Saturday, November 7, 2009

Soap's Hope: The Claire Labine Interview, Part Five

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, the Emmy winner 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, Ms. Labine 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.

Claire Labine won seven Emmys for her work on RYAN'S HOSPITAL and GENERAL HOSPITAL. So what happened when she went to work on ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GUIDING LIGHT? We begin to find the answers in Part Five of the interview.

We Love Soaps: So working on GENERAL HOSPITAL was such a positive experience for you and the viewers. Why did you leave in early 1996?
Claire Labine: We had a show in development and NBC was interested in it. We left in order to pursue the development with NBC. And then we discovered that it was not exactly their plan, and they were going with, what was that weird show? SUNSET BEACH. So that was it. We took it back to ABC and they were really, really interested. I had done a first version of it for Michael Brockman when he came back after I had left RYAN'S HOPE. He was about to greenlight it when he got replaced, rather summarily, to my great regret. And then new management was not really ready to think about a new show at that point. Pat [Fili-Krushel] was really interested in it but it was difficult to get her to take the leap. The show was set in Brooklyn, and Matthew [Labine] had this absolutely marvelous insight to tie Lois and Ned into the show because they weren’t using Ned [Wally Kurth] and [Rena Sofer] was gone at that point. But they decided to go instead with PORT CHARLES from Wendy Riche.

We Love Soaps: Then you went to write for ONE LIFE TO LIVE instead.
Claire Labine: Yes. Loved the cast. Loved working there. Loved the control room. The cast loved us. Management did not, and had other plans. The ratings didn’t move. There was a great deal of network input which I felt was appropriate given the fact that they owned it.

We Love Soaps: You thought it was appropriate?
Claire Labine: Yes, it was appropriate. They owned the show.

We Love Soaps: But they owned GENERAL HOSPITAL too and they left you alone for that.
Claire Labine: They did! That was the difference. And the fact that Wendy so went to bat for us. She truly truly did. And she truly had the balls of a brass monkey. She would stand up to anybody if she wanted something and at that period of time she wanted it for us. She saw it was working, and she knew I had Mickey’s [Dwyer-Dobbin] backing.

We Love Soaps: As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I admire are the pervasive Freudian themes in your work. This was particularly present in your story telling of Dorian Lord.
Claire Labine: I loved that. It was gothic. It was baroque. And I loved Mel and Dorian right from the beginning. There was supposed to be conflict over him between Erika [Slezak] and Dorian, but that didn’t work from one of the performer’s points of views. So we thought, let’s just concentrate on Dorian and Mel. I found him to be an enormously satisfying character. I really loved bringing Dorothy [Mel’s daughter, played by Elisabeth Röhm] in. And I loved bringing Helen [Gallagher] in as his mother. It was such typical Helen! Elisabeth Röhm was a lovely girl, straight out of school. During the first day Helen was there in the studio, [Laughs] I saw Elisabeth coming down the hall. Helen’s dressing room door flings open and this arm reaches out and literally grabs her by the shirt. She said, “Come in here, we are going to rehearse!” It was as if an actor had been given the hook on stage, Elisabeth just disappeared! That was how she met Helen. That was very Helen, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to work at it.” She is a force of nature.

We Love Soaps: Were there stories you wanted to tell but didn’t get to tell on ONE LIFE TO LIVE?
Claire Labine: I could have gone on with Dorian and Mel forever. And Dorothy and that whole element of the show. Yes, there was a lot. Anyone in that cast could have had a wonderful story. One of the things I truly loved was writing for Roger [Howarth] and the one he offered the million dollars to.

We Love Soaps: Florencia Lozano?
Claire Labine: Yes, Florencia, who I think is brilliant. And I think Roger is totally amazing. There is so much talent connected with these things. You’re just in awe with what you are given.

We Love Soaps: Yes, the acting is great, but it has to be a mix of good writing too. I mean, your story about Todd giving Tea five million dollars to marry him in 1997 is still being played out, it was just mentioned this past week.
Claire Labine: Is it? That’s interesting. One of the things I remember most is Todd and the parrot. We relished that parrot. We loved him. We loved the idea of Todd having a parrot to talk to. There was one show where we were trying to get Todd into her bedroom. The parrot did a hop up the staircase, and her door was open, the parrot pushed the door farther open, jumped up on the bed, and spread his wings. She woke up to a silhouette of a bird of a prey standing over her bed and screamed her head off. Todd came barreling in, and there was all this sexual tension. Then there was the time the bird answered the telephone and someone was asking Todd for money. The bird just squawked, “Yes, yes.” It was totally outrageous, but really was fun. I could have gone on with the parrot for a long time too.

We Love Soaps: And GUIDING LIGHT?
Claire Labine: I’m not good at network politics. I’m terrible at it. There was a lot going on that I had no idea of. We were just trying to do it the best we could. And having to fight the good fight and then they fired us. Then they couldn’t get anybody to replace us and were they embarrassed! They had announced it. Mickey called me and said, “We are in a real mess. The people that we had lined up aren’t going to work. Would you consider extending?” I said, “Sure, I’m not going to leave you in the lurch, for heaven’s sake.” So we stuck around and they left us absolutely alone for a cycle. And on the last day of our stuff the ratings were the highest they had been in three or four years. By that time we were really invested in it because they left us alone and were having such a great time. We made it work. I loved it. I was really surprised [when we were fired again] because they hadn’t let on that they were looking or training or anything. I should have realized that if they were leaving us alone that they were really pursuing it. And that was the deal. We were only supposed to be holding on until they could find somebody.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Six in which Claire Labine reflects on the highs and lows of writing for GUIDING LIGHT, the stories she loved, her experience with Paul Rauch, her feelings about Crystal Chappell, and the battles against focus groups.

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