Jump to content

Article: WIll Soap Operas Find Happiness in Prime Time?


Recommended Posts

  • Members

This article is actually more about Marland and GL, than prime time soaps, so I'm posting it here. Because it's not available for free online, I typed out my copy, so all typos are my own (well except the bizarre way they spell Lemay's name, which I kept...) I also only added one comment of my own (in [ ] brackets), so the other minor errors in the article are all John O'Connor's fault. :) Hope others find this of interest--I'll slowly work on typing out some of the other 60s-early 80s soap articles I have. It's interesting he mentions Dallas and Knots as being soaps, but then says how most eps are self contained (which they were in their early seasons though David Jacobs has said that it's not true that they only deicded to make them full on serials after a few years--he claims they always planned on it, they just wanted to break the audience into the format slowly). Anyway...

TV VIEW Jan 20, 1980

John J. O’Connor

Will Soap Operas Find Happiness in Prime Time?

Soap opera, broadcasting’s most original contribution to popular entertainment, is bubbling again on television. Several years ago, inexpensively produced game shows seemed to be taking over the highly profitable turf of daytime television. As such once popular series as “Where the Heart Is” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing were being cancelled, and the lack of interest given to failures like “How To Survive a Marriage” and “Lovers and Friends”, or the mediocre success of “Ryan’s Hope”, the future of soaps looked exceedingly bleak. Perhaps they couldn’t compete with the real-life sagas of Vietnam or Watergate. Or perhaps they had simply grown weary and required injections of new talent and new ideas. There are still problems. On Feb. 1, CBS will be retiring the 28-year-old “Love of Life,” because “it simply came to the end of its run” and was sagging badly in the ratings. For the most part, however, the soap form has not only survived but seems suddenly to be stronger than ever. Added to its daytime pre-eminence is the extraordinary prime-time success of CBS’ “Dallas” and its recent spin-off, “Knots Landing.” These, of course, are not the first incursions of soap opera onto the evening schedule. In the earlier days of television, there was the hit “Peyton Place” which was followed by the outright flop serials “The Searchers,” and “Executive Suite;” on a more complicated level of using the form’s familiar ingredients for contemporary satire, there has been “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and, currently on ABC, the aptly titled “Soap.” But “Dallas” is not satirizing anything. The weekly drama is quite serious about its scheming, brawling, struggling, fornicating family of millionaires in modern-day Texas. And “Knots Landing” is almost painfully in earnest about its four assorted couples working at making it in California. The budgets for these prime-time serials are clearly larger than that for any daytime production. The casting is stronger, and the on-location shooting is more extensive. But, in the end, soap opera is being brought almost undiluted to the evening schedule, and judging from the ratings, audiences seem to be loving it. The television industry, unable to detect any new trends in the past few seasons, can hardly fail to take notice.

* * *

There is, however, a crucial difference between these evening versions of the genre and their daytime sisters. “Dallas” and “Knots Landing” are on the air only once a week and have the luxury of wrapping up most of their plots in a single episode. The following week, as one writer of soaps explains, “everything basically goes back to start.” Consistent development of the characters is paramount. On the day-time soaps, there is a Monday-through-Friday deadline to be met. A single plot line can be stretched out over months. The fictional action usually covers the period that parallels the “real time” of the viewer. Interestingly enough – and probably owing to the success of the form on prime time – the daytime soaps are speeding up their storylines. Back in the embryonic days of radio, the days of “Stella Dallas” and “Ma Perkins,” a single plot could be spun out for a year or more as cryptic lines of dialogue were mixed carefully with the ominous sounds of a studio organ. That habit was carried over to the early days of television. Things are changing. Douglas Marland, who has recently assumed the duties of head writer on CBS’s “Guiding Light,” says that audiences will no longer tolerate drawn—out stories. The story that took six months to unravel several years ago, he explains, will now be completed in three months. Several soap operas, including “Guiding Light,” have been expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour (“Another World” on NBC has jumped to 90 minutes), but, Mr. Marland says, the result has been more plots, not longer ones.

