Thursday, September 8, 2011

COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (15-11)

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 blunders number 15-11.

15. The early 1970s soap purge

In the first four years of the 1970s there was a brutal daytime soap opera massacre. To begin with, you might remember that that was when THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, DARK SHADOWS, A WORLD APART and BRIGHT PROMISE were axed. But it was the cancellations of LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, WHERE THE HEART IS, RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE and THE SECRET STORM in less than a year's time (March 1973 to February 1974) that was especially brutal.

Daytime serials today would love to get the ratings share that any of those soaps did 40 years ago. But, to be fair, times have changed, and 30 shares are rare for anyone in 2011. The real essence of the blunder is the rationale used for canceling the soaps.

We've seen it happen many times over the last several decades: networks decide soaps were on their way out and recklessly scramble to make room for the Next Big Thing.

During the purge, CBS decided game shows were the "in" thing for daytime, only to see soaps made a comeback and game shows fade. Beloved 20-year soap THE SECRET STORM, as well as LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, were replaced by game shows. STORM was replaced by the awful TATTLETALES (don't ask) while LOVE gave way to THE $100,000 PYRAMID. TATTLETALES lasted four years before being replaced by PASS THE BUCK. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad, it only lasted two months. But even great game shows are unable to inspire fans to loyally tune in like soap operas. It was clear then, and it's still obvious today.

In retrospect, it's hard to argue with the decision by CBS to replace WHERE THE HEART IS with today's Nielsen champ THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, but the reason given at the time was bizarre. CBS argued that the show appealed too much to a younger "cult" demographic. What? Networks today would love for their shows to appeal to a younger audience.

RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE on NBC was pitted against top-rated MATCH GAME on CBS in its final year, but a 7.0 house hold rating wasn't good enough for NBC to keep it. The show's storylines were slow and methodical. After the cancellation, they sped up, and fans started enjoying the show. If only NBC had allowed the soap to grow it might have become a ratings success. Strangely, it was cancelled only to be replaced by another, less successful soap, HOW TO SURVIVE A MARRIAGE, that only survived a year.

These decisions, at best perfunctory and at worst idiotic, were a real loss for soap fans, usually the last consideration by network executives.

14. The unnecessary death of Maureen Bauer on GUIDING LIGHT

When compiling the blunders list, we could have started a separate "unnecessary deaths" list. Frankie Frame, John Abbott, Alan Quartermaine and many other soap characters were huge assets to their shows and were inexplicably killed off when a producer or writer decided the fan's opinions didn't count. None was more brutal than the violent murder of Frankie on ANOTHER WORLD. But it's the death of Maureen Bauer that had the most creative impact. It was a pointless, asinine story decision that sacrificed the future of GUIDING LIGHT for short-term ratings.

The family figurehead of Bert Bauer died in 1985 after the real-life death of actress Charita Bauer. Maureen (played by Ellen Parker) was perfectly positioned to become the new matriarch of the show for the rest of its run. Ed and Maureen were the tent-pole characters that lifelong GUIDING LIGHT fans could look at to see the continuation of the Bauer family. As long as the story included the Bauers as the central core family, the show felt like GUIDING LIGHT and it seemed like we were still in Springfield. Lapsed fans that might tune back in would always be able to find at one one familiar setting.

Ed had wives before--Rita, played by the fabulous Lenore Kasdorf; Maureen Garrett's Holly; the late Leslie--but the relationships had never lasted as long as Ed and Maureen. We were watching the next generation become the older generation. It all made sense. Which made Maureen's death in January 1993 even more puzzling in its short-sightedness. Fans were treated to brilliant performances by Peter Simon as Ed, Tina Sloan as Lillian, and others. But long-term, the show was left without the matriarch that a family soap like GL desperately needed.

The show flirted with another round of Ed and Holly, and had Ed fall in love with Eve Guthrie for a while before she died too (the third of Ed's wives/lovers to die!). Some fascinating stories were written as a result of Maureen's death. But by 1996 Peter Simon had left the show and Ed was gone.

Head writer Nancy Curlee Demorest had this to say when asked if she had any story regrets over the years: "Although Maureen's death was a lynchpin in a carefully conceived and well-executed story, Ellen Parker was so fine, and so well loved, that her absence left a hole in the show that was later hard to fill."

Ed would return for stories played by both Simon and Robert Gentry, but he basically was never a central character again. We did get a blink-and-you-miss-it reunion between Ed and Holly as GL wrapped up in September 2009. But, oh, what could have been...

13. Networks not merchandising the soaps

All the networks and soaps have missed a great opportunity over the years by not promoting their shows with books, tie-ins, and other merchandise. The DVD industry has been huge for primetime television. The UK soaps have capitalized as well with various merchandise over the years (cassettes, videos, who's who guides, history guides, etc.) which help obtain new viewers and keep the public interested.

If the networks had done the same in the U.S., who knows how much more popular the shows would have stayed. Or how much more money they could have made to help contribute to production costs.

