I think FMB, like so many others who came and went from various soaps in that period, had experience that could have benefited these shows, but wasn't empowered to effect lasting change. She had her strengths and weaknesses, like anyone else, but I'd have rather seen her (and her initial writing team's - Stephen Demorest and Addie Walsh were no slouches) actual vision for ATWT have played out for a reasonably measurable period of time than what followed.
Full disclosure: This was actually around the time when I first watched ATWT on a daily basis (for about a month)…if only out of boredom with the shows that I had been watching. I read the hype in the early online forums about the changes underfoot at ATWT, after hearing how shockingly bad the show - which I had previously thought was an unsinkable institution, based on its longevity and what I saw while flipping channels and in awards show clips - had gotten in the year or so before, and I tuned in.
I remember that year on the Soap Opera Digest Awards - which back then still aired in primetime and were a big to-do - ATWT opted to forego the usual montage of the "highlights" from the prior year that each show typically put together, set to some Celine Dion or boy band hit of the day that completely drowned out any dialogue. Instead, they aired a couple of recent scenes (which had aired since I had started watching) and then cut to a taped speech from Behr herself, addressed to lapsed viewers, basically saying "this show hasn't been itself lately, but, see? We're fixing it." I was impressed by that.
But, yeah, even I only saw Rice-Taylor once or twice and then, when Batten came on, it was a true WTF moment. To be fair, soaps - especially in the past two decades or so - don't really offer the time or direction for even promising actors to play characters with completely different accents, etc. Batten did have her fans on OLTL, which I had not watched when she was on so I can't speak to. I was surprised, though, to read earlier in the thread that this was Behr's doing, personally. Were she and Batten really personal friends? To my knowledge, they'd never worked together previously, so I always assumed MADD made that happen.
Even so, though, soaps with strong long-range stories have withstood ill-advised recasts. I still feel like this misstep was only emblematic of ATWT's larger problems.
In hindsight, 1996 is often talked about as a markedly bad year for daytime, but it wasn't until 1997 when it (should have) become apparent that the solutions that had worked in the past were failing across the board to improve soaps that were struggling creatively. I remember at the time Logan and the handful of other serious soap commentators would run these messiah-narrative pieces about newly hired figureheads periodically, and then within weeks or months they would be harshly critiquing those same folks' work (often fairly). This MADD interview is actually not too far off from the (also very fascinating) interview that Logan ran with Jill Farren Phelps just a few years back, when she took over Y&R.
But, to my knowledge, nobody ever analyzed collectively/longitudinally how it could be that hiring new writers and/or producers failed repeatedly to fix the fundamental problems plaguing most/all of these shows over the long haul. In retrospect, the problems had to be higher up, and I don't know if the soap press had gotten to the bottom of it and called it out, some of these shows might have at least gone out with some dignity, instead of a race to the bottom.
I'm not totally sure where to post this, but those early 1997 episodes on YouTube and the subsequent discussion about Felicia Minei Behr in this thread were what got me thinking about it. At the time, I was so intrigued by the new golden era that not only ATWT - but the P&G lineup as a whole - was supposedly ushering in that I saved this transcript of an interview that Michael Logan conducted with newly hired executive in charge of production, Mary Alice Dwyer-Dobbin, for TV Guide. (I think this was when the traditional media was even more baffled about how to deal with the internet than they are today, and a lot of the soap press was actually publishing longer, unedited transcripts of interviews online - for free - than would fit in the print publications that you actually had to buy.)
Of course, MADD's (and Behr's) fall from grace in the eyes of those of us who knew any of these people's names was already in process by the time this interview went live. The momentum of the stories hyped in this interview quickly petered out, the aforementioned Connor recast was in the works and, of course, within a few months GL's Michael Zaslow was fired and MADD used the phrase "wizened old man" in a quote in the press release. Despite the many mistakes she made - and as furious as that statement still makes me, even more so having lost a family member to ALS since then - as a soap fan, I can't help but wonder what might have been if MADD had been able to deliver one tenth of the things that this interview foretold for these shows. This was only just past the point in time when a new head writer and/or executive producer with a strong vision could turn a soap around. Those of us who were following these behind-the-scenes developments on the early internet hadn't yet been disappointed enough times to realize that had necessarily changed, and MADD had assembled a very interesting team...
