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WHY Does the Show Never Go Like I Want It To Go???
If you spend any time on a soap message board, particularly General Hospital it seems, you are bound to hear a cacophony of voices wailing, moaning and teeth gnashing over some storyline that is not going the way they’d like for it to go. Few who foray into such environments have escaped the ever popular lament of, “If _______ happens/doesn’t happen, I’m not watching any more!” This, of course, basically amounts to holding the show ransom if it doesn’t meet the demand of that particular viewer. The question is, what is we overestimate the worth of our captor to the person (in this case an entity, ABC) from whom we are seeking the ransom?
While it is understandable
that viewers invest a (we can vary this from “reasonable” to “quite
extreme” to “downright freaking scary, please, we beg you, get a life and
turn in your firearms”) degree of emotional interest in the progression of
their favorite storylines, there are many, many factors that come into play in
the unfolding of a story. I fully believe that intelligent viewers (and I know you all
are!) will take the big picture into consideration rather than cheapening the
show by narrowing the focus to what happens to one specific character, couple or
story. If that statement strikes a
piss off chord in you, I sincerely ask that you check the impulse to fire out
another nastigram for my delete button to manage and read on before slamming the
In light of events that have
manifested on the show this year, I think that it’s important that fans
consider all of the factors involved in the telling of a story or the
disposition of characters and couples. Some
are gratifying, some are insulting, some are petty, some are heavy, but all are
very, very real. It is essential to
open the mind in order to process the following info and move beyond the gut
reaction (to throw in a funny, on my first draft of this column, instead of
“gut reaction” I typo’d and wrote “guy reaction” and almost left it
because it was just so apropos. Hee
hee) of “we want what we want when we want it, how we want it” and consider
the situation from an analytical viewpoint rather than purely with emotion.
Feel free to go back to the raw gut reaction after reading this, but for
right now, while we’re talking, try to shift gears into the left-brain to
think about this.
Admittedly, switching off
the emotions and working only with the objective facts can be quite a task.
Many of us, like myself, my buddies Sage and Kate and a ton of our
readers have a heavy investment of history in the show.
If I work on pure emotion, it really pisses me off that my poor Doc Rick
(never wanted to hear THAT nickname again, didja?) has been turned into a shady
guy upon his return. I was here to
see history in the making and to feel the love that was nearly tangible between
Rick and Lesley. I watched how his
relationship with Laura grew over time with him as her stepfather and I was a
personal witness to the drama of his affair with Monica and all that it cost
both couples concerned. I watched
when Luke was basking on the balcony in inaugural bliss and looked down to see
Dead Laura walking away below. I
watched their tearful reunion and you know what?
The girl did NOT have a newborn she’d just abandoned under duress!
History means a lot to me because I was there and watched it happen.
I’ve watched GH since it came on the air and that’s quite an
investment. Time and again, that
history has been raped in order to mine a story for exploitation in the present;
for nothing more than to feed the machine.
If it supports the history I saw (as the NonDeath of Roy DiLucca, which I
found to be very believable in a soapy like of way) then I have no problem.
If rips it apart the history and tells me I didn’t see what I know I
say (the Rick thing, which is about to go from bad to worse), then I’m pissy.
So yeah, I can definite relate to the emotional side.
I’m not saying jettison it (unless it makes you dangerous to others).
I’m just saying suspend it for a bit.
One would think that viewer
input would be the most vital consideration in the development of storylines or
the use of a particular character. In
truth, it’s actually only a tiny slice of the pie.
Controversial (hey, you love him or you hate him) TV Guide Columnist,
Michael Logan, commented a few years back to the effect that viewer input and
campaigns seldom have an effect on how the show proceeds.
People lost their minds because prior to this, I think most viewers felt
empowered that if they just turned to another station, wrote a letter, sent an
e-mail or mailed out those packages of gold balloons, tiaras or dogfood,
they were making a bold statement.
