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Paul Raven

Somerset Discussion Thread

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April 76 SOD Synopsis

The smile that crosses Dale's face when he sees Ellen could have lit up the whole city of Los Angeles. Bursting with the enthusiasm of young and drunk with the intoxicating wine of love, he rushes to Ellen's side. Ellen backs away a bit. Dale's surprised and slightly hurt by this move. Ellen quickly explains the reason. She says she had a lot of time to think when she was away, and she has come to a decision that she knows Dale is not going to like; she has decided to end their relationship. It will be the best thing for them in the long run. He has given her a lot of happy moments and she'll treasure them always. Dale accepts Ellen's decision.

The next few days are marked by a remarkable change in Ellen. There's a new bounce in her step, a new glint in her eye; it's almost as if she has been reborn. This new attitude is most evident in her involvement with her work. She has taken a personal interest in Brian Gamage, a young boy, who can't talk. His mother says it could be psychosomatic since countless doctors have not found any physical cause for his lack of speech. Ellen suggests she let Jerry Kane examine her son. Mrs. Gamage agrees, and Ellen sets up the appointment.

Greg has been suffering for a long time with investigative reporter's itch; an ailment that results when there's little of newsworthy importance to require an investigation.

He has almost adjusted to his predicament when an ointment appears, in the guise of a story on an arson ring. The police have one of the suspected arsonists in jail on a stolen car rap, the other, Mr. Gamage, is lying in a hospital bed in critical condition, (his partner left him to die in a fire).

Greg knows the uncovering of this arson ring would make a great story for the Register -- and possibly earn them the Pulitzer Prize -- and he goes about trying to get the imprisoned Mr. Bailey to confess. Mr. Bailey is not about to turn "stoolie" and he's getting quite tired of Greg's jailhouse visits. He hints that Greg better lay off the story if he knows what's good for him.

Tony's on a downhill slide and it's becoming quite noticeable to everyone. Tom Conway tells Vicki that Tony's completely wrapped up in her. He hints that Tony's mental condition may lead him to do something rash. Vicki's beginning to feel quite guilty; she never wanted to hurt Tony that badly. She had hoped he would play the game by her rules.

The 1970s version of Sherlock Holmes does not carry a magnifying glass nor smoke a pipe, but instead has in his possession a pen, notebook and tape recorder. He can usually be found on the staff of countless newspapers scattered across this great land.

Greg Mercer, hot-shot investigative reporter on The Register, is definitely one of these "new Holmes." He's currently hard at work on the investigation of an arson ring, and like the old master he doesn't let fear get in the way of solving the mystery -- or in his case, what's more important, getting "the story." Greg has been receiving threatening phone calls and visits, but he just ignores them. Though he shows a lack of concern for his welfare, his friends, especially Carrie, urge him to drop his sleuthing. Greg's too wrapped up in "the story" to pay attention to them.

If the rift between Dan and Julian isn't healed soon, it will probably reach the proportions of the Grand Canyon. Each of them has a different version of The Register. Dan wants a more "folksy" paper, chock full of human interest stories, while Julian wants to keep with the style he initiated -- hard news and investigative reports. So far Dan is humoring Julian along, but Julian knows Dan controls the purse-strings -- and the hiring and firing strings -- and this means it may be "Tales of Somerset" or one editor's tales from the unemployment line, if he doesn't start toeing the mark.

Tony Resigns from Paisleys

and is returning to the family business, Delaney Brands. He's not going alone, he asks his secretary to join him at his new job.

The head of Delaney Brands, Rex Cooper, has arrived in town. He's not too happy about the mess his son has created. Rex confronts Tony and orders him to return to his family. Tony looks his father coldly in the eye and says: "I can't. People change, things change, I need something else from my life now." Rex is not too happy with this response.

Ginger has gone to work at Ellen's assistant. Ellen assigns her to the Gamage case.

A Contract Killing Fulfilled

The underworld always gets their man -- and in this instance their man is Greg Mercer. They have hired a hit man to get this reporter, who they feel knows more than he printed (they couldn't have been more wrong, but the underworld takes no chances). The hit man situates himself in an apartment directly facing Greg's window. He coolly and methodically repeats the task he has done countless times in the past. He places his long-range rifle outside the window. He puts his eye against the site; gets Greg in range and fires. The bullet hits his mark. It's a nice, neat kill. Greg drops to the floor.

If Greg had heeded his friends' advice, he never would have found himself in an operating room trying to get the life put back into him by a team of surgeons, headed by Jerry Kane. Jerry and his assisting doctors try their best, but it's a thankless task since the hit man's talents leave little room for life saving. Greg dies on the operating table.

