Wednesday, September 7, 2011
COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (20-16)
Was it O.J. Simpson, women in the workplace, Reality TV, or did the soaps kill themselves with one bad decision after another? You decide. Our countdown of the 25 Biggest Blunders in Daytime Soap Opera History continues with 20-16.
20. Networks and soaps spoiling their own storylines
On a Friday in November 1984, DAYS OF OUR LIVES put Bo, Hope, Anna, Tony, Eugene, Calliope, Liz, Carlo, Andre, and Daphne on an airplane... and crashed it. All weekend we couldn't stop thinking about the fate of our favorite Salem residents, and there was absolutely no way we could not turn back in on Monday to see what happened. Why? Because we only had vague previews in 1984, and we had absolutely no way to know from week to week and day to day if our favorite character would be returning.
Around 20 years ago, the networks began telling the press exactly what was going to happen, not just vague one-line spoilers but the whole shebang. If you subscribed to a soap magazine, you would know a week or two in advance exactly who was coming and going, how that Friday cliffhanger would be resolved, who was going to live or die, and so on. Viewers were essentially told what was going to happen scene by scene. If you already know what is going to happen, why watch? Soaps built a loyal following in the previous decades by not revealing every plot twist, and keeping viewers on edge of their seat with suspenseful drama. Would you go to a movie today if you knew everything that was going to happen from beginning to end? Probably not. So why are soaps any different?
These days soap opera spoilers are everywhere. Shows all over television get spoiled but rarely at the level of detail soap stories are known in advance.
One recent exception ALMOST was the revealing of the Real Todd on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. The show had gone to great lengths to slowly build up this suspenseful revelation, and captivate the audience every step of the way. Consequently, the show's ratings continued to rise, and internet buzz and speculation remained massive. But then--and it was hard to believe--Disney-owned SOAPnet showed us in a preview that Roger Howarth would be revealed as the "Real Todd" several days before the show did! Why a network would go to such lengths to destroy its own product is beyond us. Oh yes, this is ABC.
19. Rotating Romans and the forever ret-con of John Black on DAYS OF OUR LIVES
DAYS OF OUR LIVES fans loved the original love story between Marlena and Roman Brady, played by Deidre Hall and Wayne Northrop, from 1981-1984. The couple overcame many obstacles, had many adventures, ultimately married, and had twin babies, Sami and Eric. When Northrop left the show in 1984, Roman "died" after being shot by Stefano. Marlena turned to her buddy Chris Kositchek, played by Josh Taylor, for comfort. Then in 1985 "The Pawn" (aka John Black) came to Salem and was later revealed to be Roman after plastic surgery. Drake Hogestyn quickly won fans over who fully accepted him as the new Roman.
In 1991 Wayne Northrop returned to DAYS and we learned he was the real Roman and Drake Hogestyn's Roman was actually Forrest Alamain, although he would continue to use John Black as his name. Northrop would leave DAYS as Roman in 1994, and Hogestyn's John Black would go on to learn he had been an art smuggler, a priest, a violent mercenary, a fighter pilot, an army doctor, and ultimately find out that he was really Ryan Brady, Roman's first cousin.
In 1997 Roman returned to Salem. This time he was played by Josh Taylor, the same Josh Taylor that had played Chris Kositchek from 1977-1987, had been one of Northrop Roman's grooms in his wedding to Marlena in 1983, and dated Marlena from 1985-1986. It's still hard to this day to watch DAYS and not think of Chris when Taylor is on our screens as Roman. It doesn't help that Taylor's portrayals of Roman and Chris are literally indistinguishable.
Wayne Northrop then returned to DAYS for a third time in 2005 but this time as Alex North, the abusive maniac who supposedly was married to Marlena before she came to town in 1976. Confused yet? So the first Roman was Alex, the second Roman was John, and the third Roman looked just like Chris.
There is much more that could be said about this story but we think you get the point. We would have been perfectly happy for Drake to have played Roman forever. Bringing back Wayne as Roman and then Josh as Roman made this merry-go-round a clunker, made all the other characters look downright stupid, and violated all laws of continuity. More importantly, it alienated long term viewers who couldn't emotionally invest in a story if they were going to be told that what they saw never happened (DAYS would nail the final coffin on viewer loyalty with the Salem Serial Killer Story of 2003-04). Who will John be when Drake returns to the soap on September 26? Stay tuned.