To a great degree, what
Logan has suggested is true, but I do not mean to discourage people from acting
on their feelings by writing to the network.
By all means, use the percentage of input you have before it goes away
even futher. He was, however, very
correct that with so many other factors influencing what we see on the screen,
viewers are no longer as godlike as they once were.
As soaps have become big business (shall we all vomit together in harmony
over “Shop the Soaps?”) rather than a vehicle to promote one product (which
was actually laundry detergent, hence “soap” operas), special interests
beyond those of the viewer have come strongly into play to the point of not only
eclipsing the power of the viewer, but whittling it down to a bare shard.
For instance, as the
salaries allocated to Big Wheels in the actors’ field have skyrocketed, along
with special (and expensive) fringe benefits, actors have cast their die
according to their (presumed) value to the show. The Powers That Be have
responded, which often affects the show in ways exclusive to viewer demand.
Suddenly, you have another piece of the pie getting bigger. If fan favorite Celise Soapalot comes up for contract renewal
and now wants her salary tripled and two vacations a year when she was a
cheap-assed, star-eyed, oh-so-grateful newbie signing her first contract two
years ago, TPTB are faced with the choice of meeting her demands and keeping her
(and that money has to come from somewhere, so watch a little used vet get cut
back to recurring or a couple of minor characters get written away, which is not
going to make fans happy) or telling he she’s overestimated her worth and
letting her go (resulting in a less demanding recast or the loss of a fan fave
character, neither of which is going to please fans).
Either way, you’ve got a fan base screaming that they’ve been
Back in the day, death could come swiftly and surely for a soap character, even a popular one. A good example of this is the incredible shock and pain that GH fans felt when out of the blue (honey, there WERE no spoilers back then), Lesley’s car careened off the road and we were told without hoopla that she was dead. Bam. Just like that. There was no month of memory montage material, no reconciling of ill feelings to wrap up before death hit, no lobbying for her to be “saved” and no days and days of feeling The Soap Reaper lurking about. One day Lesley was going about her business and the next, she was just gone. Kind of like real life. What happened? Supposedly, Denise Alexander, a much beloved fan favorite, hit a deadlock in negotiations with TPTB and rather than compromise, they wrote her out in a heartbeat as a warning to the rest of the cast not to get froggy and think they were worth more than they were. She was made a scapegoat for the rising power of actors to demand (and eventually get) more than studios wanted to give. By all accounts, DA was hurt and stunned by their actions and fans were outraged. While Lesley is now an incidental piece of furniture, at the time of her “death,” she was the darling of GH fans. It would be akin to having Carly or Alexis or Emily just die, in one day, in one scene, with no lead up or prep. Just, BAM! Back then, the studio held the cards and wielded a giant hammer and they fully intended to keep it that way. About the only actor who had any sway at all was the incredible John Beradino who was not only a charter GH actor, but also the heart and soul of the show.
What happened to change all
of that? As nearly as I could tell,
it was Luke and Laura. Until the
Spencers came onto the scene, about the only character who ever died and
returned was the nefarious Phil Brewer. Just
about everyone else died and stayed dead. For
an actor, much more was at stake back then. If your character was killed
off, they weren't likely to walk into their own funeral or murder trial a few
days/months/years later. They were more likely to walk into an
unemployment office. The supercouple had been birthed, the balance of
power shifted and Daytime TV would never be the same again.
In these days, there are
favorite actors of TPTB and they are catered to, often to the detriment of the
characters who are the red-headed stepchildren in the deal.
The term “Friends of Jill” used to identify the proud pets of GH
Executive Producer, Jill Farren Phelps, is not applied lightly.