There have been some examples of getting it right. The "Reva: The Scarlett Years" and "Roger Thorpe: The Scandal Years" VHS tapes released by GUIDING LIGHT were well done and are still fun to watch to this day. P&G wrote some books in the voice of AS THE WORLD TURNS and GL characters. ABC has released some wonderful wedding DVDs from their soaps. But think how much more of this could be done?

Eager interns could have done most of the leg work on these projects at little cost to the shows. From DVDs and music CDs to clothes and games and books, the sky was the limit for all these endless possibilities over the years.

And in 2011, why aren't we ordering soap merchandise from cool smart phone apps?

12. Never bringing Laura back permanently on GENERAL HOSPITAL

Genie Francis joined GENERAL HOSPITAL in 1976 and quickly caught on with fans as quintessential young heroine Laura reunited with her birth family and romanced Scott Baldwin. But it was Laura's romance with Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) that turned into the most iconic couple in the soap opera history. Luke and Laura's adventurous stories mesmerized America and they became a pop culture phenomenon. Their 1981 wedding, featuring special guest star Elizabeth Taylor, was watched by 30 million viewers, a record for daytime television (Oprah's much-hyped finale only attracted 16 million).

Francis has become the heart of the show when she left in 1982 to take a break and pursue other projects. She would come back for appearances at the end of 1983 and 1984 but was completely off the show for the next nine years after that. But Luke and Laura never left the minds of fans.

When the characters of Luke and Laura returned to GH in 1993, with son Lucky (Jonathan Jackson) in tow, it was as if time had stood still. They just "fit" on the canvas like they were never gone. The couple added another child, daughter Lulu, and faced numerous new obstacles over the next several years. Yet when Laura was written out in 2002, she was cruelly wheeled out in a catatonic state to a treatment center in London.

Francis returned for a month in 2006 when Laura was given an experimental drug that reversed her condition for a short period of time. Laura and Luke exchanged vows again on what would have been their 25th anniversary. Genie Francis won an Emmy for this return. She would return for a few months in 2008 as well.

But where has she been ever since? Francis has made it clear she would return to the soap. She said in an April 2011 interview: "I’d love to come back to work, but I want to work in a way that uses all of me so I’m not just cheating my audience. I felt for a while with the GH appearances, they were kind of using me as a media trick, bringing me on for three or four weeks, saying I was back on the show, but not really writing for me. And then I would be gone. I just didn’t like that anymore. "[GH] cannot conceive a Laura who is 48 years old, a grown woman. So that’s that. I’m a little surprised, too, since this year is the 30th anniversary of Luke and Laura’s marriage."

Watching her on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and not GENERAL HOSPITAL makes absolutely no sense (and we won't get into the blunder of shows like Y&R and AS THE WORLD TURNS hiring past GH stars to spike ratings instead of featuring their own stars). There will always be a missing piece of Port Charles without the character of Laura. As amazing as Julie Marie Berman and Jonathan Jackson are at playing Luke and Laura's childen, imagine the depth having Francis around would add to all their stories.

This is one blunder that could be fixed by ABC before it's too late. Will it happen?

11. Spinning off Iris from ANOTHER WORLD into TEXAS

Iris Cory is one of the most legendary characters in daytime history. Played by the sublime Beverlee McKinsey, fans of ANOTHER WORLD in the 1970s were hooked on her and the show stayed near the top of the ratings. After Harding Lemay left the soap as head writer, things began to fall apart.

ANOTHER WORLD was expanded to 90 minutes in 1979, creating the almost impossible task of producing that much television every day for the writing staff and crew. In 1980, to hop on the DALLAS bandwagon, NBC decided to create a spinoff show featuring Iris: TEXAS.

We are big fans of the final year of TEXAS, but Iris didn't last that long. When TEXAS premiered on August 4, 1980, the announcer said, "TEXAS, Starring Beverlee McKinsey!" She was a huge star, and the billing was deserved. But with a mostly-new surrounding cast, and in Houston instead of Bay City, Iris just didn't seem the same. The eternal struggle for Mac's attention was gone. Iris without Mac and Rachel wasn't nearly as interesting.

A year later, Iris left TEXAS and the show focused on "The Next Generation." Beverlee never would return to ANOTHER WORLD, a huge loss for the formerly high-rated drama. TEXAS never really caught on, ANOTHER WORLD had lost an incredible actress, and one of the best portrayals of a character in the history of the medium was gone forever.

Continue reading...
COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (10-6)

- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (25-21)
- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (20-16)

COMING FRIDAY: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (10-6)


    Mark Schreier

  2. This is another extremely informative article. Along with Mark Schreier, I completely am in agreement with these observations. Thanks! :-)

  3. So many great observations. I think they all boil down to one commonality: sacrificing the long-term to pursue possible short-term gain. It never works.

  4. There was, in the 80s hyday, a LOT of soap merchandise. I have two different All My Children games (one board game one How to Host A Murder game), a set of early 90s ABC Daytime trading cards, early 80s series of three AMC books based loosely on the early storylines, a similar book based on OLTL (which advertises books for nearly every soap from the mid 80s in the back), ABC released, besides the Weddings tapes, an All My Children behind the Scenes video, an All About Erica video, and two Luke and Laura videos... And of course the gorgeous coffee table books that nearly all the soaps by the late 90s got, and the odd tie in novels and books (for ABC there was Patrick's Notebook, Having it All by Erica Kane, Charmed by Kendall, and The Killing Club by Marcie)

    But yes, it's been a huge wasted potential, especially since DVDs, even if tribute DVDs of special episodes, would obviously sell well.

