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Generations Discussion Thread

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Generations was undoubtedly the last attempt to create a serious daytime drama, given that all of the soaps that debuted in the 90's were farces. This soap lasted only 22 months on NBC, beginning in March 1989 and ending in January 1991.

To start off this discussion thread, first watch this series of cool promos that aired before the pilot episode (please note that embedding was disabled):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MCeWEseXO8

Thankfully, somebody posted the entire first episode of Generations on YouTube for our viewing pleasure.

Part I:

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Part II:

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Part III:

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Part IV:

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Part V:

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While I may have more to say later, I have just two comments I want to make before I conclude this post: First, while it was creative to have Generations' first scenes be comprised of a "soap within a soap," I feel that this may have caused many to turn the channel (since the "fake" amnesia storyline seemed very uninteresting). (To be honest, I was not the first to point this out. Rather, a poster on YouTube made this observation.) And second, I am shocked that NBC gave Generations such little support, given the fact that the network owns the show. (In fact, I recall many stating that NBC's ownership of Passions was the reason the network treated it so well. However, in this case, NBC treated Generations even worse than it treated all its other soaps in recent decades.)

Edited by Max

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As a young boy, Generations was a show I loved. It was just so refreshing and unique at the time. Many stories and actors stand out: The race-related stories such as the racism the Marshalls experienced when moving to an upper class neighbourhood; Jessica's alcoholism; Crazy Aunt Mary; Sam and Kyle's story to name a few. Kelly Rutherford (Sam) and Kristoff St. John were great younger leads. Jonelle Allen and Joan Pringle in particular turned in incredible performances as Doreen Jackson and Ruth Marshall. Shame on NBC for not giving it time to catch on or a better time slot. I know in a few more years, a larger audience would have been built.

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It was just so refreshing and unique at the time...Shame on NBC for not giving it time to catch on or a better time slot. I know in a few more years, a larger audience would have been built.

I watched some clips of Generations on YouTube. The concept was a good 10 years ahead of it's time.

Too bad it aired opposite Y&R. Had NBC aired it in the late morning, The Price is Right would've been even tougher competition than Y&R.

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Generations had it tough.

By the end,the show had really come together(isn't that true of many cancelled shows?)The timeslot was one factor-up against 2 top shows.Also,I don't think it ever had the affiliate support as NBC was never a player at 12.30 and it never had strong network coverage.

I wonder,also,if there was a change of management at NBC,with the new regime not as enamored of this low rating soap(does anyone know for sure?)

The opening episode set up some back story,but I wonder whether having Pat Crowley front and center was a wise move.She is an attractive and talented actress,but it gave the impression it was an 'older folks' show-Rebecca,Vivian,Henry,Jessica,Hugh etc were all in their 40's and 50's.The only younger characters shown were Adam and Sam.Maybe the show needed to be a little more young feeling out the gate.

That opening soap sequence was a bit of a turn off-it went on too long and was so amateurish that a casual viewer might have lost interest.

The voiceovers explaining things- maybe slowed things down.Perhaps just dive into things and leave the explanations till later.

Debbi Morgan and James Reynolds joined later.I'm sure the show would have benefitted from having them as part of the original cast.

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I always thought that Generations had many similarities with Lovers and Friends, another short-lived NBC soap. Both shows were set in Chicago and started with a milldle-class family moving in a rich neighbourhood.

Pat Crowley was great as the matriarch, but the Whitmores were a mess as a soap family. Monique was very boring, there were no male members (expect recurring) and they were not strong enough to lead a show.

It was great to see Linda Gibboney again though :) Too bad she did't work on another soap after that. And in my opinion Pat Crowley would be the ideal Beth Logan on B&B.

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April 3, 1989

A New Ingredient, Race, Spices a Formula

By John J. O'Connor

Now in college, Stephanie, Monique and Adam are still as close to one another as they were as children when they were known as the three musketeers. Nothing very startling about that. But there is something new in this particular television mode: Stephanie and Monique are white; Adam is black. And they are part of a daytime soap opera, the television genre that has been noticeably, sometimes notoriously, reluctant to integrate its generally very white and very middle-class suburbs.

Now NBC is offering ''Generations'' - at 12:30 P.M. weekdays on Channel 4 - a soap that portrays blacks not as peripheral characters but as main participants, most of them members of the core families. The network, of course, has its practical reasons. Proportionally, blacks as a group watch soap operas far more than whites, the A. C. Nielsen Company has said. In fact, one Nielsen survey found that in 1988, black viewers for daytime dramas increased while viewers from other groups declined. That means the time has come for a very profitable segment of commercial television to go beyond tokenism.

