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Search For Tomorrow Discussion Thread

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From the 1/77 Daytime TV Stars, issue #18. Dell Publishing Co, Inc If anyone has any comments on this, or on your thoughts of this era of the show, I'd love to hear them.

Serial Review

Search for Tomorrow - It Found Vitality, If Not Tomorrow

by Deborah Channel

A few years ago I took a close look at Search for Tomorrow and found it seriously deficient. The problem was, almost entirely, the writing of story and dialogue. Happily, wonderful things have happened on Search since I last reviewed it. If there are still some problems on the show, they are no where near as serious as they had been.

What had been wrong with the show is it had been trying to be contemporary in the wrong ways. In keeping with the all-pervasive trend toward topicality, Search for Tomorrow had been incorporating a perfectly awful set of stories about Women's Lib. Ann Williams' character, Eunice Martin, had been rebelling against her male-chauvinist-pig husband, Doug Martin (Ken Harvey), by working as a magazine writer against Doug's wishes. The story was heavy and distasteful, giving neither husband nor wife any real dimension, or at least, color. Another story had lawyers Kathy and Scott Phillips (Courtney Sherman and Peter Simon) at loggerheads over Scott's insistence that they adopt orphan Eric Leshinski (Chris Lowe) and also whether to have children of their own, because Kathy wanted a career, not motherhood. Presumably, Kathy was a villainess for not wanting children. Neither of these stories portrayed the characters as psychologically attractive. They also misread Women's Lib and were unfair to feminism. The show's other stories were only slightly less boring.

A change of writers created, literally, a whole new show. The basic tactic was to do what Love of Live did: turn at least a third of the characters into Very Young People searching for love, while retaining for the rest of the show a group of characters in their thirties and a group of characters in their forties. Youth and attractiveness replaced the dominant mode of topicality. I am most impressed by the story involving Steve Kaslo and Liza Walton. The actors, Michael Nouri and Meg Bennett, are totally alive and they written for with extraordinary vitality. Of course, their leukemia story was, in and of itself, maudlin; it pushed the actors to the very brink of pathos, scene after scene, and for many months. But the interweaving of that leukemia story with another plot involving Steve's sister, Amy Kaslo (Anne Wyndham) and Jo's ward, Bruce Carson (Joel Higgins), was so clever that it managed to sustain a good half of the show for many months. (Briefly, Steve had leukemia and only a bone marrow transplant from his sister could save him. But Amy was pregnant with Bruce's child and dared not agree to the transplant until after it was born.) All four young actors are immensely talented and the writers have used them to good advantage.

But Search for Tomorrow is not a demographically young show, like The Young & The Restless, and to totally transform Search into that kind of show would be blatantly unfair to the millions who have followed its progress since the early fifties. Search has always been about heroine Joanne (Mary Stuart) and her struggle for her own happiness and the happiness of her family and friends in Henderson. The writers could not abandon Joanne and her age group and continue, in good conscience, to call the show Search for Tomorrow. They, in fact, did not. Stu Bergman had a completely viable story with Ellie Harper; Larry Haines, who is incapable of playing a scene badly, and Billie Lou Watt, were as compelling, in their own ways, as were the new, young actors. In the thirties group, Peter Simon and Courtney Sherman have become far more interesting as Kathy and Scott, primarily because their dialogue has improved and Kathy is written now more as a female sleuth than a feminist villain. I still think the story involving them with Eric has dragged on much too long and is no more interesting now than it was when Scott and Kathy were fighting about whether to keep him.

Bridging tow age groups, the writers have put dynamic Val Dufour, as forty-ish lawyer John Wyatt, and Morgan Fairchild, as twenty-ish Jennifer Phillips, into a love triangle with John's wife, Eunice. Val and Morgan are sensational in their scenes. Morgan radiates incredible sexuality without even half-trying. Marie Cheatham, who plays Morgan's villainess co-hort, is devilishly colorful in her portrayal of Stephanie Collins. In fact, bad as Stephanie is supposed to be, Marie gives Stephenie so much spunky charm that I'm sure viewers are torn between hating her for her plotting nature and loving her for herself. Both Marie Cheatham and fine newcomer Lewis Arlt (as her lover David) deserve a lot of credit for pulling off the show's most spontaneous and intriguing love scenes.