At the moment, Mr. Marland, a low-keyed sort in his mid-40s, is a valuable property in soap opera. He began his career as an actor, on the stage and on television, including the afternoon productions of ”The Doctors” and “As the World Turns.” Watching the rewriting that took place every day on the set, he decided that “there has to be a better way of doing this.” He began his own writing efforts in the mid-1970s as an associate to Harding LeMay on “Another World” (Mr. LeMay now works on Mr. Marland’s writing team at “Guiding Light”). He became head writer on “The Doctors” for more than a year and then moved to “General Hospital,” which in nine months rose from number 12 among the 14 daytime soaps to number one in the ratings. Last summer, Mr. Marland became a consultant to Proctor & Gamble Productions, which is still the independent producer of several soap operas, including “Guiding Light where he found himself working after a brief period shaping up “As the World Turns.” He insists that P&G is much more sympathetic than the networks to “a writer’s creative bent.” The networks, he says, have a “terrible inclination to write by committee,” citing specifically his time at “General Hospital,” creating for the writer a barrier of “an overwhelming number of differing personalities and tastes.”

As head writer for “Guiding Light,” Mr. Marland’s workday at home in Connecticut begins at 3 A.M. and ends about 8 P.M. He devises the general plot lines, while three other writers fill in the dialogue. His three assistants, all brought along from “General Hospital,” are a former actress, a novelist/playwright and a veteran soap writer. [i have no idea if Lemay is the novelist/playwright or veteran soap writer in this team, LOL—] They and Mr. Marland meet once a month for a planning conference. Meanwhile, he edits their work to assure a uniformity of attitudes and tones in the scripts.

In taking over “Guiding Light,” Mr. Marland has no immediate plans for eliminating major characters in the manner of the stage play “The Killing of Sister George.” He notes: “I was an actor myself and I know the terror of wondering, ‘Could this new person possibly understand how valuable I am to the show?’“ There will, however, be changes. In addition to quickening the pace, Mr Marland wants to introduce more teen-agers, at least five characters under 20. For one thing, he feels the series has been focused too heavily on upper middle-class types, using its younger characters as merely excuses for inept comic relief. For another, he believes that younger people are more flexible drama tools. “The audience,” he says, “is willing to forgive them anything because of their youth.” Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Proctor & Gamble’s “ideal audience” now falls completely between the age range of 16 to 34.

Like most soap-opera practitioners, Mr. Marland juggles a fervent defence of the form with a pronounced awareness of its inadequacies. On the plus side the soaps have been dealing with subjects – drugs, sex, various liberation movements – that night time programming “Has kind of shied away from” (Mr. Marland says that incest is the only remaining taboo). Also, in recent years they have been attracting high-quality actors. Past participants in “Guiding Light” alone include Blythe Danner, Barnard Hughes, Cicely Tyson, Sandy Dennis, Chris Sarandon and Billy Dee Williams. On the other side, however, Mr. Marland recognizes that the soaps foster a “pattern that can limit you.” While the daytime dramas may represent the only steady income for many “incredibly talented actors,” he believes that “it is very important for actors to do Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway to continue stretching themselves.”

On “Guiding Light,” Mr. Marland will be forced to cope with the standard pressing questions. Will Rita, possibly pregnant by another man, be reunited with her husband? Will Lucille stop trying to kill anyone who comes between her and her ward Amanda? Will Alan find out that Amanda is his daughter? And will Roger – a character once in danger because the actor playing the role was threatening to quit – resume his role as one of the more memorable nasties of daytime drama? This may all sound ridiculously contrived to the non fan, but consider the questions posed week after week by “Dallas.” Will Miss Ellie hold the family together? Will J.R. get away with his vicious machinations? Will good Bobby be able to prove that virtue is indeed rewarded?

