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ALL: Old Doug Marland Interview in NY Times

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Not sure if this has been posted before...:)



Published: July 6, 1986

''It's hard to surprise a daytime audience today,'' says Douglas Marland, head writer of the CBS soap opera ''As the World Turns.'' ''They know all the formulas and are usually six feet ahead of you, but if the surprise is well thought out and justified, they love it.''

Since joining the 30-year-old series last September, Mr. Marland has created a ''boy-next-door-type'' psychotic murderer, turned a heroine into a villain and introduced a new family filled with good-looking teen-agers, one of whom is now flirting with a girl who may actually be his niece. ''You've got to be very devious to write a soap opera,'' Mr. Marland says, only half jokingly.

In addition to guile, head writers in daytime television must have enough imagination and enough discipline to fill five hours of programming every week, with no summertime reruns or hiatuses. They are a breed of writer who seem to thrive under pressure, keeping track of production requirements and supervising a staff of outline writers and dialogue writers even as they lay out plot lines six months in advance in book-length story projections. Some, like William Bell of ''The Young and the Restless'' and Wisner Washam of ''All My Children,'' stay with the same show for years; others, like Mr. Marland, who has worked on six daytime serials in 12 years, happily jump from show to show.

Recently, Mr. Marland allowed a visitor to sit in on a weekly meeting with ''As the World Turns'' executives in the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street, as well as a story conference with the show's two outline writers. Before scripts are written, the week's story outlines (called ''breakdowns'') are critiqued each Wednesday by executive producer Robert Calhoun, two production officials from the network and one from Procter & Gamble, which owns ''As the World Turns'' and three other soaps. Each day's outline runs 15 pages long and is detailed enough to list the time of day of every scene.

Discussing the episodes to be shown this week, the group praised Mr. Marland's handling of confrontations between two strong-willed women characters and his development of a romantic triangle. ''I like the way we spend a lot of time on a few stories,'' said Laurence Caso, CBS director of daytime programming.

Mr. Calhoun passed around photographs of a picturesque Connecticut pond selected for location shooting of various innocent and illicit romantic scenes, including an affair that will begin on tomorrow's episode. In typical soap-opera fashion, the lovers will be caught in the act by another character.

''We don't want him voyeuring,'' Mr. Marland said. ''He stumbles upon them, turns and goes.''

''Is there a story purpose to his seeing them?'' asked Mr. Caso.

''Oh, yes,'' Mr. Marland replied, without specifying what it might be.

Technical questions abounded: What breed would be best for an attack-dog sequence? Could a young actor whose character has run away to the rodeo be taught to use a lariat? Would there be enough room on a small porch set for four actors to play a scene?

The group reached a consensus quickly on casting a major new teen-age character named Emily Stewart, who, in tomorrow's episode, has already moved to town and begun flirting with one of the show's young heartthrobs. A 22-year-old actress from California, Colleen McDermott, was chosen from six screen-tested finalists. ''She's young and green, but she's going to grow into someone special,'' said Mr. Calhoun. ''I want to get her into acting school right away.''

Later, as he and Mr. Marland watched that day's installment of ''As the World Turns,'' Mr. Marland talked about the craft of plotting a soap. ''I try to gear younger stories for summer,'' he said, to attract the college-age viewers advertisers covet. ''But I don't think young stories work unless they're contrasted to the older generations.''

Interestingly, Mr. Marland, a courtly man of 51, has developed a reputation for writing believable stories about teen-agers and was hired to give ''As the World Turns'' a younger, more exciting image. He admits accepting advice from his 20-year-old niece, Tracy, whose fantasy of falling in love with an older man became a popular plot line during Mr. Marland's tenure as head writer on ''Guiding Light'' several years ago.

His ideas for ''As the World Turns'' are fleshed out with the help of breakdown writers Garin Wolf and Caroline Franz and a team of five dialogue writers, each of whom turns out one script a week. Mr. Marland himself writes two breakdowns a week and edits every script to ensure consistency in language and tone. (Many head writers delegate the latter chore to an editor.) ''It's like you're living in three time zones,'' he says of the writing process, ''because you're watching a show at 1:30 that you wrote the outline for eight weeks earlier and edited six weeks earlier.''

Every Tuesday, Mr. Wolf and Mrs. Franz discuss a week's worth of outlines with their boss, either in an all-day telephone conference or at Mr. Marland's Federal-style home in New Canaan, Conn. The house, built in 1801 and featured in the current issue of Antiques magazine, attests to the financial rewards of reaching the top in daytime television.

A recent session began with plans for handling the death at age 79 of actor Don MacLaughlin, who had portrayed the Hughes family patriarch since the first episode of ''As the World Turns'' on April 2, 1956. ''Although there will be a six-week delay [ in the audience's learning of the death ] , we felt we must play it out, not simply stick something into existing episodes,'' Mr. Marland said. The writers discussed how each character might react to the news that ''Chris Hughes'' had died in his sleep, and Mrs. Franz suggested weaving in flashbacks from earlier installments.

The three writers then moved on to a scene-by-scene summary of the first show of the week, with special emphasis on the three opening teasers designed to grab the viewers' attention. ''An audience responds to continuity and a clear sense of direction, and I just don't think you get that without one head writer,'' Mr. Marland had said earlier. ''To me, writing by committee is horrendous.''