The results? It can be argued, certainly, that blacks now have the right to appear as unbelievable and silly as whites in plots that are often shameless in their contrivances. But that is beside the point. Good or bad, soaps are a television institution, an indigenous television form. For a long time, blacks were simply invisible; then they got supporting roles. Now they are at stage center: indisputably visible. The social ramifications - not to mention the new job opportunities for an underused pool of talented actors - cannot be overestimated.

Created by Sally Sussman (''The Young and the Restless''), who is also the executive producer and head writer, ''Generations'' got off to a perky start last Monday. The opening sequence, drenched in soap-opera cliches, turned out to be scenes from a soap-within-the-soap, providing still another cliche of the post-modern wink.

Getting down to business in its Chicago suburb, ''Generations'' began shifting between the white Whitmore family and the black Marshall family. Vivian Potter (Lynn Hamilton), the mother of Ruth Marshall (Joan Pringle), was the housekeeper for the once wealthy Whitmores. Rebecca Whitmore (Pat Crowley), who is still fond of Vivian, her former nanny, cosigned a bank loan 20 years before so Ruth's husband, Henry Marshall (Taurean Blacque), could establish a successful ice-cream business.

Now the real complications. Rebecca's daughter Laura (Gail Ramsey) is a snob and a bigot. She is balanced by Ruth, who is still bitter about growing up in the Whitmore house and being the only black in an all-white school.

Stephanie (Kelly Rutherford), who is called Sam, is Rebecca's younger daughter. She is beautiful and dumb and has already seduced her biology teacher with an eye to passing the course. Monique (Nancy Sorel) is Laura's daughter, therefore Sam's niece. She is beautiful and smart and has already been mugged getting off a train. Adam (Kristoff St. John) Marshall careers about in a fancy sports car and sweet-talks every woman in his vicinity, when not being a protective friend to Monique and Sam. Adam's dad, Henry, is beginning to suspect that his son really isn't too keen about going on for an M.B.A.

Take away the racial divisions, and ''Generations'' is standard soap business as usual. There's the bare-chested fellow trying to wake up the young woman sharing his bed and murmuring proudly: ''I guess it was as good for you as it was for me.'' There are the passing dollops of philosophy: ''How quickly fortunes can dwindle,'' observes Rebecca. ''How much living we have to do now. Before it's too late!'' And there are the inevitable crises: again Rebecca, this time in a flashback - ''How do you tell a 9-year-old that the father she adored brought us to financial ruin.''

Pity the poor writers. They have to compete with the surrounding commercials. Consider the panting script for a new perfume: ''What the mind has never thought, and the senses have never touched, the heart remembers. Anything is possible if you dare.'' If she watches network daytime television, little wonder young Sam is already making such a mess of her life.

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TELEVISION; Black Family Shares Spotlight in a New Soap Opera

By MIMI TORCHIN; Mimi Torchin is a New York-based writer who frequently reports on soap operas.

Published: March 26, 1989

''Two families, three lifetimes. Daytime drama with a difference. Black and white - in color!'' The on-air promotional spots for NBC's forthcoming''Generations'' drive their message home with fast cuts and throbbing percussion. They suggest that the new soap opera, which will make its debut in the New York metropolitan area tomorrow afternoon from 12:30 to 1 on Channel 4, has something novel to offer fans of the genre: ''Generations'' will introduce daytime television's first black family as a central focus into what has up to now been a conspicuously white-dominated world.

There is more riding on ''Generations,'' however, than merely an attempt to broaden the ethnic demographics within the soap-opera milieu. The network is also hopeful of broadening its profit margin during the advertising-rich daytime hours when viewer loyalty has traditionally been strong.

Set in Chicago and its suburbs, ''Generations'' centers on three generations of two families, one black and one white. Many years ago, the matriarch of the black family was the housekeeper for the white family; today, grandchildren from both families attend college together. The cast, which features several established performers, is headed by Taurean Blacque, formerly Detective Neal Washington of ''Hill Street Blues,'' who plays a self-made businessman.

For more than two decades, blacks have played a visible, if somewhat peripheral role in daytime dramas. When ABC's ''One Life to Live'' had its premiere in 1968, a major story line centered around Carla Gray, a light-skinned black woman who led a double life: as a black woman and as a black ''passing'' for white. She carried on simultaneous romances with a white doctor and a black intern. Pretty daring stuff for 1968. But soaps have never been afraid to tackle controversial subject matter, racial or otherwise, even if often with sugar coating. Currently, more than half of the 11 soap operas on the networks feature story lines with prominent black characters.

