Dear Scoopers, please grab what's left of your Easter candy and settle in for a few minutes. I think you may need the extra sugar to get through this week's column. It's a little different in format. As I started writing, I realized I had more to say on the subject of the future of As the World Turns and daytime than I envisioned, so it went a little longer than my usual three-paragraph opening. So, grab your jellybeans and maybe some Red Bull, but please keep reading.
When I saw the news that Guiding Light had been cancelled on April 1, I was sure it was one of those silly April Fool's jokes that some Web sites and newspapers do to celebrate the day. No way could a show that has been as constant as the sun every weekday for 72 years just suddenly be ripped from the airwaves. No way. It had to be a joke.
The cancellation of such a staple of daytime television felt like a bucket of cold water to the face and gave me a startling wake-up call to the current state of the endangered soap opera. I checked out the ratings for the current shows, and where once double digits prevailed, the shows currently scored in the 1-3 share range. I never thought I would see the day when The Young and the Restless would have less than a 7 rating. Never.
But those days are here.
Yes, O.J. Simpson, the Iraq war, and hundreds of cable channels have all contributed to the ratings' loss, but so has the lack of consistent well-told stories that hooked viewers in the '80s and carried us through the early '90s. The talent is still there - when it hasn't been fired due to budget cuts - so I have to believe it's the stories themselves that are the weak spot for viewers. (I have plenty of advice on how to fix those stories at the end of this section.)
According to The Hollywood Reporter, CBS has found higher ratings and had fewer expenses with shows such as Judge Judy and Dr. Phil than its daytime drama lineup. So with Guiding Light gone, is the ax going to fall next on As the World Turns? Is its cancellation imminent, if whatever replaces Guiding Light does better in the ratings? I fear it may happen, Scoopers.
At the end of the day, daytime dramas are a business for the networks. It's all about money and numbers. The shows don't hold the same sentimental ties for network executives and decision makers, who have to worry about profit, that they do for life-long viewers. Many of us can't imagine a day without checking in with the Newmans, the Snyders, the Martins, and the Quartermaines. I cannot imagine a day when our only choice for daytime television is a curmudgeonly judge doling out sentences to criminals or a loud know-it-all doctor dispensing common sense advice to people so dysfunctional that airing their dirty laundry on television seems like a good choice. Call me crazy, but I'll take a fictitious story in a fictitious town any day to escape the realities of the world, that frankly I get enough of on the evening news. But apparently, the rest of the world doesn't agree. They like reality shows and are choosing them over serialized dramas. How can we bring them around? I'm glad you asked.
I long for the days past of good soapy drama, stories that made me want to skip school or work. You know what I'm talking about. The days that Luke Spencer was saving the world, Victor Newman was trying to take down Jack Abbott, Bo Brady was saving "Fancy Face," and Tom and Margo were on a whirlwind adventure fighting for their lives. I couldn't wait to see if Brenda Barrett would marry Jasper Jax, if Leo and Greenlee would live happily ever after, or if Katie finally would get Simon to fall in love with her. Those were the days.
I have to believe that daytime can reinvent itself, if it would just fix the obvious problems, starting with giving people what they want: good stories and their favorite actors.
If you need some examples to get you started, how about this. Bring back the Quartermaines and Robert Scorpio to General Hospital and stop the 24-7 mob violence. How great would it be to see the good guys finally win in Port Charles and Jason return to his Quartermaine roots? Get the show back to business, literally, except Luke Spencer of course who is always the bad apple in town. Use the veterans on As the World Turns. Guess what show honchos? We don't get squeamish when people over 50 have good drama to play. Just check out the amazing front burner storyline with Katherine Chancellor on Y&R for an example of how to do it right. That lovely senior citizen even has a hot love interest. Also, stop flip-flopping characters to fit a plot. Aiden Devane on All My Children has changed love interests so much in the past few years, I think he may need to join Annie in the psych ward.
Giving people what they want can go a long way. I can't tell you the hundreds of e-mails from the past five years I've received clamoring for Henry to have a decent storyline that gives him more to play than an occasional comedy scene or for Paul to stop acting so wishy-washy. If I'm getting the mail, I know CBS is, so why haven't we seen a change? We all miss the adventure days of Tom and Margo, the innocent love story of Holden and Lily, and the schemer with a heart of gold in Katie when she first hit Oakdale. I believe we can have good stories like that again, if the daytime executives will make a few simple changes.
Here is my advice on how to save As the World Turns and the possibly soon-to-be extinct daytime drama:
--Write character drama rather than plot-driven drama. Would Barbara Ryan suddenly start streetwalking? Never. But characters on this show sometimes act so out of character that I question if they've become pod people. Here is a perfect example. Lily and Lucinda both turned homicidal in recent years and tried to off their "enemies." Sorry, but murder is so far out of character for both of those ladies it's ludicrous.
--Give us payoff. Tell a compelling story SLOWLY, create build up, and give us a reward for watching it through to the end. A perfect example is usually a love story that ends with a big, splashy wedding. Payoff doesn't count if the story has only been going on for three weeks.
