Thursday, January 5, 2012

Most Fascinating People of 2011

Here in Times Square at the We Love Soaps headquarters, fascinating people are our bread and butter.  The more interesting and appealing someone is, the more we want to write about them, and the more you all want to read.  So we know fascinating people!

While it's true that (especially since we cover the inherently dramatic and fabulous world of The Soap Opera) almost everyone we post about, photograph, or interview is at least a little bit fascinating, at least to someone, every year there are definitely some personalities that, truth be told, we just can't get enough of.  One of the joys of the new year is that we get to reflect on all the nutty, inspirational, tear-jerking, shocking, and otherwise fascinating people of the year before.  2011 had some doosies!  Here they are, in no particular order, because they're all very fascinating in very different ways.

When Kirsten Storms fell ill, she had to leave GENERAL HOSPITAL - and, according to E!, her "real" life (on docu-series DIRTY SOAP). Storms was the most talked about person at We Love Soaps during 2011 (as in six figure page-views). Fans were excited when the Emmy nominated GH star was included in E!'s DIRTY SOAP, but interest grew to record levels when a mysterious illness sidelined her from both shows.

The illness, endometriosis, was revealed one Sunday night in October on DIRTY SOAP, sparking much discussion around the web. Jen Lilley stepped in for Storms as Maxie and suddenly Storms had vanished. We're rooting for a big comeback in 2012 for Storms, who started regularly tweeting again in late December.  We love you, Kirsten, get well soon!

Farah Fath had three roles (Gigi, Farah, Stacey) and two marriages (a real one one on "fictional" TV and a fantasy one on "reality" TV). Storms' DIRTY SOAP co-star and best frenemy was also fascinating this year. We all know reality TV isn't totally, or even mostly real. But man, are we curious just how much of the ironic (yet earnest) and controlling personality, especially in her relationship with John-Paul "PJ" Lavoisier, was the real deal?

While Fath was one of the more interesting aspects of E!'s show (the Bjorlin/Beemer family drama was the only other watchable part of the docu-series), on the daytime soap front, she played a dual role as Gigi and her sister, Stacey.  Hers was a storyline that made us roll our eyes (Farah would be proud) but heck, it held our attention.  First she was Gigi, then Gigi was dead, but Farah wasn't leaving, because she was going to play her own sister who wasn't a twin but was identical, and then Stacey was dead and... Gigi is alive!  WTF?  It was fun ride, though.

And the kicker:  were we the only ones wondering what Farah and JP were thinking during Rex and Gigi's wedding (after her return), since so much of DIRTY SOAP revolved around their wedding proposal drama? DIRTY SOAP had ratings that, roughly speaking, were appropriate for its time slot and niche market (in other words they stunk) but we had a blast with it, largely due to Farah Fath.  We especially enjoyed tweeting about Farah as if she were a character and not a real person...sorry, girl!   But we know she doesn't mind, because one thing about DIRTY SOAP that is most certainly 100% real is that Farah Fath is a good sport who enjoys a good time.

The story of Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez is well documented in soap opera circles due to his role as Brot on ALL MY CHILDREN. Off-camera he has proven himself to be an inspirational motivational speaker. But it was his run all the way to the Mirror Ball on this fall's DANCING WITH THE STARS that made him a household name. Martinez has not had a day out of the press in months and that just goes to show you what a good publicity team can do when they value the talent on their shows. Aside from a DANCING victory, Martinez became engaged to the beautiful Diana Gonzales-Jones (with a baby girl is on the way), met with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, and been chosen as grand marshal of the 123rd Rose Parade. He brilliantly worked the red carpet for the CNN HEROES event, and even landed on the cover of PEOPLE magazine! Despite the cancellation of AMC, it was a banner year for Mr. Martinez.

Brian Kirkendall, Vice-President Of Marketing for Hoover Vacuums, became a hero for soap fans when his company reacted to the the cancellations of ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE by pulling their ads.  In a personal touch, Kirkendall shared that his wife and mother are “both passionate viewers of ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, as are many of my colleagues here at Hoover.”

Giving succor to fans who were feeling helpless, he added on the company's Facebook page, "I want you to know from me personally that we hear you loud and clear. In fact, we will discontinue our advertising with ABC this Friday, 4/22". The reaction was immediate and overwhelming.

"I posted it from my blackberry in the back of a car as innocent as could be. The next thing you know," he said. "I've got 4,000 emails today. "Never thought I'd be the front man of the movement to save the soaps, I was just reacting to messages on our website."

DAYS OF OUR LIVES executive producer Greg Meng traveled the country promoting the show's 45th anniversary book and talking to fans. His ability to truly listen to feedback led to the "reboot" of DAYS in September, a renewed effort to keep the show on the air, and utilize the show's rich history in order to move the residents of Salem forward. Fan favorites returned and new writers were hired. The results have been mixed from fans and critics but Meng's devoted passion and tireless dedication were consistently a big hit with us.

Susan Lucci is the epitome of class. In 40 years of ALL MY CHILDREN we never heard her say a cross word about anyone. Until 2011. While on a promotional tour for her memoir, "All My Life," Lucci assured fans and the media that Erica had story planned into 2012. Meanwhile, ABC knew they were canceling her soap and let her repeat the same mantra at one book signing after another. Lucci finally unleashed (100% justifiably) on Brian Frons and ABC in September when an epilogue was added to the book with the release of the paperback version.