But black characters in soap operas, numerous as they are, generally exist in a kind of vacuum. They arrive in town, have a brief moment in the sun (which in soap operas can mean several months) as part of a specific story line, then fade into the background or disappear as suddenly as they came.

Occasionally, the character becomes a participant in the soap opera's everyday life. Another black character may be introduced as a love interest, and once in a while a family member or two is also introduced. Blacks on soap operas tend to be police officers, doctors, entertainers, lawyers or, at the other end of the spectrum, trusted family retainers who are little more than stereotypes.

So, what will differentiate ''Generations'' from already established soaps that feature major black characters? And what will tempt viewers to watch ''Generations'' instead of the primary competition in its time slot, CBS's No. 1-rated ''Young and the Restless''?

Sally Sussman, the creator, head writer and executive producer of the new contender and a former writer for ''The Young and the Restless,'' explains: ''The difference is we're starting from scratch with a core family who happens to be black. That enables us to give them a credibility and importance, a history, that most blacks on daytime don't have.

''I wanted to show the problems and the conflicts of people who are a reflection of the times they were brought up in. The story simply evolved from my desire to portray life in the 90's in a big city. That means blacks and whites living together in a realistic way.''

In that respect, ''Generations'' will, indeed, be attempting something different. But not without hardheaded commercial considerations.

In 1988, according to an A. C. Nielsen report, ''Television Viewing Among Blacks,'' 12.7 percent of all black households with television sets watched soap operas, as opposed to 6.3 percent of ''all others.'' That means, proportionally, that more than twice as many black households are tuned in to the soap operas. Although only roughly 10 million of the 88.6 million TV households in America in 1988 were black, the numbers are still noteworthy. Furthermore, comparison with the figures for the 1985 survey (the first year it was compiled) reveals that while soap-opera viewership among ''all others'' decreased in 1988, it increased among black viewers.

But ''Generations'' is entering the once astoundingly profitable daytime arena in a less-than-favorable climate of declining audiences, steadily falling advertising revenues and rising production costs. Five years ago, the average half-hour episode of a soap opera cost between $200,000 and $250,000 to produce; today, that figure is close to $400,000. Additionally, although NBC is top dog during prime time, it is the third-rated network during the day (10 A.M. to 4 P.M., Monday through Friday). That means ''Generations'' won't benefit from the traditional pattern of soap-opera viewing, which is by network, rather than specific show.

To appreciate why NBC is willing to risk millions of dollars on a new daytime drama in the face of these odds, it is necessary to understand the special nature of soap operas and the circumstances behind the waning profits.

An ingenious symbiosis of intimate and frequently mundane details of daily life and plots laced with unbelievable flights of fancy and much dramatic license, the soap opera indulges the eavesdropper in most viewers. Five days a week, year in and year out, the viewer is the fly on the wall in these characters' lives. That is why a soap-opera fan is frequently loyal for life; thanks to the proliferation of the VCR, even aficionados with jobs outside the home can keep up with their ''stories,'' as they are known to the faithful.

As for daytime's loss of viewers, the biggest decline is between 10 A.M. and 12:30 P.M., a time period in which the networks offer primarily game shows and talk shows to their affiliate stations. On the other hand, from 12:30 to 4 P.M., the time when soap operas are shown, viewership continues, with a few exceptions, to be high. Indeed, soap operas remain the bulwark against a rising tide of financial difficulties on daytime.

''The soaps are still the networks' best defense against multiple competitors in daytime,'' says Brian Frons, NBC's vice president of daytime programming. ''Local stations around the country can buy other game shows and talk shows from syndication, but only network affiliates have soap operas - and that's the unique franchise we offer. They still hold their audience extremely well. There's a higher 'brand loyalty,' if you will, to soap operas than to probably any other form of television.''

Three major factors account for the networks' loss of profits in daytime. First, the game shows - once a font of profitability - have, as a group, lost some of their attraction to both viewers and advertisers and are no longer the moneymakers they once were.

Second, the advent of the 15-second commercial has been a heavy blow to the networks. ''Advertisers feel they can buy a 15-second commercial and it will have about 75 percent of the effectiveness of a 30-second spot,'' says Mr. Frons. ''They either don't reinvest the savings in daytime or don't spend them at all.''