Claire Labine's ATWT at the time that she was being recruited by P&G (late 1996-early 1997) probably would have been much the same as her OLTL ended up being, as the backstage environments at both the P&G and ABC soaps seemed to be much the same by then. (Namely, writers were seemingly no longer empowered to tell long-term stories that were planned in advance and depended on characters acting consistently throughout.) I'm sure she would have successfully lobbied for quite a few beloved vets to be featured prominently, some of whom would have probably had some of their best scenes in years — much like I would argue she did at OLTL — but I suspect under the circumstances the sum would not have been no more than the sum of the parts. (Not that any other daytime writer did objectively better for any length of time at any time since then, I would argue.) And, with soap budgets already beginning to tighten, she likely would not have been allowed to showcase the entire cast as they should have been, which would have fostered resentment (rightfully so) among fans of the neglected popular characters, who would have been especially critical of the flaws in the show that would have almost certainly been there.
As far as Labine's time at GL, I can only imagine that must have been like Whoopi Goldberg's head writer character's experience in Soapdish, right down to half of the soap opera's stories being inexplicably uprooted to a fictitious Caribbean island. I don't see how any writer could have integrated the tropical royalty and the cartoonish mob family and what had been the core of GL into a coherent, entertaining show, but Rauch — like the Robert Downey, Jr. producer character — was reportedly unwilling to give up the ghost at that point. I have no doubt the Labines would have written a far more watchable ATWT, especially five years or so earlier.
A more interesting what-if for me than either of those scenarios, though, would have been the Labines going to ATWT a few years earlier — right after Doug Marland passed away, instead of taking the job at GH. I loved what they did at GH so much, but knowing what I know about the behind-the-scenes stuff now, it was one of the least likely shows for her to have gone to; in hindsight, ATWT was more up Labine's alley, and I could see many of the types of stories that she told at GH playing out in the ATWT universe. I believe at the time there was still enough creative license at P&G for an experienced head writer to execute a long-range vision and, whereas the decline of ABC soaps can be traced back to Disney buying the network, I feel like P&G writers lost power more gradually, and not necessarily due to any one unavoidable, external factor. A strong, veteran head writer with a proven track record advocating for creative autonomy, much like I imagine Marland did while he was still alive, might have stemmed the tide at least for a little bit longer.
Interesting... I had heard that BM (and I believe CD as well) were approached about returning for the finale, but I didn't know that even a short-term return before the show was actually canceled was ever under consideration. It definitely would have been a better story than what ended up playing out with Jordan Stark, et al. I still am curious, though, as to whether an appearance by McKinsey immediately after Duncan departed might have been in the cards at some point — and whether that explains why so many loose ends were left hanging when Iris left Bay City that seemingly could not have been resolved in a logical or dramatically satisfying way without her returning.
In both cases, I'm still trying to imagine what kind of attention, if any, a BM/Iris return would have garnered at the time, and whether it would have been in time to stop (let alone reverse) the ratings decline...
As far as ratings, I actually think the fact that RH was one of the only soap to debut after 1973 to achieve even modestly successful ratings, relative to other soaps (for a few years there, at least) is a testament to its strengths. By the time RH premiered, women coming of age were not necessarily planning to be at home during the day, meaning the typical audience for a soap opera was already disappearing. From that point forward, most soaps were losing viewers, gradually but consistently. The only major variance in that trend, of course, was when a few shows in the early '80s attracted teen viewers for a relatively short time (and probably just as many other shows hastened their demise by trying unsuccessfully to copy that formula, RH arguably among them).