Sadly, the handling of Joanne has not been as articulate and tasteful as that of the other characters in the story. Agreed, Jo's love story with Tony Vincent (Tony George) was just about burned out, and for that reason the writers were justified in killing him off. But, for pity's sake, Joanne is still one of daytime television's most sympathetic heroines. To have her skip a decent period of mourning for her Tony and jump headlong into a romance with Chris Delon (Paul Dumont) is an insult to viewers' intelligence. It is as much as saying that Joanne is a mindless love-object, destined always to be the widow falling instantly in love with the next living man who shows her some kindness. (Joanne has had so many dead husbands by now that one would think that, if she were indeed a real person, she would begin to feel herself a jinx for men!) The writers have fallen into a "Formula" trap with Joanne: she only has one course of action, and that one is to fall in love and wind up a widow. It would be far better, really, to give her a different role in life for a year or so, and then perhaps to give her another great love - once she, as a feeling person, has gotten over her last one.

I think the writers must have realized this when they recently wrote Paul Dumont out of the story, with a lame-brained plot involving his dying ex-wife. Or perhaps it was simply that Paul and Mary Stuart were simply not as good a romantic team as had been expected. Mary, after twenty-five years, has perfected her Joanne to the point where almost any life-involvement will work for the character. This time Jo should have something other than a new man in her life. One thing that would please me greatly, for instance, is the return of Patti and Jo's return to active motherhood.

But I think Search for Tomorrow has rebounded nicely from its previously losing position. The trick has been to introduce new elements of youth and attractiveness without destroying the meaning of the show for faithful viewers.

Editor's note: This is the fifteenth in a series of straight-from-the-shoulder reviews of the serials by Miss Channel. Her views are not necessarily those of the editors.

Edited by CarlD2

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Bridging tow age groups, the writers have put dynamic Val Dufour, as forty-ish lawyer John Wyatt, and Morgan Fairchild, as twenty-ish Jennifer Phillips, into a love triangle with John's wife, Eunice. Val and Morgan are sensational in their scenes. Morgan radiates incredible sexuality without even half-trying.

I wonder if Miss Channel would be as high on this triangle if she knew what was coming...

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Do you think it was a mistake to kill off Eunice?

If Eunice had died a less violent death - for instance, if she had contracted terminal cancer - viewers would've been upset at first. In time, though, they would've come around. I think what damaged the show in the long run was not that she'd died (although, getting rid of Jo's sister under any circumstances is something I would've thought twice about), but that she'd died under unforgivable circumstances. Although Jennifer ultimately paid for her crimes, she still got off easier than Eunice.

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I also read that Mary Ellis Bunim said Lemay was ineffective.

Anyone would be ineffective with Mary-Ellis Bunim as their producer. To me, it's a miracle ATWT told any good stories at all under her watch.

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That's true about whether it might have been a mistake to kill off Eunice that way.

What do you think made Bunim an ineffective producer? Did she do any other soaps between ATWT and her work for MTV?

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As far as I know, Bunim worked on only three soaps: SEARCH, ATWT and LOVING.

On the one hand, I cannot fault Bunim for wanting to modernize soaps in terms of pacing and production values. However, it seemed as if she believed youth and youth alone could carry them. Other producers - Jacqueline Babbin (AMC), Robert Calhoun (ATWT, GUIDING LIGHT), Erwin "Nick" Nicholson (EDGE OF NIGHT, SEARCH) - knew how to make soaps contemporary w/o alienating veteran actors or their fans. Aside from John Dixon, though, Bunim's ATWT belonged largely to younger and younger characters (and to Steve and Betsy, in particular).

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Yes... Santa Barbara and Loving.

How did Morgan Fairchild fair on SFT? I've only seen the one scene on youtube and it was chilling. Just was wondering how the audience viewed her back in the 1970's. Did her character ever interact with Jo?

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That's true about whether it might have been a mistake to kill off Eunice that way.

What do you think made Bunim an ineffective producer? Did she do any other soaps between ATWT and her work for MTV?

Bunim was producer during the period in which P&G desperately tried to contemporise their serials. SFT and GL were the targets in 1975-76. MEB felt that SFT revolved around Jo. Essentially, Search was the story of this fiftyish woman, and in order to make the show more about romance and young love, they had to get rid of Jo. If we have any UK residents here, the situation was similar to that of Noele Gordon on the British soap Crossroads. Bunim had Jo shot in the stomach in May 1976, with the character's fate hanging in the balance for weeks. Jo's death was not out of the question. I recall that GL killed off Leslie Bauer a few weeks later, and Victor Lord died the same week on One Life to Live. In this era, anything could happen, and remember, in 1976 characters who died remained dead. Bunim really wanted Mary Stuart off the program, but she did not have the clout to pull that one off. So, Bunim killed Jo's sister Eunice instead. From what I understand, poor Ann Williams begged the producers to let her character live. In the long run, I feel the series was damaged somewhat by the move, though I must admit that the story was riveting drama and did bring in good ratings. About this time, some states were reinstating the death penalty, and when John was implicated in Eunice's death by the deranged Jennifer, the D.A. of Henderson pushed for John's death if convicted. After all this wrapped up, 1977 was a colossal bore for SFT and remained so until the Corringtons took over, but that period of 1975-76 was sublime.