One final question: Will the networks be taking still another close look at the potential of soap opera? Just look at “Dallas” nestled in the ratings comfort of the top 5, and there be be no doubt about the answer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 34
  • Created
  • Last Reply
  • Members

That's an interesting article. I thought by the time Marland took over at GL, Michael Zaslow HAD decided to leave and Marland had to write his exit. I thought Rita was also far along in her pregnancy by the time Marland showed up.

Given Marland's penchant for lengthy stories I'm surprised he said that about viewers won't tolerate long stories.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Glad you enjoyed it!

Marland's lengthy stories still ran at a faster pace than, say, Bell's (or the average 1960s ATWT plot) I think... Even if they took forever to fully play out (not three months as he implies), the actual pacing felt faster, if that makes sense. I found it interesting that P&G were already focusing SO sharply on a 16-34 demo back in 1980--many soap fans act like that wsa something that only became a prob in the mid 90s. (Of course I have a late 60s article, mainly about ATWT where rival soap producers basically laugh at how old the demos are for CBS--this was just when they started measuring demos.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

P&G were definitely on a 'youth kick' in late 70's and early 80's as older and vet characters were dropped

SFT dumped Billie Lou Watt(Ellie) and Millee Taggart(Janet)

ATWT got rid of Nancy,Don,Mary etc

AW-Pat,John and several 'parent' characters like Sylvie,Loueen and Fred.

GL-Steve,Barbara,Adam and recast Ed.

EON-Bill Marceau

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I guess this was when they realized they ha to compete with ABC and Y&R. There's a long article I'm scared to type out buyt might attempt, from 1975 about what the author sees as a sharp deivide between the "modern" soaps an the "Classic" ones (the classic ones essentially being all the P&G ones) and while I think the author exagerates a bit, her points that the P&G soaps are hopelessly old fashioned and based around middle aged and older characters, etc, seem somewhat warranted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Yes, that makes sense. It's just the way he worded his comments.

I wish he'd stayed on GL longer, I love all I've seen of his run there.

I know you've probably seen this stuff already but here are some clipsets, starting with the first chapter:

You Needed Me (Kelly and Morgan get married):

Enough is Enough (clown Roger kidnaps Rita in the hall of mirrors):

The Chase (Roger kidnaps Holly - Roger "dies"):

Game Over (Kelly confronts Nola on her lies -- this was written right after the writers' strike ended -- I think Marland wrote it all in a flash and then had to dictate it to someone over the phone):

Beneath the Surface (Carrie and Ross marry)

Machinations (Diane Ballard's rise and fall)

There are some other clipsets too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I always thought the Enough is Enough montage was one of the last things the Dobsons did at GL? I guess I'm wrong? I love it (and not just cuz I'm a Donna Summer nut :P )

I've seen the whole Kelly/Nola meltdown which is STUNNING soap opera, but not many of those other clips--I'll try to work my way through them this week. I have to say I think, as sacrilegious as this is to say, that I prefer his GL to his ATWT. It's too bad he didn't get along with the producer and only stayed there three years, as GL lost some of its momentum then it seems (Pat Falken Smith followed him and didn't last long at all--13 weeks), though I know many liuked what Pam Long did with the show. Of course Marland was very busy right after he left GL, first creating and HW New Day in Eden and then Loving, LOL.

I always wonder how Lemay ended up working under him for a bit--if he did it as a favour, he needed the work, or?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

No, I think you're right. I just always associate Enough is Enough with Marland for some reason, but I think you're right. (PS I also prefer his GL to ATWT, although I love both. I think that the ratings went down quite a bit after he left, then jumped back up when Phillip was aged)

Here are a few more.

Tangled Web:

If It Isn't Love

Usual Suspects:

The great guy who did these clipsets and was sadly killed a few years ago also kept a detailed blog for several years, with some great writeups for the clips and background information.

http://glmemories.blogspot.com/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Sorry to keep pushing, I just wanted to put all the clip links in one thread.