By and large, the soaps that survived the last quarter of the twentieth century (and into the current one) were the ones that already had a strong base of viewers before that shift began. RH was trying to build an audience when more women than ever before in American history were entering the (paid) workforce, and I don't know that anything could have made finding an audience when viewers increasingly were not home any less of an uphill battle. The only daytime soap that premiered after women started entering the workforce en masse to ever attain what might be considered commercial success long-term was B&B. And, from what I understand, it only first really achieved what one might call blockbuster ratings during a crossover storyline with its "sister show," Y&R, involving some of that show's most popular characters. I think it's fair to say that, if AMC's Jenny and Greg had ended up at Ryan's Bar when they ran away to New York City in the early '80s, RH's history might be very different — although I don't know that it would have been better in the long run.
RH's initial vision remained mostly intact, and the desperation that set in throughout the field when viewers really started dropping off in recent decades makes the various attempts that the network made to "fix" RH in its day pale by comparison. RH also went off at a time when the return of a soap's creators could fully restore the show to its former glory, at least in terms of quality, and I certainly cherish the episodes I've seen of YouTube from the last (two) returns of Labine and/or Mayer. Not to mention, the industry was still strong enough immediately after RH went off the air to provide work for more of its cast and crew than likely any soap that was canceled later on.
I personally found Ryan's Hope to be that much richer because nearly all of the characters were flawed and had significant blindspots where the characters they didn't get along with were concerned. It was so very human. I think most everyone can be off-putting to some people who come in contact with them. I watched the entire run on SoapNet essentially rooting for Delia, and thinking the Ryans could be extremely hypocritical. I also firmly believed that their rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine caused more of their problems than Delia and Rae combined, for that matter. Whether or not anyone behind the scenes shared those beliefs, just about everything that happened in those first few years made complete sense to me from that perspective.
Mary could indeed be insufferable toward Delia, and generally thought she knew everything about everything. She drove me crazy, but I have to say that each time I re-watched some of that material, always a few years older, I increasingly realized that I could be just as obliviously self-righteous at her age. And damn, if I couldn't relate to the issues that she and Jack dealt with so much more than the outlandish stories that keep most soap couples apart. I for one couldn't help but being emotionally invested, and the fact that I simultaneously took Delia's side when she and Mary faced off only made it more interesting.
As far as plotting, the stories did go off-the-rails by the end of the '70s, but I would argue that roughly the show's second and third year — once they righted the ship after deciding to keep Frank alive, and subsequently junked most of the initial story bible — was some of if not the best writing in soap history. Yes, as mentioned above, many individual scenes really raised the bar as far as what you could expect in a daytime soap script. But the long-term story itself was also tight, and just about everything that happened to a given character was integral to nearly every other main character. And the show consistently maintained a pace that I found consistently compelling without missing any beats. Whether Labine and Mayer burnt out after a while, or the multiple recasts muddied the inherent differences between the characters that were supposed to be fueling the conflicts between them, or network interference sank the show — and I think it's been fairly well established that it was some combination of all of those factors, with an emphasis on the latter — doesn't negate that, in my book.
PS: Speaking of Maeve and Mary's respective flaws, I can't help but think when I watch Orange is the New Black that Kate Mulgrew is essentially playing an only-slightly-more-twisted version of Maeve Ryan, and it makes me smile.
I've been watching those 1994 clips, belatedly, mainly for Carmen Duncan's last hurrah as Iris. As I've often bemoaned on this board, I never understood what TPTB were thinking, shipping a veteran character off to prison never to be heard from again. After seeing a good deal of the storyline again now, I have a new theory: Could AW have been in negotiations with Beverlee McKinsey to make a cameo appearance as Iris to wrap up the story sometime after Duncan left?
I think the timing works…BM came out of retirement to appear in a couple of episodes of GH just a few months after CD left AW, and McKinsey was quoted as saying that she only did that because she needed a TV credit to maintain her union's health insurance. She was living in LA at that time, but she could have flown to NY for a month or two to usher Iris off the show permanently, in a manner more becoming the character. Maybe the show was even toying with killing Iris off, i.e., taking a bullet after teaming up with Carl and Rachel to bring Evan down or whatever.