A perfect example of this is the abysmal, unforgivable treatment of fan
favorites, the Cassadines, in the past few years. I would venture a guess that most GH fans had at least one of
the Cassadines that they could love. For
me (big surprise), it was Stefan. When JFP landed at the helm of GH, one
of the first comments she made was to declare the Cassadines as serving no
purpose and immediately began to shift them to the back burner in favor of the
teen scene and her FOJ's. Regardless
of how beloved Stefan or Helena or Stavros were, fans watched in horror and
dismay as they were reduced to cartoon characters with laughable dialogue, then
ultimately written off the canvas.
Also to be considered is
that the fan bases who are voicing their wants to the power structure of the
show are frequently in direct conflict with one another. There
is no way that even under the best of circumstances both fan bases are going to
be satisfied. There will always be
one side who isn’t happy with the way a story develops and they will be loudly
crying their fate to the world.
In this respect, the
internet has tragically altered soaps. It
has long been an adage in show business as well as other places that says, “No
press is bad press.” This
translates to the net to say that if people are investing high emotion into a
situation, TPTB are going to milk it for all it’s worth.
We have two sterling examples of that in recent history.
[Now would be a good time to
step out of emotional mode and into objective mode if you have not already done
so. . .last chance!]. Example number one is the Sonny-Alexis-Carly triangle.
Let’s look at the facts. The
first fact is that for all of soap history EVER, the core of the stories has
been around relationships. Adultery
used to be a really big deal and now we almost never see it.
Marriages on soaps are made and lost like sand castles at high tide.
Steve and Audrey were quite a rare bird being married for so long and as
the veteran viewers can attest, their history is by no means sterling.
Investing in one couple is nothing more than an exercise in futility
because in soaps, a couple just will not last and whether they end up coming
together again or not, they ARE going to break up.
That’s simply the nature of the beast and it’s most likely going to
happen sooner than later. Happy couples are seen as the bane of the soap
writer because there just isn't much to write about. Pretty soon, you've
got Joe and Ruth Martin and nothing to do with them any more.
I will tell you with all the love in my heart that bonding with a
particular couple is exactly like falling in love with a beautiful butterfly
that only lives for a few days. It’s
going to die and you’re going to have your heart broken.
Period. Dismal, but true.
Guza created Sonny and Carly and was the one to flesh out Alexis into a
complex character. He also was
responsible for the creation of Nexis and knew them well.
When the new powers came into the hot seat, they had no clue about these
characters and it showed. Instantly,
all four characters turned into pod people who were acting totally out of
character and the stories were trashed in their own ways.
Part of the destruction was Carly’s unlikely betrayal of Sonny by
turning him over to the feds. My impression was and is that Carly understands Sonny and his
code of honor implicitly and the idea that he would sell out his associates and
go into the Witness Protection Program is utterly ludicrous and only proves that
the people responsible for the direction of the show just didn’t get the
characters at all. In light of that, it only made sense that they would split
up. Even an idiot like the ones in
charge at the time would know that Sonny will not tolerate betrayal.
Yes, it made sense for Sonny to redeem himself in that respect and learn
forgiveness. Yes, it was wonderful
to see Carly Empowered when she told Sonny in Martinique that she wanted the
whole package or nothing at all. Regardless
of those two diamond moments in a huge coal pile, they split and filed for
No matter how passionate a
fan feels about the couple, the fact is that they were very well separated and
(no emotions now, only facts!) not committed to one another when Sonny slept
with Alexis. From a purely
analytical point of view, it was perfect soap material.
It was also inevitable that Alexis would become pregnant.
Given Sonny’s intense desire for a family, it was going to happen and
was just good story. Now here’s a
guess. I would expect that the
original story went something like this:
Carly gives Sonny over to
the feds, Sonny declares her dead to him, Carly begs forgiveness, Sonny rejects
her, Divorce time comes, Sonny has second thoughts, Carly gives him the “all
or nothing” speech and leaves, Sonny follows, moved by her strength,
recognizes the woman she has become, falls in love with her all over again,
courts her, they remarry in Martinique by the end of the year as Sage originally
predicted, stronger than before because Carly has grown and demands more for
herself and Sonny has learned forgiveness.