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That's a great comparison to Noelle Gordon, as I've often felt that she and Annie Sugden on Emmerdale were the only long-running types of matriarchs on UK soaps that were more common on American soaps.

It's a bit sad to know they were so close to killing Jo off. When Crossroads fired Noelle Gordon, there was a lot of speculation that the network was doing this to kill off Crossroads too, as the show had been seen as a laughingstock for years (personally what I've seen of the show isn't that bad at all). They did try to reinvent Crossroads but they generally kept firing more longtime actors, writing them out in crass ways (one 20 year leading vet was fired and then killed off from a tumor in a few episodes, as she'd asked for a salary equal to that of a recently hired actress -- the show then named a donkey after her character to "honor" her), and "modernizing" the show, only to see ratings sink. I guess like with CBS's attitude towards the show in finally canceling it, the ratings didn't matter as the show was seen as out of date and not relevant enough.

Mary Stuart was such a warm actress and she was so consistent, you never saw a bad performance from her. Even when she was dying, she gave her best. I don't understand why soaps didn't use her even more than she was used.

What did you think of the article? Do you agree with their views on the show's flaws and how it had improved? Do you think what they said about Jo's romance with that guy after Tony is true? I've never heard very much about that story.

Do you think they were mistaken to kill off Jo's son? I know that upset Mary Stuart quite a bit. I think she said that she deliberately played the pain of Jo's grief so heavily that viewers couldn't accept it and the show would not be able to use the story for any type of stunt or big moment.

Edited by CarlD2

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Yes... Santa Barbara and Loving.

How did Morgan Fairchild fair on SFT? I've only seen the one scene on youtube and it was chilling. Just was wondering how the audience viewed her back in the 1970's. Did her character ever interact with Jo?

Fairchild was delightful. She took over for another actress, and I don't even remember her name. Morgan was truly something special. Throughout my many years of watching soaps, I have always intuitively known when I was watching a special talent, and I had that feeling instantly about Miss Fairchild. I knew that her time in soaps would be shortlived, that she would move on to much bigger things, and she did. She took a somewhat cliched character and made her one of the most memorable in a soap which ran for 35 years -quite an accomplishment considering she was not even on for three full years. I feel that Morgan was well received by the audience. I felt pity for her even when she did terrible things. She was so beautiful yet insecure. She fell for Scott Phillips, an alcoholic who abused and neglected her (and Scott was more or less considered a nice character). He made her pregnant, married her, and still pined for the cold fish Kathy. Seriously, how anyone could ignore the beautiful Jennifer for bitchy Kathy beggars belief. Scott lied to Jennifer, and I will never the forget the day in July 1975 when a confrontation and violent argument between the two led to Jennifer falling in slow motion through their glass patio door. Jennifer was scarred horribly in the accident, miscarried her baby, and nearly died from a ruptured spleen. Scott went back to Kathy, and Jennifer thought no man would ever want her again because of the hideous scar running across her face. Once the scar was removed with surgery, Jennifer found herself falling for John Wyatt. Again, John was a typical man. He had problems with Eunice and turned to Jennifer, and when Eunice wanted him back, John dumped Jennifer. She was desperate to get him back. She and sidekick Stephanie (sort of a perverse Lucy and Ethel) cooked up a scheme to lure John back to Jennifer's apartment by claiming there was a mad rapist loose in the complex! When the plot failed, Jen took an overdose of sleeping pills. The pills caused brain damage which led to Jennifer's hallucinations and psychotic behavior later. It was really sad, and in the end, Jennifer ended up in a mental institution. I was disappointed to see Fairchild go, but she was so special -beautiful, sophisticated, talented, and charismatic- you just knew she was going places.

Edited by saynotoursoap

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I also meant to ask, what did you think of Jo's love interests, at least those you saw? It's interesting to me because I mostly remember Robert Mandan for his great work on Soap, Anthony George I remember from Dark Shadows but he never seemed that inspiring to me, and John Aniston I really enjoy on DAYS but I wonder how he was in his other soap roles.

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