Whether Duncan left of her own volition or the show wanted to write the character out to save money, I'm still inclined to believe that this was not meant to be the end for Iris's character. Even though she was partially responsible for Carl's shooting and arguably deserved to go to jail, a 15-year sentence (handed down right after the jury read the verdict!) was so over-the-top — especially when Carl had fully recovered — and Evan was still being positioned as the villain at this point. Iris going on the lam or something would have actually been a more expedient exit, and less messy if Evan's "redemption" was already planned. The only dramatic reason I can think of for rushing Iris off to prison like they did was to up the stakes when she returned, presumably for Evan's downfall.
What I could never figure out, though, was how another Iris recast would have fit into the canvas. It doesn't see like AW was all that invested in the character at that point. Whereas a short-term McKinsey return might have generated some buzz, which AW could have used at the time, and by all accounts she wouldn't have wanted to stay long. Obviously no deal was finalized by the time CD left, and the GH role came along for BM — at which point she would have had no reason to come back to NY, likely for a longer commitment than GH wanted. Meanwhile, I believe CD left the country. All of which would have left the character of Iris in limbo.
Can anyone recall speculation along these lines back in 1994, or anytime in the 20-plus years since? What, if any, impact do folks think such a stunt would have had for AW at that point?
Yeah, I really enjoyed this as well...what a find. I too wish there had been credits for this episode. It also makes me wonder what might have been, had someone with a compelling vision for this show succeeded Labine and Mayer at this time. I mean, I'd rather they had stayed and had the freedom to write what they wanted to write, but that wasn't going to happen and plenty of other shows — on ABC, no less — were able to bring in new blood and focus successfully (by most accounts) on new faces and more action-oriented stories around this time. Pat Falken-Smith would have seemed like one of the better choices to do that here, based on her resume, and there were glimpses in this episode of how RH could have been embarking on an interesting, more glitzy, but still-somewhat-connected-to-what-came-before era. I feel like Bess pretending to be the Coleridges' new housekeeper and making Maggie squirm while she tried to move up in society could have gone on for years, especially with the murder(?) trial and all, instead of giving way to Roger attempting(?) to rape Maggie and other seemingly out-of-character nonsense in a matter of months.
Thanks for the kind words, Safe and DrW. For anyone who is interested, the Ryan's Bar Online site is now back up — http://ryansbaronline.tripod.com — hopefully for good? The content is still unchanged, and the aesthetics even more antiquated, but I'll leave it up for as long as Tripod/Lycos does the same.
When your posts alerted me to the fact that the site was gone, I figured it was worth a shot at least submitting a ticket to tech support. I got a response earlier today saying that their "systems" had "detected" the "site as a violation," and they were "working to correct the issue." I still have no idea what that means — and I wrote back to ask, but I don't know that I will hear from them again — and by the time I read the e-mail, the site was back online.
I started the "Ryan's Bar Online" website many moons ago (with the help of a lot of other people, of course, who created/contributed the vast majority of the content).
I was as surprised as anyone else to learn, from these posts, that the site is no more. At first, I figured the (free, turn-of-the-century, DIY) web hosting platform that I used to "build" the site itself must have folded. I discovered that the company still exists, though, and some of those other freebie sites from close to two decades ago are still there. When I attempted to log in to my old account, after I had to reset the password, I received a notification that it had been deleted for "suspicious activity." I have absolutely no idea what that means - it kind of freaked me out to read it, as you can imagine - and I received no notification when the site was taken down.
As anyone who has visited the site in a decade or more no doubt noticed, I have not updated it in a long time (if memory serves, I ran out of free storage space and couldn't even save updated versions of existing pages, let alone upload new content). Over the years, I had actually toyed with the idea of salvaging some content that was still useful/technologically relevant and moving the site to some sort of new platform. With each passing year, though, the site "design" (such as it was) and the types of materials I had posted grew more and more obsolete. I have no current web development experience or knowledge, and never got around to buying software that would have allowed me to put something up that was no longer embarrassingly anachronistic without any of that technical know-how. I also haven't really have the time or energy for an undertaking like that.
However, I had every intention of leaving the site intact for anyone who still found enjoyment in it. For what it's worth, I'm sorry that it disappeared so abruptly, for anyone who is disappointed. I had a lot of fun discovering Ryan's Hope when SoapNet came to be and getting to know some great people through this classic show. If anyone is ever looking for specific information about the show, I check in on this site and a few others every now and then and I'm always happy to chat/answer questions, but I'm afraid that's the extent of it for the immediate future.