  5. Great list, Eric. I started to do a post once of soap merchandise, some of it from the soaps and some from outside companies. It seems like when the budgets were larger they produced more items, but when the budgets began to shrink, they didn't, maybe thinking they didn't have the time or money to do it (even when they might have made money they needed). Just seems like a huge missed opportunity. And with every DVD release, you get a chance to do promotion for your show (we have received quite a few in the mail from primetime soaps just in the past week alone).

  6. Thanks for including the Texas blunder. That final year of Texas is one of my all time favorites. So loved the characters --- Reena (!!), Lurlene, Ashley, Justin and of course, Ruby Wright.

    But Iris did not belong on this show. Was wrong from the very start since the character was so tied to Mac and Rachel.

    My understanding is the original plan was just to spin off Reena and Kevin Cook for the show. Those two had been introduced to Bay City in late 1979. But the network got nervous and hastily added Iris to the show to give it more star power. I understand their reason for doing it, but it wasn't well thought out.

    The other Texas blunder was debuting it in the 3 p.m. timeslot opposite General Hospital and pushing Another World back to 2 p.m. Should have flipped those time slots since 3 p.m. had always been AW's time slot. I think both shows would have fared better if the time slots had been flipped.

  7. Great insights, James. I really loved Texas by the end too, much more than when Iris was on. I wish it had been given more time to grow.

  8. James,

    Daytime TV had an article about Texas in early 1980 that referred to the series as Another World: Houston. Russ Matthews was supposed to be a central character on the new serial and others have said that they heard Pat was going to be on the new soap too.

  9. We have a new batch of magazines from 1979 and 1980 so I'll see what else I can find about Texas.

  10. On a soap message board several years ago (I think it was the now defunct World of Soap Themes site), there was a discussion of Texas. Someone with some background in the business had read the original Bible for the show.

    If I recall correctly, initially, it was to be a period soap called Reunion and set in the 1870s or 1880s in the South. Then Dallas became a hit and they made it a present day story set in Houston.

    Core family was supposed to be the Bellmans -- estranged Striker and Victoria and their FOUR children: Reena, Samantha and twin brothers. At one point while in Bay City, Reena even made reference to the twins and her sister.

    When they decided to move Iris to Houston, there had to be a love interest for her, so they hastily created Alex Wheeler.

    With Iris and Alex now the focus of the show, the Bellman family was downsized. So Reena became an only child, Samantha became her cousin and the twin brothers vanished.

    The Marshall and Dekker families remained pretty much intact.

    I vaguely seem to recall hearing many, many years ago that Russ Matthews was originally supposed to move to Houston. Never heard anything about Pat or any other Bay City characters moving however.

  11. Right now would be a perfect time to bring back Laura. I think Lucky and Lulu could really use their mother right about now. I never did understand the decision to write her out, and to do it by initially putting her in a catatonic state at that? I think the problem is that character evolution doesn't seem to be a priority. we don't all stay the same, not completely we change in small ways and grow up. soap characters should be able to do the same. no one seems to have grasped that yet

  12. I disagree STRONGLY with the notion that actors who've been successful on one soap shouldn't be hired by another soap. That makes no sense. It's just a job.

    Where would Y&R be if it had not hired Peter Bergman who had appeared on All My Children? Acting on soaps is just a job. What about Billy Miller? He moved from AMC to Y&R? Eileen Davidson had a TERRIFIC run on DOOL after years of success on Y&R. Crystal Chappel's run on GL after appearing on Days and OLTL is now iconic.

    Soaps should play their vets, whom audiences love, but there is no reason why a good actor should be denied a job on another soap because of some rigid thinking.

    Most of the ire about soap stars moving to other soaps comes from those stars being given bad material and being pushed into the limelight while vets are pushed to the side. However, this happens when new characters are added to the cast all the time. Look at the Ford brothers on OLTL. Fans complained about how they ate the show.

  13. Game show fans are some of the most dedicated fans I've ever come across, there's just fewer of them than there are of soap fans. It's too bad we'll never see a game show revival, game show demos skew ancient.

    The list has been a very informative read so far. I've always been a one or two soap person, but the industry is intriguing to me.

  14. I agree that killing Frankie Frame was brutal and unnecessary - I remember watching that on tape late that night sobbing and I couldn't get to sleep. So sad !

  15. Jill Farren Phelps makes me sick how she treats women in this soap opera genre. A GENRE FOR WOMEN! She always cut for the men. The disrespect she gave to likeable women characters (dating back to her Santa Barbara years to Young years) and actresses (Genie Francis) in this genre is so unforgivable. She's a destructive force and a proven cancer to the industry. Days and Bold better not ever hire her for a job not even to pick up the trash on set!