Carrie sits in the waiting room. Jerry approaches her. From the look in his eyes, Carrie knows the news isn't good. Jerry says they tried their best, but... Carrie goes into a state of shock. She just got back together with Greg and now he's gone.

New Hope for Brian

Dr. John Coolidge tells Ellen that with the right therapy Brian Gamage will be able to speak to his heart's content. He says the young boy is suffering from Motor Alexia, a psychological disorder which enables one to understand but not pronounce words. It's a trauma that probably resulted from a deep fright he had when he was two years old. Dr. Coolidge asks Ellen to get a case history on Brian.

Ellen speaks with Mrs. Gamage. The woman offers no answers. With deep regret Mrs. Gamage says she was too wrapped up with her husband, and her other four children, to notice if anything traumatic ever happened to Brian.

Vicki Paisley: Benefactor

It hurts Vicki so to see the man she loves so tormented and tortured by guilt (Julian's been blaming himself for Greg's death). She wants to do something to alleviate Julian's pain. She finally comes up with an idea. She tells Dan she wants to start a memorial fund for Greg. She says she wants the money to go to aspiring writers. Vicki asks Dan to put Julian in charge.

Dan hands Julian Vicki's check and says it's for the Greg Mercer Memorial Fund, but knowing how Julian would feel about Vicki helping him, Dan tells Julian that the check came from an anonymous donor.

"Let's get together and try to love one another right now," a line from a song sung by the Youngbloods, can be aptly applied to what Rex Cooper is trying to do right now. Rex is using all his "Dale Carnegie" persuasive ways to try to get Tony and Ginger together again. Tony is quite put-off by his father's interference (he feels Rex hasn't realized his son is now a man), but he agrees to set up a meeting between Rex, Ginger, and himself. Rex promises to head back to California after that meeting.

David Gamage Tells All

Before he died, David Gamage confessed everything to Carrie. Carrie brings the incriminating tape of their conversation to Julian. Julian exclaims excitedly this will make a great story. Carrie says she'd like to share the by-line with Greg. Since Greg started the ball rolling -- and died for it -- this would be a good way for The Register to honor him. This suggestion meets no resistance from Dan or Julian.

Work: Carrie's Novocain

Carrie Wheeler is walking a very thin line. She may be on the verge of a nervous collapse. Carrie has yet to shed a tear over the loss of the man she loves. To avoid feeling the pain, she has adopted a pattern of behavior which is causing her friends in Somerset great concern: Carrie has buried herself in her work.

Edited by Paul Raven

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Thanks so much for this. It's kind of strange this thread was never created but while we both probably have a lot of Somerset stuff, it's kind of tough to get things going.

I would kill to see this show - so little is available. It has many actors I love, from Ann Wedgworth, Joel Crothers, Georgann Johnson, and others I want to see so early in their career, like Audrey Landers and Tina Sloan and Sigourney Weaver.

I wonder if the network made them split up Ellen/Dale. For a while I thought she ended the show with him but clearly not.

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Yes Carl,I was reading some Somerset stuff and realized there was no thread.

Apparently,in the dying days,Toni Bull Bua was written in to be re-united with husband Gene in an attempt to grab publicity and ratings by creating a Steve/.Carrie/Denise triangle.

Of course Gene and Toni had been very popular as a team on Love of Life in the late 60's.

Also,P&G were hoping to move the show to CBS or ABC a la EON the year before,but no deal. It does seem optimistic for P&G to think either would pick up a struggling soap that never scored in the ratings.

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I remember reading about Toni Bua joining the show. I think Steve and Carrie ended together though.

It seems like Somerset had found a niche in its last few years - if it hadn't been on NBC (whose soaps were losing steam at that time) I wonder if it might have had more success.

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I remember watching this show but I'm drawing a blank on the plots. I remember my favorite actors on the show were Jobeth Williams, Ted Danson, Audrey Landers, & Barry Jenner. Barry went on to play Evan on Another World, where he plotted with Olive to murder John Randolph!

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I'm ashamed to admit that whenever I picture Barry Jenner I get some image of Bruce Jenner.

Edited by CarlD2

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Last year, I attended 'An Evening with Ted Danson' at NYC's Paley Center, and they played a clip of his from Somerset. To me, that made the whole evening! He talked very warmly about his days on the show. Most actors, when they make it big, seem to want to 'forget' their days on soaps, but, fortunately, we have people like Ted Danson and Julianne Moore (ATWT) who appreciate the time they spent toiling in the daytime vineyards.