What happens is that TPTB
underestimate the passion and aggression of the S&C people who start
screaming their wrath and pain onto the message boards and ABC phone lines and
mail chutes. Instantly, and I do
mean INSTANTLY, TPTB start to rub their little mantis hands together and their
little beady eyes shift side to side. WHAT
an opportunity!! If people want
Sonny and Carly together this much, we can milk it all the way to May sweeps!!
We can make this even more interesting!!
Suddenly, the chemistry that Alexis has experienced with Sonny is
amplified (the same chemistry that was ignored with Luke, ignored with Jax and
ignored with Stefan – OK, they could have been revealed to not be related
after all – it could happen) and she turns into a lovesick pup.
So now, not only are TPTB manipulating the fans, but they are also again
showing their asses by demonstrating that they don’t have a clue about these
characters. In response to Alexis
achieving pupdom, Sonny turns into someone who would use his best friend to pump
up his ego, knowing that Alexis loved him and exploiting it for weeks before
bedding her in a pathetic, ill-thought out, cumbersome sex scene. When Tamara Braun needed time off for a personal emergency,
it was even more perfect. Carly can
DIE, we can have the guilt issue, then she can stumble into her funeral, Sonny
can drop Alexis like dog shit he scrapes off his shoe and then Alexis will turn
up pregnant!! I smell sweeps!!
Based on the power of
extreme fan interest and passion, the story was complicated and dragged out
forever to keep the presses going. As
long as the message boards are humming, the fan bases are attacking one another,
the giant bags of mail are being delivered and the phones are ringing off the
hook, TPTB know they’ve got a hit. If
people are talking, they aren’t tuning out.
Any press is good press and passionate press, no matter what they’re
saying, is the best press ever. This
right here is exactly how TPTB use the fans’ own emotions against them and
milk the energy right out of a story. If
Sonny and Carly had split, people had accepted it as standard soap behavior and
moved on, they would have been back together in a few weeks to bring about a fan
Bank that in your memory
while I tell you this.
The second example is the
Jason-Elizabeth-Zander triangle. Steven
Burton agrees to return just as Elizabeth and Lucky are petering out. It’s not a secret that Elizabeth and Jason have a huge,
devoted fan base. Burton says at a
fan event that he’s all for a Liason pairing.
Lucky and Sarah smear all
over each other. Elizabeth finds
them together, whacks the crap out of Lucky, gives them a piece of her mind,
bolts out of Kelly’s, runs right into Jason, smack and looks at him with tears
in her eyes. “Get me out of
here.” Back at her studio,
things are getting hot and heavy, true to her nature, Liz does pull back, tells
Jason she’s confused and wants to be with him when she’s sure she’s doing
it for the right reasons, Jason agrees, they part longingly, we spend 2-3 weeks
of stolen glances, accidental touches, talks about Jason’s line of work being
a threat, Elizabeth’s misgivings about it, more soft touches and longing
glances, an incident or two with Lucky, Liz is kidnapped and thrown into a
crypt, Jason saves her (having Sonny there just was out of place, so in my
version, he's back at the penthouse), carries her out to a waiting policeman, he
returns to the crypt to beat the cops to Liz’s captor that he has
knocked out to rescue her, so as to find out who he works for. As he
approaches the crypt, it explodes, throwing him backward and Liz, who has
regained consciousness, screams (memories of Lucky’s death), “JAAASSSONNNNNN!”
and runs to him. (Friday ends)
(Monday begins with recap of the above), Liz follows him to the hospital
and sees him as soon as the doctors will allow, her shaking hands trace his
face, his body, he wakes up, presses her hand to his face with his own hand,
closes his eyes and turns to kiss her palm, she replaces her palm with her lips,
“I thought I lost you forever,” “I thought I lost you too,” “I thought
I’d never get to tell you how I feel about you.”