Mr. Marland downplays the pressure of the job, even as he methodically chain-smokes his way through a pack of cigarettes. ''Doug is an amazingly creative and energetic writer,'' says Mrs. Franz, who spent six months as co-head writer of ''As the World Turns'' in 1983. She returned to dialogue and breakdown writing after developing stress-related digestive problems. ''You have to be a workaholic to survive in this business,'' she adds. ''With 258 hours a year to fill, you gobble up stories so fast, and then they're after you to produce more and more. For me, it was not worth the agony.''

''A lot of people think that any idiot can write this stuff, but I've seen wonderful playwrights who can't do it,'' says Kathy Talbert, the manager of writer development for Procter & Gamble productions. Miss Talbert receives submissions from a thousand would-be soap writers a year and conducts twice-a-year seminars for a handful of promising candidates on one of the genre's three ''branches'': scriptwriting, breakdown writing and head writing.

''Dialogue writers have to have a terrific ear,'' Miss Talbert says. ''They've got to absorb all the characters and be able to delineate those different voices. Breakdown writers must be good at dramatic structure and pay close attention to character motivation and conflict within each scene. Head writing is a different gift - someone who can spin a story that goes on and on for months. Sometimes we think of it as the novelist of the show.''

Mr. Marland learned the craft in P.& G.'s first scriptwriting seminar in 1974, after having spent the initial half of his career as an actor. Nowadays, he insists, ''you can make a soap as realistic as you want it to be. But when you pull things out of left field, it sours the audience.'' With some pride, Mr. Marland admits to having been fired from ''General Hospital,'' which went from 12th to first in the ratings during his tenure in 1979, because he refused to break up a popular couple two months after they'd been married.

''As the World Turns'' hasn't shown a similarly dramatic ratings rise (it's currently sixth among 13 shows), but wins its second half-hour and, according to Mr. Calhoun, has been steadily increasing its share of teen-age and college viewers this year.

The relative ease of writing for a once-a-week prime-time serial holds no allure for Mr. Marland. ''I love the freedom we get in daytime, based on the fact that we have to produce it so quickly. We don't have people breathing down our backs to rewrite or tearing our work apart - because there simply isn't time.''

Mr. Marland hopes to stay with ''As the World Turns'' for another year or two, then launch a new soap. ''If you really want to tell stories that lead you to other stories, this is the only place you can do that,'' he says. ''Daytime gives you that sweeping, never-ending canvas. The people who really love it stay with it.''

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That made me nostalgic. I loved Douglas Marland's writing. 1986 was the year I fell in love with Lily and Holden. As a new teenager myself they touched something in me. I always felt like Marland's writing showed he cared about all aspects of the show. Something sadly missing nowadays. Being a headwriter is tough but he was proof it can be done. His 'soap rules ' are so accurate and to the point I don't know how any headwriter reading and understanding them could go wrong. But apparently most of them are. I think the suits at the top are sadly to blame for alot of that. And right now they are reaping what they sowed. Poor ratings that show no signs of improving.

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Gloria Monty wanted to break up Laura and Scotty right away, while Doug Marland wanted to have a little happiness for the characters before inserting trouble in paradise. So I guess if Doug had his way, we might never have had Luke and Laura... but then again, we might have, just a little later.

Doug was and still is one of my favorite headwriters of all time. One can only wonder where daytime TV would be right now if he hadn't died.

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In a way it's kind of sad, realizing he didn't live another ten years after giving the interview. As a WT fan, wondering where we'd be today had he lived to steer the show with his brand of storytelling. I believe it was BB's devotion to Y&R that still keeps it on top of the ratings today. Would we be as lucky?

Then it gets prophetic, he insists, ''you can make a soap as realistic as you want it to be. But when you pull things out of left field, it sours the audience. Such a simple concept, that everyone seems to have forgotten.

Thanks for posting.

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The late Douglas Marland was a creative genius and if it wasn't for him, ATWT probably wouldn't have made it past the 1980s. 1985-1993 were the best years for that show and when he passed away so suddenly, it really was the end of an era. ATWT has never been the same since.

The first half-hour of ATWT was head-to-head with All My Children (at a time when ABC daytime was riding high thanks to General Hospital) and Days (at the height of the Bo/Hope, Steve/Kayla supercouple era) so maybe that explains the relatively low ratings in the beginning of Marland's run. It was smart of CBS to move ATWT head-to-head with One Life to Live and Another World, the weaker shows on ABC and NBC respectively; that probably increased the ratings for the remainder of Marland's run.

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ATWT tied for 4th in ratings season 1986/87 with Days and AMC. It was around this time that Capitol was replaced by B&B, which was sandwiched between Y&R and ATWT which in any case were CBS' two highest-rating soaps- and I maintain that this is one of the reasons B&B became a success.

The 1986-88 period, after SFT was cancelled, was also the one time NBC was getting things right with its 3-hour Days/AW/SB block- which also brought NBCD its highest overall ratings of the 1980s if I'm right.

OLTL may have been the "weaker" of the ABC shows but it was still a consistent top 5 through the whole of the 1980s- both ATWT and GL had slipped out of the top 5 during the decade, before Marland gradually brought ATWT back into it.

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