Labine preferred the half hour format, yes. But I think she did great work at GH for a couple of years or more, and especially after a year off to rest up, she could have had an equally good run at OLTL.
She also told just about every type of story successfully at one point. But the climax of any of her best stories almost always had more to do with the characters and relationships than it did with the trappings of the plot. When she started at a show, she could be adept at utilizing existing history to create that kind of drama, but one way or the other, the characters had to hold their own for it to work.
That's why I think she was especially vulnerable to the kind of micromanaging that Disney ushered in at ABC. I have no doubt that just about everything they thought was boring or expendable and forced her to cut or change was building to something or explained something else. Labine never really adapted to writing a show that just treaded water in between gimmicky events that may or may not have had anything to do with each other.
I for one would take the kind of storytelling she was capable of when she was empowered to do her own thing in a heartbeat, though.
Yes, Pat was Delia's first love, to the extent that she was capable of love, especially at that point. He was her *first* at any rate, but he broke up with her when he started college or med school because he didn't want to be trapped in a relationship, and she set her sights on Frank. Pat always took Delia's side when she had problems with Frank, and it was implied that on some level he married her against all reason because he wanted to succeed where his brother had failed.
I don't know what that was, but how disappointing...
It was nice to see Ilene again, and her scenes would have been touching and meaty had she been playing just about any other character. Contrary to anyone who dismisses her performance these past few days as Roxy with a different name, to me she was actually playing a completely different character than the time(s) she was given virtually the same script on OLTL. But while I actually think Ilene did everything in her power to make this character seem like Delia, it was really hard to believe when she was being written as the antithesis of Delia: unable to manipulate anyone successfully, selfless maternal instinct...who was this woman? I'm not sure that Delia could have fit into any soap that wasn't RH, but she certainly could not be shoehorned into any soap today. The real Delia would be at least five times savvier than any current soap character, and RH made it very clear that being a mother did not magically cure the type of personality disorder that Delia was consistently portrayed as having, like most soap "vixens" are redeemed by having children - it just made her more dangerous, because she had a helpless child to neglect.
And now that I've seen all of this, I'll go out on a limb and say that this doesn't fit the RH timeline, at all. I tried to make up potential explanations in my mind for why Delia would hook up with this man: She was on the rebound from Pat, and maybe the timing didn't quite work to pass the kid off as his... But then I looked up the guy who had played Victor Jerome originally:
So, when Delia was barely out of that Catholic schoolgirl uniform she wore in all of those flashbacks they showed, she was having a clandestine affair with a 40+ year-old man (with mob ties)? Why would she pick him, and why on earth would she have been doing it under Maeve and Johnny's noses at Ryan's?
Also, no explanation for how/where Delia carried the pregnancy to term without anyone finding out. So much of who Delia was at that time was shaped by having never really seen the world beyond her neighborhood. Realistically, there was nobody in Delia's life at that point who had anything remotely resembling the resources to send her "away" except Maeve and Johnny. And while I could see them helping ship her off to Ireland to work in a Magdalene laundry or something - they could be extremely harsh when their fragile sense of morals were flouted - there's certainly no way they would have kept quiet about it while she trapped both of her sons into marriage.
But even beyond writing Delia out of character and doing damage to RH's carefully constructed history, the worst part for me may have been that it was really depressing to see what became of Ryan's Bar. They could have done a lot worse in coming up with miserable outcomes for Delia and others who were not seen. I can't help but remember, though, how the Ryans - while not perfect and arguably completely dysfunctional in their own right - were so welcoming and joyful and exuberant that they made customers want to come into that bar in order to feel like they were having the kind of fun they only wished they had with their own families None of that was on display in the set that was being called Ryan's Bar. The one "Ryan" (by marriage) who was working there greeted customers with her tales of woe, and it's been reduced to a sleazy bar where mobsters took their jailbait molls. In some ways, that's more disheartening to me than if we were told Ryan's went out of business and became a Starbuck's.