“How do you feel about me?” She
crawls beside him in bed and they kiss tenderly.
He goes home to her studio to recover again.
He moves her into the penthouse for greater security.
It goes from there. We’d
love it and it gets about a month of mileage before it settles down into
standard soap flotsam and jetsam.
Now let’s look at the
reality. Burton returns, they run a little tester of fan reaction to
Liz and Jason after The Lucky-Sarah Incident and people go wild.
Those little mantis hands start to rub again and those shifty little eyes
zip back and forth. Any press is good press!
How can we get them going? We
need a berserker. Scan the cast
list...too old, too busy, too unbelievable...ah! Zander isn’t doing anything and there’s already conflict
between Zander and Jason...perfect! Suddenly,
Elizabeth and Zander are good buddies, Zander is in the crypt with Liz, Zander,
for unknown reasons, now can’t die without mouth-groping Liz.
Liz, for unknown reasons, is into it, grope, grope, grope, (The message
boards go wild, "All press is good press; emotional press is best
press"). Liz suffers from post
traumatic dipshit disorder. Jason
gives her a door, a gun and a baseball bat.
Zander gives her a night light from Pic N Save.
She gets locked in a stairwell, Zander saves her, they have
uncharacteristic sex, Jason sees it, goes all cold, Liz is hurt (The message
boards go wild, All press is good press; emotional press is best press), she and
Zander have a rocky relationship, she and Jason are thrown together once in a
while, eventually, Zander does something unredeemable from which Jason saves her
and they finally come together...when? I
smell sweeps! They get a solid
3-month run of press versus a month of happy fans. If they drag out the inevitable union of Jason and Liz,
promising fans it will be there, the fans will watch.
Oh yes, they will watch...and wait...and talk.
Can you see the similarities
between the two situations? Passion
from the fans, positive or negative = best press = let’s drag this out and
make it into sweeps material...into the furthest sweeps week out we can
realistically drag it into. (ouch!
preposition apologies!) Stretch it to the exact point where fans are
going to lose interest and leave and then hit them between the eyes with exactly
what they want, that being in the first case, Sonny and Carly have a repeat of
hate sex, get together as a family, get pregnant, Alexis and Ned reunite and
Kristina dies and in the second case, Jason and Elizabeth blissfully unite,
Zander is about to despair when Emily comes back to town and the ZEm folks go
absolutely mad with joy.
One thing that Guza has
going for him (and listen, my long-time readers know that I have almost no love
for this guy) over our most recent Head Writer, Megan McTavish, is that Guza
knows his limits. He has a vision
of how he wants GH to be (ask Sage about ManSoaps if you haven’t heard his
theories). Like any writer who is a
human being, he has his favorite stories, his favorite characters and those are
going to be the venues where he excels. Guza
created the Cassadines, he loves the Cassadine and he writes gloriously for the
Cassadines. Guza created "Nexis"
and fleshed out their characters. He knows Ned and Alexis and he writes well for
Ned and Alexis. Guza created Jason
Morgan as opposed to Jason Quartermaine.
He knows him; he writes well for him.
He invented Emily. (Unfortunately,
he also invented Juan, then realized he didn’t know what to do with him).
He invented Sonny and Carly when everyone thought he was insane for
pairing them. On the other hand,
Guza has no clue how to write for Tony (shave his head and make him a
kidnapper!!), Monica and Alan, Felicia and most importantly for some, Luke and
Laura. He never got Luke and Laura
at all, which was a real slap in the face of GH.
The good news is that as I said, he knows his limitations.
Coming into a show that was drastically changed from when he left his,
his main objective is going to be to get it back to where he let it.
He wants Stefan back. He
wants Emily back. He wants
“his” couples back together.
Another example is the
pairing of Jax and Skye. Then have
a sound fanbase, but Guza doesn’t know what to do with them, so here are two
fine actors making the best of a cardboard story with bad dialogue and no real
direction. He’s also going to get
them apart as soon as possible, much to the dismay of their fans.