The third factor is that many advertisers have bypassed network programming - except for daytime dramas - in favor of the syndicated market where they can buy more air time for their money. Mr. Frons says, ''The bulk of the money [ on daytime ] is really coming from the soaps. They deliver the 18-to-49-year-old women's group, which is the key target audience. Advertisers seem to view the soaps as a better environment for their spots.''

Thus, a new soap opera would seem the logical way to improve the financial side of NBC's daytime schedule. The network jettisons unprofitable game shows (''Sale of the Century'' and ''Super Password'') and launches a new soap opera, which, if it catches on, can generate a lot of money. The unknown in this equation is whether ''Generations'' is a show that viewers will embrace. NBC is gambling a great deal that it is.

In a new era of network cost-cutting and penny-pinching, NBC, now owned by General Electric, is spending a million dollars just to promote the launch of ''Generations.'' The network has also turned over to its affiliate stations the half-hour that begins at noon, a time slot in which stations frequently present inexpensively produced local newscasts. To further encourage affiliates to carry the new daytime drama, NBC is offering a ''double feed,'' which means that stations can show ''Generations'' either at 12 or 12:30, using the other half-hour any way they choose. In other words, NBC is doing everything it can to give this serial a chance to succeed.

Despite all the emphasis on a single racial group, NBC is confident it will not alienate a significant portion of those multitudinous ''all others'' out there in the daytime audience.

''I hope - I believe the country is beyond that,'' says Mr. Frons. ''The most popular family on television [ ''The Cosby Show'' ] is black. Look at the success of 'Roots' - and that was 12 years ago. I think 'Generations' will be successful if black audiences say, 'I relate to those people. They remind me of my family.' It will be successful if white audiences can relate to these characters simply as people with flaws and virtues. If viewers, regardless of color, don't like these characters, they won't watch them and the show will fail.''

Ms. Sussman is equally pragmatic: ''We're in the business of drama here, not social reformation. I'm not out to change the world. I want to entertain people and captivate them with our characters. What makes people tune in to a soap? Compelling characters, romance and good stories with strong emotional payoffs. Black or white, that's what the daytime audience wants to see - and that's what we're going to give them. In the end, it's all a crapshoot.''

Fans Mourn Loss of an Interracial Soap Opera

By C. GERALD FRASER

Published: March 5, 1991

Washed out by low ratings, television's first interracial soap opera devoted to the adventures and misadventures of black and white families, "Generations," has left behind a group of disappointed viewers, many of them black professionals, still yearning to tune in tomorrow.

After broadcasting 407 episodes, NBC took "Generations" off the air at the end of January. It had lasted for 13 months.

Describing the serial in 1989, as it was about to go on, the network said that it was "a contemporary daytime drama set in Chicago" and that it centered "on the relationships of two families -- one white, the Whitmores; one black, the Marshalls -- whose lives have been linked for generations."

Now it is gone for good. An NBC spokesman, Rob Maynor, said, "If it doesn't deliver, it doesn't stay on the air."

The cancellation annoyed a number of the show's regular viewers. One New Jersey working couple taped the 30-minute show daily for evening viewing. They were perturbed "on the day of the final segment to find out that most of it was superseded by a war bulletin, leaving a seemingly inexplicable ending and adding insult to injury." 'It Was Different'

The cancellation also upset Marsha Hunt, a Philadelphia novelist. "It was a very good show," she said in a telephone interview. "It was different. The story line was not who's sleeping with whom. It showed a real relationship between the two women."

Ms. Hunt did not rest on her disappointment. "I don't sit back," she said. "When people say blacks don't write in, I'm not one of them. When they say blacks don't call in, I'm not one of them." She wrote, she called and she organized "The Coalition to Save 'Generations.' "

She said she had 12 people in 12 states "running groups" that had sent "around a thousand" save-"Generations" letters to local stations, NBC, prospective syndicators and PBS, which they view as a potential broadcaster of the serial.

Ms. Hunt voiced several complaints, echoed in the letters. One was that the serial had been broadcast in poor time slots. In New York, it came on at 12:30 P.M., opposite the No. 1 soap, "The Young and the Restless." In some cities, Ms. Hunt said, "Generations" came on at 2:30 A.M. She also said that the soap had not been given enough time on the air to develop an audience. Were Ratings Accurate?

She questioned whether the show's low Nielsen ratings accurately reflected the number of viewers. "There are few Nielsen boxes in homes in minority communities," she said. A Nielsen Media Research vice president, Jack Loftus, said yesterday that 11 percent of households in the Nielsen population sample are black.

Mr. Maynor, the NBC spokesman, said the network had dropped "Generations" "because it didn't get the size of audience we wanted."