I was thinking about Somerset, and was recalling the Jameson Parker and Georgeann Johnson pairing, which was quite controversial for its day (older woman, younger guy). Little did I realize that, I, myself, would play a 'real-life' Jameson Parker to my lifetime mate. My wife is 25 years my senior, and we've been together 28 years, and married nearly 24 years.

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That's nice to hear about Ted. You jarred my memory regarding the Jameson Parker/Georgeann Johnson pairing. Not only was there the scandal of their age difference, but they lived together without being married!

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Looking at the final cast list,it's interesting to see who went to another soap after cancellation.

Joel Crothers went to EON,Velekka Grey to LOL,Jobeth Williams to GL, Jameson Parker to OLTL,Ted LePlat to LOL,Barry Jenner to AW,Philip McHale to OLTL,Georgann Johnson to ATWT,James O'Sullivan to AMC and Tina Sloan to SFT

There are probably a few others I've missed out on.

Edited by Paul Raven

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April 1977 Daytime TV Stars

Deborah Channel's Serial Review - Somerset...What Went Wrong?

Many people who don't watch the soaps, but are interested in learning about them, ask me these days: "What exactly is a soap opera?" On the surface, the question seems a little silly; after all, most people do have some idea of what soaps are. The average person in the street would probably answer that soaps are tearful stories, aimed primarily at housewives, and aired in the daytime. But that conception, as we are leaning, is too simple. And so it is really not so silly to ask of a soap addict, who is also a thinking person: "What exactly is a soap opera?"

Well, let's start with the basics. Soap operas are not just stories, but continuing stories. Typically, they re aired on a daily basis. Each soap must have a set of characters who remain fairly constant from year to year, although, over a long period of time, some main characters may vanish (be "written out') and other new ones may appear. Usually, though not always, the soaps attempt to re-enact the daily family lives of more or less normal people; in this regard, the soaps are different from sitcoms or crime shows, which find their characters in extraordinarily abnormal worlds. yes, it would also be fair to add to the definition of soap opera, that it is an emotional medium, aiming to effect the heart before the mind - but he bet soaps d o involve viewers in questions of moral dilemmas, and therefore are cerebral as well. It's important to add, too, that the soaps are emotional because the viewers are so involved with the characters. And unless there is continuity of characters, a soap cannot possibly be strongly involving to viewers.

Many years ago James Thurber wrote an oft quoted paragraph in his series of articles on the radio soaps for The New Yorker, in which he defined soap opera in these terms: "A soap opera is a kind of sandwich...Between thick slices of advertising, spread twelve minutes of dialogue, add predicament, villainy, and female suffering in equal measure. throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve five times a week."

Even in Thurber's day the soaps were more complex and cerebral than he was portraying them. Today, Thurber's paragraph wouldn't be accurate at all. If we stick to the idea of continuity of characters in a fairly normal family environment (it can be five times s a week or merely once a week, as with nighttime's Family and Rich Man, Poor Man), admit that the immediate appeal is more emotional than intellectual but with ramifications that do become intellectual, then we have a good answer for: "What exactly are the soaps?"

Now suppose one of our non-soap-watching friends wanted more than just an answer, but an example. That's harder. There simply is no way to discover what soaps are by just watching a few episodes. I think that's why so few slick magazine pieces on the soap phenomenon sound authentic. The writers can't afford to spend more than a week watching Days of Our Lives or One Life to Live, and so emerge from their daytime TV screens with slip-shod ideas. But if our curious friend were really curious, and were willing to get caught up in a show for months at a time, or even a few years, then I would say he can learn the definition of soap opera through example.

But hold on! Not all soaps are good examples of soaps! For example, Somerset would have been a terrible program from which to imbibe the nature of a soap. For what would that curious friend have seen on Somerset, say during the course of its six year existence on NBC, before the network removed it?

