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Interview with Nancy Curlee

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Hey guys, I was very lucky today. I could ask a few questions to Nancy Curlee Demorest, whose involvement with GL in the 80s' and 90s' is well-known. Here for you, the transcript of the interview (CZ is me, Cedric Zayonnet / NCD: Nancy Curlee Demorest) :

CZ: Dear Mrs Curlee, you headwrote « Guiding Light » from 1990 to 1993, was it a good ride?

NCD: I joined the show in 1984 as a scriptwriter, and before becoming part of the headwriting team with Pam Long in 1989, wore many different hats: script editor, breakdown writer, associate headwriter. All of those positions were instructive and I think prepared me for the rigors of managing the show and executing my own stories. I knew the characters and actors so well, and chose to do idiosyncratic, character driven stories. Because of the wealth of talent on the show, it was enormously satisfying. We hired dramatists out of Yale Drama school, and a lot of actors who were experienced on the American stage. It was a joy to give them good material and to see them flourish.

CZ : What was your favorite storyline writing? Is there a specific scene that sticks out in your head that you loved?

NCD: I loved all of the Fifth Street stories, featuring Harley and Mallet and Buzz and Nadine Cooper. The Bauers, Ed and Maureen and their errant niece, Bridget. The Lewis Family, particularly Billy and Vanessa. The Spaulding/Roger Thorpe stories, which tracked the breakup of Roger and Alex's affair, Roger's affair with Mindy and the later Alex/Mindy Lewis struggle for Alex's son, Nick McHenry. Frank Cooper and Eleni, the triangle with Alan Michael Spaulding. Hamp's daughter Kat, and her relationship with David, Gilly's brother...

My favorite sequence of shows were perhaps the most controversial during my tenure: the death of Maureen Bauer shortly after discovering her husband's affair with their good family friend, Lillian Raines. Lillian had discovered she had breast cancer, but was reluctant to let people in town know, so she decided to pursue treatment in a nearby town. Her only confidant was Ed, who agreed to chauffeur her to radiation sessions at a hospital. While Ed wasn't attracted to Lillian in a sexual way, her vulnerability and damaged self esteem made her situation extremely poignant to him. Their one night stand, however, had far reaching, catastrophic consequences for Ed's marriage and for his family, and ultimately led his distraught wife's car accident. The aftermath of that story, Ed's guilt and the deep tear in the fabric of his family, including his adolescent daughter's depression, was beautifully written, beautifully acted, and resulted in some of the best work ever done on American television.

CZ: Who were some of your favourte characters?

NCD: Alexandra Spaulding, portrayed by Beverlee McKinsey, the iron fist in the velvet glove matriarch of the influential Spaulding family. Beverlee's nuanced performances were a joy.

Billy Lewis, the big talking, big dealing, charming but deeply flawed scion of the Lewis Oil family. Jordan Clarke, who played Billy, was vastly talented, and again, played all of the character's dimensions with great humor, sensitivity, and heartbreaking empathy.

Roger Thorpe, the duplicitous villain who so believed he was the hero of all of his own dramas. He was so self-sabotaging, never quite able to trust the benevolence of fate enough, so that he was constantly meddling with the truth in order to effect an outcome.

CZ: Most fans think your run was the last golden era for the show (the ratings went from 5.2 to 5.4 with even a peak at 5.6 and you won the Emmy Award for Best Writing in 1993). What do you think made the show special back then?

NCD: The ratings actually came up from a good deal lower from 5.2. I think we were at something like a 4.6 when the show began to gather momentum. Mainly due to a burgeoning sense that we all had, writers, actors, producers alike, that we had our hands on something rare. There was a palpable sense of enthusiasm in the studio...people started stopped in their tracks to watch fellow actors taping scenes that were funny and real and moving. The dialogue was crisp, and the scenes well constructed. And those veteran actors knew it. It was thrilling and we all felt a part of it.

CZ: Is there any writing decision you wish you didn’t take?

NCD: Although Maureen's death was a lynchpin in a carefully conceived and well-executed story, Ellen Parker was so fine, and so well loved, that her absence left a hole in the show that was later hard to fill.

CZ: Have you watched GL after your departure? Do you feel the show could have been fixed and rebounded?

NCD: Aside from checking in on the work of friends and actors who were still involved, it was difficult to watch for me -- rather like watching someone cook a meal in one's own kitchen. I was irritated that characters weren't behaving in a way that made sense, and that most of the subtleties of the stories and characters were gone. I really found it hard to watch, so I didn't.

What is prevalent in the entire industry, not just daytime, is this terrible reliance on marketing and focus groups. People can only tell us what they liked before, not what they wish they could see. That's the artist's job, to create stories and lead people to conclusions that they aren't equipped to anticipate until they see the scenes. It's like a mother taking dictation from a child about how he'd like to be reared... backwards. It has never worked, never will, yet it's the rare executive who understands this.

CZ: Do you see a future for American daytime dramas?

NCD: Our future, I think, is what you now see being played out in successful evening dramas, which I think borrowed much of their formatting and storytelling from the old soaps. The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights, etc. are much more recognizable to me than current daytime dramas. Although the time increments are different, and the production values far superior, and they have far more latitude in what they can show, they share the same values. Oddly enough, the television execs in daytime seemed to want to do seventies action adventure shows, even as the rest of the industry was evolving into what we used to do best -- stories that emanate from full throated, individual characters. The daytime execs were amazingly shortsighted, and ultimately killing for those daytime shows.

CZ: Would you like to return to daytime soap someday?

NCD: Friends who are still involved assure me that I would lose my mind in the current scene. I also think the quality of what we did was impossible to sustain, due to the unrelenting pace of the daytime shows. I think if I ever returned to television, which frankly is unlikely, it would be to do a weekly serial.

Am I not a lucky guy? Scott McKinsey, son of late beloved Beverlee McKinsey (ex-Alex) and director of General Hospital, will be the next to be interviewed. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask, please tell me. I hope you've enjoyed it.

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JFP wanted it, so Nancy had to deliver it, and Nancy delivered it DAMN WELL I must say. She didn't have to, but she wrote the HELL out of Maureen's death. I'm glad she stands by it, and she ADMITS that it caused some longterm damage, but she's not ashamed of the fact that show poured EVERYTHING into that initial storyline.

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I really hope she can come back to TV and do a "weekly serial," as much as she says its unlikely.

I am a soap fan because of this woman's writing, her GL is everything I wish I could write and create out of a soap.

Seriously FrenchFan, this interview made my day. Thank you very much. :)

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Killing off Maureen was such a mistake, but just like you said, it was what JFP wanted and Nancy wrote a phenomenal story. I completely agree with you, Nancy should be proud of that. As much as I hated the fact that they killed her off, I absolutely loved the manner in which it was executed. It was so real, so dramatic. It was incredible.

:lol: :lol: :lol: I know! Good for Nancy! I read Jill's comments about GL's cancelation and how it has a special place in her heart. That was a nice touch on her behalf and all I can say is I hope she feels some remorse, because JFP definitely deserves part of the blame for GL's decline, along with those who followed her.

Thanks for posting this FrenchFan!

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