he told the trade publications. "It's more about keeping all the best elements and adding as much intrigue, drama and danger as we possibly can."

That was in February. In June, Variety  reported that Cerone was out, replaced by Jon Harmon Feldman. According to insiders, "the fit (Cerone's) wasn't quite right." Three showrunners and less than a full season on the air is not encouraging. Sad to say, the Variety headline, "'Dirty' gets clean slate with Feldman," has proved to be all too prescient.

I've written a lot about primetime soaps and how they've embodied the qualities that used to characterize daytime soaps - fully-drawn, complex, character-driven stories (see the links above). Now the term, "primetime soap," covers a lot of territory - everything from Gossip Girl and 90210 to - Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Brother and Sisters and at least one somewhere in-between, CW's new entry, Privileged. I rather like the distinction the Boston Globe's Joanna Wiess draws among these shows, "adult soapiness, as opposed to skinny-alcoholic-kids-in-designer-clothes soapiness."

In her review of Dirty Sexy Money's first season, New Yotk Times critic, Alessandra Stanley, compared DSM with the failed primetime soap, Cane. Of Cane, Stanley wrote, "the heroes and villains are distinct and unlikely to change sides," which, she lamented, "strips the drama of at least one layer of mystery." Her assessment of DSM's Darling family: "Over time, the Darlings grow more complicated and surprising."

And so they did; which made the almost year-long wait for the show's return bearable. I had forgotten the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." In retrospect, I suppose it was just as well that I didn't have the time or the inclination to read the series of reviews that would have alerted me to this season's "new and improved" DSM. Entertainment Weekly, New York Daily News and the Boston Herald, among others all spoke the coming changes. EW quoted DSM's creator, Craig Wright, "We took the show in a direction very briefly where we thought, 'If we did that, would it make everyone happy?' We did it, and then went, 'No.'''

The "direction" to which Wright refers is the "fully-drawn, complex, character-driven stories" that have made a handful of primetime soaps a refuge for frustrated daytime fans who remember what daytime soaps used to be back in the day. DSM's "new direction" involves the very changes that have alienated so many daytime fans. This observation from a TWoP poster could just have easily been written by a fan of almost any daytime soap currently on the air: "I didn't realize how much the subtlety in Tripp-Nick relationship was the heart of the show until it was gone. Tripp's machinations last season seemed to genuinely come from a place of love. Now he just seems like a manipulative jack-ass."

Another TWoP poster connected DSM's new narrative structure to soaps, "it's like they switched to 'soap' writing, and all the sudden, they don't know how to write for more then two charecters at a time. You never see Patrick without Tripp, you never see Karen without Simon, You never see Jeremy without Nola. Two at a time, two at a time."

It's beyond ironic that in trying to fix Dirty Sexy Money, the creators are taking it in the very direction that has contributed to daytime soaps' current sorry state. And it's just plain sad, that DSM's "new direction" doesn't seem to be making viewers very happy: last year the show's audience dropped from 10.4 million to 6.7 over 10 episodes. This year's opener drew just over 7 million; the third episode, less than 5. As for on-line buzz,  on TWoP, DSM  is lagging behind Friday Night Lights, which is drawing 400,000 viewers on DirectTV and far behind Mad Men (1.6 million on basic cable).

For a look at the DSM of old, check out this clip on YouTube that was shot for this season's premiere, but not aired: unaired clip

© 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