--Use your best assets. As the World Turns has a sea of talent, yet we rarely see some of its best: Henry, Margo, Lucinda and Barbara. No, a 20-second scene at the police station or the Lakeview doesn't count.
--Let characters develop. Having some characters never evolve makes me crazy. Watching Paul Ryan is like watching Groundhog Day. No matter what scheme he concocts or illegal activity he embraces, he always ends up in the same place. (It usually involves him defying death and crazily obsessing over a woman.) Paul never grows emotionally or mentally. (Unless you count his psychic visions.) Sure, it's nice when some characters never change, such as Carly. Yes, I like the fact that I know Carly always makes bad decisions. We all know people in our lives like that and it keeps her character interesting. But other characters need to change and grow, especially when they frustrate viewers.
--Write more scenes with families and friends. Here's a crazy thought: When half the town is related to one another, it's a good idea to let them have some scenes together. Craig has barely spoken to Katie and Margo, since he hit Oakdale. Lucy still hasn't seen her grandmother. The Snyder clan rarely gets together, despite having a farmhouse large enough to accommodate an entire football team. And when is the last time we saw friends getting together for a fun night out? Little moments make daytime special. Embrace them.
--Pay attention to character history. It's fun for viewers and at the writers' fingertips. It can enrich a current plot and character by paying homage to the past. Why can't they explore why Henry is so suddenly anti-kid? When he was married to Katie, he had a trunk full of books and toys he was ready to pass on to his offspring. I say let's dig into it and let Henry have something to do other than play dress up in a sexual fantasy.
--Bring back the entertainment. Soaps in the '80s and the '90s were fun. Robert Scorpio and Luke Spencer bantered like pros, from the Nurses Ball to the bachelor auctions, big parties and balls showcased the hidden talent of the actors, and who could forget Simon and Katie's Snickers-filled island adventure? We get plenty of angst in our everyday lives these days. Our soaps are a form of escapism. Give us something to smile about again. With so many people unemployed, who knows, they may just tune in again to put a smile back on their faces.
--Give us a multi-generational show. I don't care if it's summer and time for the tweens to be trotted out. I don't embrace new characters very well even when they're likeable, mostly because they steal screen time from my already underused favorites. Contrary to what you think, we don't want to see a screen full of beautiful teenagers we don't know or care about. We want to see grandma, mom and even great grandma in the midst of good stories.
Thanks for listening.
--Parker Snyder is bordering on obsessive. I guess we can't blame him for trying to be so controlling of his new wife, though. He's lost pretty much everything in his life he's cared about at one time or another, including Jack, his mom and his dad. It's no wonder he's holding on with a strangling grip to Liberty. She's the one good thing he's managed to keep for longer than a year.
--Is Craig purposely getting Carly drunk all the time to keep her in his bed, or is he oblivious to the fact that she's constantly carrying around a glass of wine, when he's not plying her with vodka and beer? I'm with Jack. It's time for an intervention.
--I cannot tolerate one more scene with Zac and Zoe. Please, please, please, get these two annoying characters off my screen. They make my teeth hurt.
--In my last column, I floated the idea that Lucinda may be the one working with Lucy to bring down Craig. My apologies to Two Scoops reader Kathie for not mentioning that it was she who had e-mailed me first with the Lucinda theory. I know a few others of you have mentioned it too, and in my last column I was simply saying that I think Lucinda makes the most sense to me, from all the theories I've received. So, my apologies to Kathie for not giving her credit with the original idea. I'm not a plagiarizer. Really!
--Why doesn't Meg track down the babysitter and set things straight with child services? As a mother, there is one thing I know. You don't mess with us. Why she's rolling over for Paul makes no sense to me. I think her mental history matched against his would make it a slam-dunk in court for her to gain custody. Paul is a lunatic.
--So what do you think Lucy's "medicine" really is? I'm guessing it's drugs or something seedier that she's smuggling to set up Craig. Then again, it could be just medical supplies I suppose.
--I'm hoping that Damian isn't the one causing problems for Luke's foundation. I don't want him to be back in town just to be the bad guy again. Give us some character development here.
--Speaking of Damian, I don't know why he's so mad about that pinup. The body they attached to his head was smoking hot.
--Please, please, please get Casey away from Alison. She's lost her edge and those two together make me want to reach for the fast forward button, which hurts me, because I used to like both of them.
--Did Katie suddenly develop super powers that include heat resistance? She picked up piping hot cinnamon rolls off the baking sheet right out of the oven and didn't even wince.
--I never thought Vienna would be a cruel person, but it seems I'm wrong. Passing off Henry's baby as Brad and Katie's is cold, considering how much poor Katie has longed for years for a child of her own.
--I received a few e-mails this week about Baby Eliza and the scene where her arm was bent back and she was crying. I watched the scene and it did appear she was in pain. If that was the case, please ATWT, be more careful with the baby!
Best Lines of the Week:
(Craig meets Sage at the front door on her way out and she jokingly tells him she has a date.)
Craig: "You Snyder kids grow up fast."
That's all for now Scoopers! See ya next time.