How to counteract that? Through
a fortuitous sequence of events, his need to break up Skye and Jax dovetailed
magnificently with a successful wooing of Vanessa Marcil to return.
Yeah, we’ll piss off the Sax people, but it’ll be like pregnant Pez!
For every angry Sax person who leaves, 2-3 ecstatic Brenda and Jax fans
are going to tune in, waiting in anticipation as the message boards light up,
the phones ring off the hook, the mailbags arrive and their reunion is dragggged
out to the longest advantage.
While he knows his
limitations, sometimes he has to work despite those limitations which can screw
up even a good story. Guza has long been accused of not being able to write
romance. True, it’s my impression
that romance is best left to the pen of a female (sorry for that
misotestostrogenic statement!), but the fact is that Guza CAN write romance.
It just happens to be ManRomance and his leading ladies in the romance
have to be “Pre’y, Pre’y Princesses.”
The seduction of Chloe by both Stefan and Jax were magical.
Jax’s romancing of Brenda and later, her romancing of him were
fantastic. It was ooey and gooey
and gauzy and I'm sure he was very pleased with the final turn out. Ask
him to honor a love story that isn't all soft focus, such as the Luke and Laura
re-romance and it just doesn't work.
A factor much more
understandable, but no less disappointing, to the average fan is when a favorite
actors decides to leave a show. This
could be in response to an actor’s desire to explore other career options, as
with Jonathan Jackson, Amber Tamblyn, Ingo Rademacher and Steve Burton or just
because they’re tired of playing the same character for so long, as with Erin
Torpey of OLTL and Kristina Wagner (rumored).
For others it’s due to family commitments, as with Genie Francis.
While we can sympathize with these real life situations, they can really
throw a kink into our story wants whether it’s by the scrapping of a favorite
couple or story (ZEm) or by a recast that never does take (Jacob Young).
Do we have an effect? Sure, just not the way or to the degree that one would think. Direct viewer input is a minimum of consideration, unfortunately. It’s a sliver of the pie and one that should never be abandoned, but is still a pretty small piece. Factor in stretching “Any Press is Good Press” as far as you can before it breaks, bring in sponsor input (It’s ain’t just the soap companies any more and it ain’t cheap any more, so they’re talking and networks are listening! Remember the ban on Luke and Faison’s cigars???), catering to the interests of pet actors (such as the abysmal and flagrant exploitation of Roy and Melissa – “Friends of Jill”- to the exclusion of any storyline to support their presence on the screen), accommodating the now open door policy with actors coming and going seemingly at their leisure, supporting lengthy vacations for actors and pretty soon, you've got a situation where almost everything BUT the voice of the viewers is considered.
That being the case, what is a poor viewer to do? Like with life, you take the good with the bad, do what you can to send your thoughts to TPTB, then kick back with a cold one to watch the show, wondering if it's going to be a hit or a miss for you this time.
The one suggestion I'd like to make, at the risk of being showered with rotted fruit from the avid fan bases, it to try to consider the show as a full composite, rather than narrowing the focus to one character or couple. Notice the talent of the seldomly seen actors who invest so much into their few scenes (Lesley, Elton, Tony and Mac come to mind). Watch the interaction of characters other than those who are on the front burner. Have your "cause" be placing bets on whose shirt is going to come off first (is he EVER going to take it off???) and move your focus to studying all of the relationships on the show rather than one or two. Finding more than one focus broadens field of enjoyment of the show and definitely increases the odds that one fine day, the soap planets will align in your favor and you can bask in the glory of getting what you want.
It's all a wheel, babe, and the wheel turns. Sometimes we're up, sometimes we're down. We can bet that we're going to be thrilled with a story and furious at the next one. The main thing is to try to to take it personally and to wait until the wheel turns yet again.
One About Jason and Liz
Katrina's Soap Journal
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March - August 2001
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