He would have seen, during the first few years of the show's life, several lawyers - Sam Lucas (Jordan Charney) and Ben Grant (Ed Kemmer) - their wives, and their children, mixed up in highly abnormal situations involving murder, insanity, corporate intrigue (all that Delaney Brands stuff, if you'll recall), churned in with a little bit of romance and sex scandals. Our curious friend would have gotten the impression that soap operas were like nighttime crime shows, like Kojak. Well, if the friend was able to last another year with Somerset, he would have seen the introduction of a character called Julian Cannell (Joel Crothers), and the whole bevy of pathologically disturbed women he either married, fell in love with, or both. By now, the Lucases, and the Delaneys, would have been gone; in fact, the only character from the original story lines left to remind viewers there had been an original story line was Ellen Grant (Georgann Johnson), and she had suddenly become quite a curious widow. She and her daughter Jill Grant (Susan MacDonald) - now also widowed - were beginning to compete over younger men. Ellen began driving around town on a motorcycle and sleeping with a young man suspected of mass murder! Woops! Now that sounds a little like Mary Hartman, Mary Harman - a deliberate spoof on the soaps.

During a period of six years, our viewer friend would see one character after another suddenly introduced, and then just as suddenly, at the completion of a story line, went away. The viewer would also have noticed a curious lack of theme - that is, some sort of continuing idea or feeling or mood - along with the fragmented stories and the characters who came and went. "Aha!" says our viewer friend; "soap operas aren't about anything really. It's sort of like taking a lot of nighttime once-a-week shows, and squeezing them together on a daily basis, like a stylistic hodgepodge of re-runs. You can sort of tune in and tune out without losing very much, for what you see this year will have little to do with what you saw last year. The Greg Mercer (Gary Swanson) story didn't have much to do with anything, and when Greg was killed off he might just as well not have existed at all as far as the other characters were concerned. And then there was Eve Lawrence (Bibi Besch) and Ned Paisley (James Congdon). I was just starting to get interested in their story when all of a sudden they got married and then went to St. Thomas for a short vacation and never returned. Then Tony and Ginger Cooper just disappeared. Just like Rhoda. You can see a character on week, and the next week, he's gone. Well, Rhoda is better, because at least there are laughs and you know enough not to count on seeing all the characters every week. In fact, if Somerset is a soap opera, then I don't see what's so involving about soaps."

Somerset was a bad example of a soap opera for our curious friend because it simply wasn't a real one - hence, of course, its six-year track record for low ratings. What went wrong with Somerset is that its management and writers were never quite able to grasp the nature of soaps, and so either parodied them, as does Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, or wrote nighttime crime shows in six-month segments. Even The Edge of Night, which is supposed to be a daily version of a nighttime crime show and designed around fragmented plots, had more continuity of story and characters than Somerset. Mike and Nancy Karr, along with their daughter Lauri Ann, along with Bill Marceau and his ward, Phoebe, have been around for many years - and Edge is not supposed to be a true soap, but a Perry Mason-type mystery. Somerset was supposed to be a true soap.

Why did so many characters come and go from Somerset? It's very simple. Whenever an actor decided to leave the show, or was fired, he was usually not replaced but either killed off (as with Greg Mercer) or sent away (like Eve Lawrence). Somerset had too many writers with too little familiarity with the show's past history, and too little concern for it, to enable the show to enjoy continuity. One would think that since the show only had one producer, Lyle Hill, during its six-year existence, that his writers would have been forced by him into at least keeping the same characters around, even if they were not able to create a theme for him. Why Mr. Hill didn't - whether because he kept trying to re-do the show with new material or because he preferred to allow his writers total freedom - only he can answer.

The last year or so of Somerset was perhaps its best. The newspaper setting was far superior to those inane Delaney Brands office intrigues, and Julian Cannell had finally emerged as the show's single compelling male romantic figure. Veleka Gray's Vicky Paisley was astonishingly good. For once the show had a completely convincing characterization of a rather complex female. Had the show continued I believe both she and Julian would have grown in depth and interest. Bernie Grant's Dan Briskin was also compelling. Now I've always liked Georgann Johnson, but I began having the feeling several years ago that the show simply didn't know what to do with Georgnann's ELlen Grant. Subsequently, Ellen became almost silly - schoolgirlish at times. Nevertheless, Miss Johnson coped with her sagging material admirably.

I am presuming, as everyone else is, that Somerset will not be continuing on any network. If, by the time you rad this, Somerset is miraculously taken by another network, I plead with the producer and head writer to end their policies of "Revolving door" stories and characters and to make of Somerset a true soap. If the almost inevitable cancellation does come to pass, let the Somerset experience (and I hate to sound Biblical) stand as a warning to all those who would take the definition of soap opera lightly. To be daring and different is one thing; but to be discontinuous, fragment, uninvolving, and ultimately tiresome is quite another. Viewers do not want to see nighttime shows simply re-written for the afternoon lineup.

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Ha.

I know that was too long...I almost cut out the first part, which had little to do with Somerset, but I kept it mostly to build up to the second part.

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