"We wanted more than we had," he continued. "It was the lowest-rated soap opera on the air. It had the smallest audience, it didn't deliver for advertisers and it wasn't attractive to affiliates."

Consequently, he said, the network does not intend to revive the show. Creator of the Show

Sally Sussman, a writer who had received two Emmy award nominations as a member of the writing staff of "The Young and the Restless," created "Generations," serving as both its executive producer and head writer.

In a telephone interview, she said, "I came up with the idea four years ago and sold it to NBC to create the first racially balanced show." She said it had been well received .

"Most shows are given more than two years to find an audience," she said. "The nature of the soap opera business is that it takes two years to find itself and find an audience. The current climate at NBC, in terms of economics, did not lend itself to continuing the show. It was expensive to produce and had a soft advertising market. And they decided to cancel. It was a valid reason from their perspective, but I think it was short-sighted."

In New York, the editor in chief of Soap Opera Weekly, Mimi Torchin, agreed. "It was intelligent and fast moving," she said. "A new show always gets off to a slow start. They're always terrible in the beginning. Until you are in these people's lives, know the background, it's hard to get involved, until you care about them."

The probationary period for most serials is, she agreed, usually two years. For example, she said, NBC dropped "Texas" only after 28 months. She also cited "Loving" and "Santa Barbara" as two long-running soaps that have never achieved high ratings.

Ms. Torchin, speaking of the "Generations" cancellation, said: "Blacks are only 11 percent of the total viewing audience, and there was not enough of a black audience to watch it." She added: "It was known as 'the black soap' in the heartland. There's still a lot of racism and whether it was racism per se, there was resistance."

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It took me a little while to get into Generations. But I felt like it was so good by the time it was cancelled!

I still have that catfight between Maya and Doreen on tape! LOL

And what was the name of that crazy aunt who was trying to kill someone? I liked her.

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I know it's not popular opinion, but I thought Generations was a god-awful show. Of course their attempt to have a core African American family was admirable, but I thought that the execution, from the writing, to the directing, to the acting, was terribly amateurish for most of its run. I will give the show credit in that the writing started to tighten up when Jorn Winther came aboard as EP, but it was never really very good. The best thing about the show was the theme song. I know the producers and some of the actors tried to blame the show's failure on viewers not being ready for a heavily integrated cast, but that was a cop out. I actually find it insulting that they expected AA viewers to watch simply because there was a large AA cast. Garbage is garbage. The truth is that it tanked partly because of its time slot and mostly because it was just terrible.

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Of course their attempt to have a core African American family was admirable, but I thought that the execution, from the writing, to the directing, to the acting, was terribly amateurish for most of its run.

Agree.

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I have the first week or two on DVD and I found it decent but very stereotypical in places. I don't mean the race-related stuff, but the storylines in general. The cheesy heroine getting mugged, then letting a stranger in her apartment the next day. That poorly executed soap-within-a-soap. Patricia Crowley (who sucked as a matriach) narrating the past in such a boring way. I try to force myself to like it but IDK. Since it's one of the few soaps available almost entirely I may attempt to collect it and see how it goes overtime. I still haven't met Doreen for example or seen the character Debbi Morgan eventually played.

I also tried to collect Port Charles but that show was so damned boring I had to give it up.

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So the promo was more interesting than the show? I had to laugh at Anthony Abbaddo kicking some guy, another woman seductively licking an ice cream cone, and the close-up on a tight tush in a red teddy. It reminded me of Robin Mattson around this time saying she was offended when the script called for a closeup of her butt in a teddy, along with some sort of joke or something she found distasteful. I wonder if someone at NBC Daytime had a fetish.

Edited by CarlD2

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The promos and ads in Jet all looked so much more cool and provocative than the show itself. I mean, starting with that Scott Joplin-esque theme for example, which is great but you'd have thought the theme was going to be something more like this:

<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/HSSdeE7Zvu0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

And ITA with Chris, Pat Crowley narrating the past in the first ep is boring as HELL. The soap-within-a-soap, pure cheese. There's quite a bit of Generations on YouTube. My great-grandmother, an old Eastern European immigrant lady, watched it every day but when I see those clips it has a filler soap feel to it. Kind of like what Loving was for my grandmother, background while she made lunch, All My Children our appointment for lunch. Oh, and I do remember primetime promos for Debbi Morgan when she joined the show as Chantal. She replaced Sharon Brown (not of the Dap Kings, but the singer/actress who is Johnny "Bookman" Brown's daughter).

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