In Part One of my interview with legendary soap writer Claire Labine, Ms. Labine shared her writing process, reflections on her early career, and how mothering contributed to her understanding of soaps In Part Two, she discussed her battles with ABC, struggles with recasts, and the psychological underpinnings of the Ryan family. In Part Three, Ms. Labine discusses controversial storyline choices on RYAN'S HOPE and GENERAL HOSPITAL, and her reaction to the criticism that her work is “too depressing.” In Part Four, the Emmy winner dished about life at GENERAL HOSPITAL, the pressures of continuing the Luke and Laura legacy, inventing Sonny and Brenda, and why Jason Quartermaine was given amnesia. In Part Five, she reflected on her stints on ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GUIDING LIGHT. In Part Six, Ms. Labine shares more about her struggles with GUIDING LIGHT and Paul Rauch, plus the absurdities of focus groups.
In the final part of our interview, Ms. Labine discuss her life after GUIDING LIGHT, and offers more details about the development deal that was turned down in favor of SUNSET BEACH and PORT CHARLES.
We Love Soaps: How is your health?
Claire Labine: It’s improving rapidly. I had a period in which all hell broke loose. I think I was just overtired. But it’s all coming together now. And the physical therapy, while really draining, has been startling. I am astonished by how much better things are. I trust they will continue to be. It’s sobering to all of a sudden have physical limitations and think, “Oh my God, what’s going on here?” Whatever it is, I know I won’t be able to stay awake all night anymore just because I’m interested in what I do. [Laughs] No more all-nighters.
We Love Soaps: After GUIDING LIGHT, what did you do professionally?
Claire Labine: Matthew and I worked on a lot of stuff. I took some time off. At that point, I thought I'd never want to do this again.
We Love Soaps: Because?
Claire Labine: It was just too frustrating. If I couldn’t start a show... I had given up on the idea of being able to help a show that was up and running. I just didn’t know how to do it.
We Love Soaps: Because of your experiences with ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GUIDING LIGHT?
Claire Labine: Yes. I clearly was doing something wrong and I don’t know what it was. You get tired after awhile. If you say, “This is what we want to write and this is why we want to write it, and this is why we think it’s good,” and then there isn’t a positive reception, why beat your head against a wall? That’s basically where I am with the whole thing. We did a couple of developments that I love but nothing has happened so far. There’s one that has some life in it I believe, but we’ll see.
We Love Soaps: Can you tell me about that one?
Claire Labine: No. I’m sorry.
We Love Soaps: Okay. Can you tell me more about the show that you and Matthew were developing at the time you left GENERAL HOSPITAL?
Claire Labine: It was about two families in Brooklyn, a white family and a black family. The black family was a family of musicians based loosely on the Marsalis family, all of whom were jazz musicians in one way or another. Then there was a madcap radio talk show host who fell in love with one of the daughters of the entertaining family. It basically was about the common wall between the brownstones, how to preserve it as a symbol of why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along, and how these families came together. They liked each other, they respected each other, but there were real problems. It was fun playing the complexities. We laid out three years of story. It was called UNION PLACE. I still love it. I believe it would speak to the mood of the country right now. I regret that we didn’t get to write it a lot. Every time Matt and I look at it, it’s just alive for us. I doubt anyone will do it. But I love that one.
We Love Soaps: There are seven shows left on daytime television. If someone came to you now and said, “Okay, Claire, we may only have a year left on the air but for however long we have you write, you control it, you steer it.” Would that hold any interest for you at this point?
Claire Labine: Sure! Absolutely! But honey, that isn’t going to happen. [Laughs] That isn’t in the cards.
We Love Soaps: The hope that myself and many soap fans are holding out is that the internet is introducing a whole new wave of storytelling. Crystal Chappell, Martha Byrne, and Tristan Rogers are spearheading open-ended continuing stories and using the internet to tell them. It seems to be an opportunity for the writers to get back to telling the stories they want to tell. Have you ever considered writing for an internet show?
Claire Labine: Yes, we have. But that’s about it. Budget is a consideration. Production values are a consideration, although nothing really matters except the actors in a scene. Preferably there are two of them, and preferably it’s high emotional stakes. And you don’t need a lot of sets and stuff for that. You just need two good actors and good material. I think that would really be fascinating. I don’t know how to go about it, but I think it would really be cool.
We Love Soaps: Have you considered creating any of the projects we’ve talked about as web series instead of for television?
Claire Labine: No, we haven’t gotten into it. Although we may. There are so many things we can do, it’s mind boggling. It’s just getting enough energy and getting in contact with the right people to make it happen. And I think I’m about ready to attempt to something else. We’ll see.
We Love Soaps: Claire, I cannot thank you enough for your time.
Claire Labine: I’ve really enjoyed this so much.
We Love Soaps: I have always said as a person who loves soaps, and as a therapist, that soaps have the ability to do more to promote mental health and healing than any other art form.
Claire Labine: You’re so right! I think you are so dead-on right. And it’s so easy to do, because you get such good drama out of it.
We Love Soaps: You go to a movie for two hours and you watch someone go through something. But then you see Bobbie Spencer or Dorian Lord or Delia Reid go through something, people you’ve been with for years...
Claire Labine: And the pieces begin to fit together. I think people are capable of change and are capable of applying it. I think the best way to promote mental health is to give people role models, emotionally sound role models.
We Love Soaps: And hope. Not to be cliché but you have given so many, including myself, so much hope with your characters and your storytelling.
Claire Labine: That’s the nicest thing anyone could possibly say.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This concludes my interview with the legendary Ms. Labine. I can’t tell you what a privilege it was to talk wtih Ms. Labine, and bring her unique voice back to the readers of this column. I want to thank all of you for you comments and feedback. Please keep them coming.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He has started blogging again at www.shouldless.com.