18. The launch of the new GUIDING LIGHT production model
On February 29, 2008, GUIDING LIGHT moved to a new production model, an end-to-end transformation in the way the show was created from direction to editing to scenic design. Permanent sets inside the show's New York City studio had four walls (instead of three) and a ceiling. Handheld cameras shot the actors up close and personal both inside the new sets and on location from Peapack, New Jersey. This change was to deliver a higher level of realism and intimacy to the audience and a much lower cost which would allow the 71-year-old soap to stay on the air.
The show garnered quite a bit of publicity for the change in the weeks leading up to the launch. Comparisons to primetime critical darling FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS were made. So what went wrong? The producers, writers, actors and the entire crew were not prepared for the change. In addition to an on-the-job-learning feel to the entire situation, no story at the time carried any emotional impact. We saw a lot of shots of trees, benches, and flags that meant nothing to the story. There were sound issues. Unfamiliar singers were used as background music and drowned out the dialogue at times. The overall feel of Springfield changed dramatically from what fans were used to.
GUIDING LIGHT had 2.8 million viewers the last full week before the change, and 893,000 women 18-49 viewers, placing it ahead of AS THE WORLD TURNS. Within four months, the show had lost almost 700,000 viewers, a fatal blow to its chances of survival.
A year later, the love story between Olivia (Crystal Chappell) and Natalia (Jessica Leccia) captured our hearts. The return of Grant Aleksander as Phillip was a huge success, Buzz (Justin Deas) and Lillian's (Tina Sloan) romance was front burner, and Springfield was a lively and fascinating community again. But by then the damage was done. If only the storylines of 2009 that left fans wanting more every day had been told in February 2008, then the show may have had a fighting chance.
The cast and crew, including executive producer Ellen Wheeler, gave it their all, but there were technical issues on some days that you only see on the most low budget of web series.
It was probably too late anyway, as GUIDING LIGHT had become a shell of its former self during the run of several producers who tried to leave their marks on the soap, and head writers who, in retrospect, did not have the chops to write our beloved Springfield. And with the show on the upswing, CBS canceled it anyway. Perhaps they would have done that no matter what. But if the production model change was the show's last chance, then not being ready with better stories--the only way to motivate viewer investment and the one thing that could have covered up some of the technical problems--was an epic mistake.
17. CBS canceling its remaining radio soaps a.k.a. "The day the radio drama died"
The radio era of the soap opera began to crumble by 1955. By 1956, the number of soaps had dropped to sixteen (ten of which were on CBS; the remainder were equally divided between NBC and ABC). Four years later, ABC discontinued all of its soaps. NBC had only TRUE STORY and CBS had seven remaining programs on its schedule. By the end of the 1959-1960 season, CBS was the only network broadcasting soaps, six in total since they dropped THE ROMANCE OF HELEN TRENT on June 24, 1960.
In mid-August of 1960, CBS, which began the season with six programs, decided to cease its soap opera broadcasts on the last Friday of November. Just because.
November 25, 1960 has been identified as a watershed in broadcasting. It's often referred to by aficionados as "the day the radio drama died."
CBS breezily announced the cancellation of its remaining serials--YOUNG DOCTOR MALONE (which aired on NBC-TV), THE RIGHT TO HAPPINESS (a spinoff of THE GUIDING LIGHT), THE SECOND MRS. BURTON and MA PERKINS. This was the end of an era. But did it have to be?
MA PERKINS was a prime example. As the organist ending the final show performed a variation of "My Old Kentucky Home" for the last time, Virginia Payne addressed her audience directly: "Ma Perkins again. This is our broadcast 7,065. I first came to you on December 4, 1933. Thank you for being so loyal to us these 27 years... Ma Perkins has always been played by me, Virginia Payne. And if you write to me, Ma Perkins, at Orleans, Massachusetts, I'll try to answer you. Good-bye, and may God bless you."
Then, an unidentified CBS announcer broke into the closing, letting fans know that starting Monday, they could get double the CBS News. Fans of longtime, beloved daytime television soaps that have left the air in recent years can probably imagine how faithful MA PERKINS fans felt following her dignified, earnest, and daring farewell. The CBS switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree, and the network was deluged with angry calls and then, angry letters.
Audiences still loved the radio drama, but the local radio stations wanted all of the air time for themselves.
Radio would continue to thrive for many years to come, so why couldn't radio soap operas continue? The last few years of network television decisions feel a little like the late 1950s with someone in charge deciding, arbitrarily, that the era of Daytime TV soaps is over. And as of January 2012, we will be down to the final four. It is eerily familiar.
16. The Mismanagement of the Final Years of AS THE WORLD TURNS
The first several years of the Chris Goutman era as executive producer of AS THE WORLD TURNS were award-winning and critically acclaimed, full of actors who couldn't praise their leader enough in the press. The final years were the complete opposite. The constant pats on the back were gone. In their place were a lot of confusing casting decisions, rumored turmoil, and the unbelievable mistreatment of the legendary Eileen Fulton. The show that had the most history that was still intact had a leader who could not have cared less.
Letting the brilliant Larry Bryggman (John Dixon) walk away in 2004 was a huge blow to the show and a definite sign the tide was turning. Seeing his return for a few weeks at the very end of ATWT's run in September 2010 proved what an asset he was and what a hole he left. Similarly, allowing Martha Byrne (Lily Snyder) to leave, and acting so cavalier about it in the media, was infuriating and turned off many fans. Even when the classy Noelle Beck offered to step aside so Byrne could return to ATWT in the final months for a reunion of Lily and Holden, Goutman refused. Firing a returned Scott Bryce, who actually made the character of Craig human despite awful writing, was another head scratcher. We don't know if it was pride, personal grudges, or complete incompetence but this was not the man who turned this soap around in the early 2000s. What happened? And where was Procter & Gamble? They seemed to have lost interest in both their remaining soaps at the time.
ATWT still showed moments of brilliance in its final years with Maura West (Carly), Michael Park (Jack) and Colleen Zenk (Barbara) leading a cast that gave their all, no matter what story was written. But there was no explaining the act of continuing to introduce new (and mostly unlikable) characters through the final months of the show. There was no justifying the rapid-pace style of editing that seemed to confuse and alienate viewers. And there was no reason to back burner daytime legends such as Don Hastings (Bob), Kathryn Hays (Kim), and Elizabeth Hubbard (Lucinda).
As for Lisa and Ms. Fulton, what a horrible way to end this soap. All soap opera final episodes are not made alike. For every perfect ending (SEARCH FOR TOMORROW's Jo and Stu come to mind) there is a Paul Rauch stomping on a cigarette or CAPITOL having Sloane standing in front a firing squad. It's not always easy to wrap up a soap in a limited amount of time. But no soap opera had ever had as much time between their cancellation notice and leaving the airwaves as 54-year war horse AS THE WORLD TURNS. The logical ending would focus on Nancy Hughes, but unfortunately the legendary Helen Wagner passed away the month before the show wrapped production. So obviously, the next thought would be the characters of Bob and Lisa, played by Don Hastings and Eileen Fulton, who both joined the cast in 1960 (that's 50 years earlier!). The show got it (mostly) right with Bob and let him have the final words on the air. But Lisa, they couldn't have got it more wrong.
Why didn't Lisa have some kind of storyline in the final months? Fans had been questioning her airtime for years. But surely, knowing the soap was going away forever, was't Lisa entitled to one last hurrah? The producers and writers instead gave her only two scenes in the final episode, as a supporting character in the Lucinda-John reunion and in quite insulting circumstances as well. The character of Lisa is credited as TV's first "bitch" and characters like Erica Kane or Alexis Colby may not have existed without her! That's huge. That's history. So what kind of historic tribute did ATWT pay to Lisa on the last show? They gave her four lines and a sarcastic talking-down-to from Lucinda and John. At the very least, would a phone call from an old flame like Grant Colman have hurt?
Put them all together, and these decisions demonstrate a lack of respect for AS THE WORLD TURNS as a cultural icon, a lack of consideration of its millions of viewers around the world, and a general sense of contempt for the show on behalf of Goutman and P&G. The consistent and systematic dismantling of this beloved soap through poor management decisions remains a shameful blight in television history, and a tragic example of how ignorance and disdain can ruin an American institution.
25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (15-11)
- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (25-21)