"An iconic show was losing out to greed ... If Brian Frons could show his bosses that he could save the network 40 percent ... he could keep his job even if the rest of us lost ours," she wrote.

Lucci quickly booked guest appearances on ARMY WIVES and HOT IN CLEVELAND after AMC ended, proving that this daytime diva has only just begun her reign in Hollywood. 

Katie Leclerc is a brainy, beautiful inspiration. But a year ago, she was a receptionist. In 2011 she was our Breakout Star of the Year, thanks to her role as Daphne on SWITCHED AT BIRTH. She helped educate and inspire both the deaf and hearing communities including in our interview about her own condition versus the character she plays.

"Daphne lost her hearing at the age of three from meningitis; she's fully deaf. That is very different from me, because I have a condition called Ménière's disease."

Wise beyond her years, she shares: "There's a lot of pressure on the show to really represent, and to bat home runs every time. And it's a balancing act. We are a soap show, and ultimately it's about the families, and nature versus nurture, and all those questions. Then we have this other element—the deaf aspect—and it's a very good hook. But that's not, at the end of the day, what the show is about. So, the opportunity to bring this other culture to life is fantastic."

Damian McGinty won THE GLEE PROJECT and was heavily featured in GLEE last fall, an auspicious start to an unusual method of casting. He won his role on GLEE by being kind, friendly, and talented, a very unusual way indeed to become a star of reality or competition programs. He also formed his own band, with four other GLEE PROJECT boys, with whom he jams and releases the occasional video.

Throughout it all, McGinty's open and honest communication with fans on Facebook and Twitter made us like him even more.

Mike Kelley has been on our radar for years especially after creating the summer fave, SWINGTOWN, in 2008. But he shot to the top of our writer's list in 2011 by creating REVENGE, the best new prime-time soap in ages, based on Alexandre Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo."

And a prime-time writer who embraces the term "soap" is a winner in our book.

"I grew up watching nighttime dramas like DYNASTY, KNOTS LANDING and MELROSE PLACE," he said, 'and those things so, no, if I fit into that category, I consider that high praise!"

So do we.

Robin Strasser has entertained us for decades both on screen and off. True to form, she said goodbye to ONE LIFE TO LIVE in 2011 with one brilliant performance after another. Then the outspoken diva, who has always been fascinating to listen to on her hotline, used Twitter to communicate with fans about the soap, the industry and so much more. Not only was it fun to read, it was also incredibly insightful. Her feed was "must-read Twitter" with her tweets just as dramatic and entertaining as Dorian Lord.

Strasser frequently lends her time and personality to community charity events, including the recent HIV/AIDS fundraiser she led in cooperation with Imperial Court of New York. 

Kim Zimmer has always been outspoken in the press, so was there anything left to say in a memoir? Boy, was there!  Her "I'm Just Sayin': Three Deaths, Seven Husbands, and a Clone! My Life as a Daytime Diva" revealed new details of her life, including a DUI, and gave us pointed, but fair, takes on her experiences over the years on GUIDING LIGHT. Zimmer also performed on stage several shows in 2011 including "Love, Loss, And What I Wore," "Curtains" (with GL co-star Robert Newman), and "Sunset Boulevard."

Frank Valentini was Executive Producer of ONE LIFE TO LIVE and Vice President of daytime serials for Prospect Park in 2011. He won another Daytime Emmy Award for directing the web series WHAT IF. By the time the Prospect Park efforts were suspended, Valentini had been on a roller coaster of emotion. A week later he was hired to be the new executive producer of GENERAL HOSPITAL. Can the man known for doing the most with the least amount of money turn that show around? Stay tuned.

Martha Byrne has long been an outspoken advocate for fans. In 2011 she continued to stand up for her audience, as well as become a leading proponent of Indie Soaps. Not only did she brilliantly host our 2nd Annual Indie Soap Awards in New York City in February, she took her indie spirit all over the country guest starring on PRETTY and ANACOSTIA, even hosting EMPIRE's hilarious (and only in New York) fundraiser. She even threw another fun-filled weekend event for fans in the Adirondacks. Next stop for Byrne: a trip to The Netherlands in February as AS THE WORLD TURNS completes its popular run.

Jonathan Jackson won another Daytime Emmy this year. He consistently gave Oscar worthy performances as Lucky on GENERAL HOSPITAL in one intense storyline after another. By the end of the year he quit the soap due to "heavy workload and increasing exhaustion." He also continued as lead singer of Enation, his band which released a new album, "My Ancient Rebellion," in the fall.

Soap Classics president Mark Yates brought tears of joy to many classic soap opera fans when the company announced it would be released a 20-episode DVD of AS THE WORLD TURNS episodes. The company also revealed they had licensed the distribution rights to six P&G soaps including GUIDING LIGHT, ANOTHER WORLD, THE EDGE OF NIGHT, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and TEXAS. A second ATWT DVD was released followed the announcement of a GL Classics disc in mid-January 2012. So why was Yates interested in the P&G catalog when it seems like none of the soaps themselves recognize what a potentially profitable yet untapped market this is?

"Honestly, it was a personal hunch in me," he told us in October. "I remember growing up watching them with my mom, watching them in college with my friends, and I think my demographic and other demographics out there have a very strong attachment to the history of them and the current. And I think they have cultural significance and historical significance."

Well said.

- Why 2012 Will Be "The Year Of The Soap" (Part 1) 
- Why 2012 Will Be "The Year Of The Soap" (Part 2): DARK SHADOWS, RAGGED ISLE, DALLAS, Univision Telenovelas and More

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