Ross/Carrie talk about hidden past

Ed flashes back to an argument with Alan over Rita

"Hospital corners"

A whole episode ("Carrie Marler's Crazy!")

Guiding Light B-52s (second clip has no sound)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Marland's GL had this campy and gothic undertone to it, from what I've seen, that I didn't see in his more conservative ATWT. But as I said before, GL was always a more out there soap than ATWT. There also seemed to be a lot more humour to his GL work.

I think the Reardon's on GL were the blueprint for what would become the Snyder's on ATWT, with some tweaking and differences though.

I'm also amazed that Marland kept many of the characters, who many other writers would probably phase out, that the Dobson's had introduced, which seemed to be quite a lot.

Marland's GL was a true ensemble though, and I think the next time GL would have that kind of feeling was the early 90's with Curlee and company.

I'm not fond of Pam Long's de-Bauering and her fascination with all things Reva and Josh.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Yes, I really respect and appreciate in these clips that he continues to use characters who, frankly, had reached their sell-by date, like Rita's sister Eve. He even wrote for Sara McIntyire, a long bygone character played by a wonderful actress. I think the only firings were of people P&G deemed too old or expendable, like Barbara Norris and Adam Thorpe.

I do like the ensemble feeling. GL had some wonderful moments throughout the 80s but it's sad sometimes to see strong characters used as extras. Even Trish was an extra in her own family.

Springfield seems both traditional and vibrant under his pen, which, as you said, is also Curlee.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

Marland's GL had this campy and gothic undertone to it, from what I've seen, that I didn't see in his more conservative ATWT. But as I said before, GL was always a more out there soap than ATWT. There also seemed to be a lot more humour to his GL work.

I think the Reardon's on GL were the blueprint for what would become the Snyder's on ATWT, with some tweaking and differences though.

I'm also amazed that Marland kept many of the characters, who many other writers would probably phase out, that the Dobson's had introduced, which seemed to be quite a lot.

To be fair maybe P&G told him to--the Dobsons really were the first team to successfully "update" one of the P&G soaps which were gainign a rep for being too old fashioned--and when they left it was still doing quite well (they left I assume more cuz P&G wanted them to work at ATWT then anything else--of course back then P&G still had their mantra of shuffling talent from show to show).

Marland always had a family like the Reardons/Snyders didn't he? The Donovons on Loving fit (no clue about New Day in Eden but I assume it didn't have a family like that...) I thought the prototype for that was Lemay's huge Frame family (I think it was the Frames) on AW,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

To be fair maybe P&G told him to--the Dobsons really were the first team to successfully "update" one of the P&G soaps which were gainign a rep for being too old fashioned--and when they left it was still doing quite well (they left I assume more cuz P&G wanted them to work at ATWT then anything else--of course back then P&G still had their mantra of shuffling talent from show to show).

I think it's a Marland trait, which as he said in this article, came from being an actor himself. He loved actors and hated to write many off at one given time. He did the same on ATWT, though he wrote some characters off, he kept a lot of characters going that really served little purpose prior to his arrival.

Marland always had a family like the Reardons/Snyders didn't he? The Donovons on Loving fit (no clue about New Day in Eden but I assume it didn't have a family like that...) I thought the prototype for that was Lemay's huge Frame family (I think it was the Frames) on AW,

He also created a lower middle-class family wherever he went. He had created Luke and Bobbie on GH, then the Reardons on GL, then the Donovons on LOV, and finally his most lasting creation, the Snyder's on ATWT.

Allegedly, the prototype for these families came from Marland's own family and his childhood experiences.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Members

I'm not sure if P&G was involved -- a lot of the Dobson stories were wrapping up when Marland took over. Come to think of it I think just about every major story the Dobsons wrote was over or about to end, minus Phillip's paternity, and Amanda's paternity. He could have easily written out someone like Eve and I don't know if they'd have minded.

I wish some of the conclusion of the Amanda/Lucille/Jennifer saga was online.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy