The Soap Box
Vol. V No. 9 September 1979
by Linda Susman
(continued from Part 1)
Labine and Mayer's "long-term" projection is from three or four months to a year, since Mayer says, "you have to know where the characters will be a year from now. It's like a Victorian novel. The stories have to intertwine." He says that at the beginning, "we were much more cerebral. We were taking everything apart to find out why, how. Now, we're a little less formal. We talk story, plan together, throw ideas back and forth. We're always looking for good scenes, not mechanical ones, but dramatic scenes between people. Some scenes, of course, are obligatory, but we work for a certain kind of structure. Each segment is a little one-act play," he adds.
In addition to interview sessions with female viewers--to get a pulse on reaction to storylines and characters--Mayer says the show's actors are encouraged to have input. "One of our major players called up," he recalls as an example, "and he didn't like something in the story. He was right. We tore up 40 scripts--wrote 10 or 15 scenes--and got our script writers to do the same."
With the 90-minute AW, Lemay tries to build a definite counterpoint. "If there's a mother and son--like Iris and Dennis--in acrimony in Act II, for example, then Rachel and Jamie could be involved in something good between mother and son in Act V," he explains. AW has five stories going on at a given time: three are major, and two are either preliminary to major were major and are being phased out.
Lemay says he gets his ideas from "life, suggestions, reading." The Dennis-Elena storyline came from his own son in his early 20s, who knows of many older woman-younger man relationships. He says Procter & Gamble didn't resist the story, and that there's been heavy mail, split 50-50. "This story won't hurt anybody, but the characters will learn a lot about themselves." Lemay feels Christina Pickles is "wonderful. This requires a very sensitive actress to make it work." While Lemay says he is particularly fond of Iris, Rachel and Mac...and tries to "get ambivalence into all characters," he admits to "loving" the Frame family, which is loosely fashioned after his own poor farm family of 13 children.
Although he inherited Steven Frame and built from there, Lemay has no intention of 'bringing him back from the dead.' "I think that's a cheap trick," he adds. "The Frames are an enormous family of strivers. First we used Willis; then Sharlene, Vince, Janice. We don't need Steven. That Alice-Steven-Rachel storyline was the focus of the show for four years. After a while, it gets to be retread," he observes. In the longer format, Lemay's opted for introducing characters from the past, or those who are known to the audience and have a definite relationship to other people. "That saves a lot of dull, expository writing," he adds, citing Dan, Susan and Liz, and the Perrinis, who were often mentioned but never seen, and now, through them, the Connellys.
The danger of "retread" faces all soap writers. Mayer says that "when Ryan's Hope began, we had a wonderful set of stories to tell, and we've told a lot. It's harder now to go back and find new stories for the same characters without torturing them. We try to do things that don't stretch credulity too far." Mayer says he hopes they don't have to "fall back on melodrama or downbeat stories. We find them out of character and no fun to write. We're at our best when we're writing about the Ryans."
In that vein, Mayer reveals his two favorite storylines: the relationship between Mary and Jack, leading to the boiler room reconciliation; and the exploration of the Delia character, who's actually a "composite." Mayer says she was created "from a sexy secretary I once knew," then we began to find out who she was...not just the vital statistics. We knew her father had been psychotic, that her mother had died; the deprivation of her childhood. At the age of six, she was coming into the Ryan kitchen to be near Maeve. Delia's not a cliche bad girl."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Check back on Tuesday for Revealed! Serial Writers' Secrets (Part 3).