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The soap opera writers' discussion

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May we discuss the various writers of the soap operas?

 

Who are your favorite writers?

 

My ten favorites are (not listed in order):

1. Irna Phillips

2. Agnes Nixon

3. Art Wallace

4. Robert Cenedella

5.C. David Cherrill

6. Gary Tomlin

7.Eugenie Hunt and Ralph Ellis

8. Jane and Ira Avery

9. Wisner Washam

10. Peggy O'Shea

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It's difficult to rank soap opera writers for myself because I was a child of the 80s and didn't really watch soaps until the late 80s/early 90s.

 

With that said... here a few of my favorites.

 

1) Pam Long (only her GL... Santa Barbara was so far gone when she got there then even a great like Nixon or Marland couldn't save it.  I liked parts of her OLTL).

 

2) Agnes Nixon (I was a big fan of early 90s AMC when she ran the ship).

 

3) Lorraine Broderick (Her mid 90s AMC was fun.. and she was the perfect writer to close out the ABC era of AMC).

 

4) Donna Swajeski (Her AW was consistent, fun, and had some misfires.. but a lot of great things... she was sole headwriter during that time.  her GL and AMC were shared head-writing duties during a weird time for both shows and the era of soaps).

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1.) Rita Lakin - Her Doctors stint was the last time the show was consistently enjoyable IMO.

2.) Lorraine Broderick - I can honestly say there's not a stint of hers on a soap that I didn't like, I even liked her writing on ATWT. 

3.) Wisner Washam - His early AMC was pretty good.

4.) Nancy Curlee - Her tenure on GL was the show's last golden era. 

5.) Peggy O'Shea - Was pretty good no matter where she ended up at IMO. 

6.) Henry Sleasar - Has he ever been the head scribe of a soap and it not be great?

7.) Douglas Marland - I liked his GL more than his ATWT, but both shows were well written under him. 

8.) Richard and Carolyn Culliton - I think these two are underrated. Richard's presence on GL in the early 80s, and even his early 80s AW helped rejuvenate these shows.   

 

Edited by MichaelGL

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1) Lorraine Broderick - I rank her as my favorite because, in every HW position she had held, she made it a priority to put "heart" into the story. Of course, this was always at its best at All My Children, the show that was closest to her own heart. And three different times, she came in to successfully correct a previous HW's damage on AMC. There was no one better to bring Pine Valley to a close on ABC - All My Children felt like itself again. She understood and respected its legacy. Her former writing partner, Wisner Washam, and her mentor, Agnes Nixon, of course deserve much credit for being influential cores of Broderick's writing DNA.

 

2) Peggy O'Shea - She is probably one of the most under-recognized head writers, particularly for One Life to Live. Her work absolutely exploded (in a good way) in the mid-80's under EP Paul Rauch, and with her Associate HW S. Michael Schnessel. They were truly an excellent collaboration. She knew how to mine the show's history, and play the character beats. Mike Schnessel had a sense of adventure & whimsy that worked for the show under Peggy's guidance in keeping things grounded, making the fantastic feel real. Viki's trip to heaven would have seemed almost ridiculous if it weren't so expertly told from Viki's POV. Maria Roberts would have otherwise been cartoonish if not for continually fleshing out her emotional descent into insanity. And of course, the definitive creation of Nicole Smith... an expertly story that also brought Tina to the forefront... the troubled girl to misunderstood, status-craving vixen - and then a man named Cordero entered her life and exposed her human side. All that was Peggy O'Shea... it was OLTL's highest viewership ever. She did not return after the WGA strike in 1988... Schnessel went solo for about 2 years, and while it tonally felt like the OLTL O'Shea had created, it lacked substance and often went over the cliff when it tried being over the top (Eterna). By 1991, he was gone, too - and the show felt confused, especially between the exit of Rauch and the starting of Linda Gottlieb as EP later that year.

 

Agnes Nixon goes without saying. Winser Washam's AMC is considered golden era. Claire Labine has done fantastic work. 

 

 

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In no particular order,

 

Irna Phillips

Bill Bell

Agnes Nixon

Douglas Marland

Harding Lemay

Henry Slesar

Gordon Russell

Nancy Curlee

Wisner Washam

Clare Labine

 

Anyone know who was writing THE SECRET STORM during the height of the Belle Kincade years?

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Agree with Nancy Curlee. To me, her GL was almost perfect soap for a good stretch. Springfield under her pen really felt like a community where no one eclipsed anyone else. Balanced storytelling that nothing after could possibly live up to.

 

Bill Bell. A total master of tension, tone, pacing, psychology, and payoffs. Y&R circa 1991-92 is just about as good as entertainment gets.

 

Claire Labine. Sometimes awkward with broad comedy (Foster/Annabelle, turning Lucy into a super-annoying ditz, Todd and the parrot, May Merisi), but she did deeply intelligent, moving, and adult drama like no one else. Responsible for the most elegant dialogue I’ve heard on daytime. Those actors were truly blessed to speak her words.

 

Edited by Faulkner

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I do not know exactly who created Belle, but it possibly could have been Ira and Jane Avery.   (I am not quite sure at which point they stopped writing The Secret Storm and succeeded Ms. Phillips on Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.

 

I do know that Bethel Leslie and Gerry Day were writing  the show during its best storyline:  the introduction of Sean Childres.

 

Gillian Houghton/Gabrielle Upton was the final writer of the show.  At first, I thought her scripts were dreadful.  Later, I thought that she was innovtive.  Now, forty years later, I am not sure.  There was a time, though, that I loved her work.

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I think most know about my all-time favorite writer.  But, in case you don't...

 

Douglas Marland: For my money, the best scribe to work in the industry after Irna, Agnes and Bill.  True, as a HW, he had his faults.  There were certain character types that he couldn't write for as well as others; and while his ability to develop sprawling "umbrella stories" was never less than breathtaking, there were times when his storytelling might have been too much head and/or not enough heart.  Nevertheless, as someone once said on Marlena Delacroix's website, Marland excelled at so many different kinds of stories: romance, mystery, social issue, action/adventure, family drama, corporate intrigue -- you name it.  No other writer, IMO, worked as diligently as he did to create balanced canvases on all his shows, with characters from all walks of life, who in turn possessed all-too-human quirks and foibles.  Like his mentor, Harding Lemay, before him, Marland placed the highest premium on a given character's every action being believable for the audience; and these days, when it seems like most characters on soaps say and do things that, IRL, no one would ever say or do, that is a quality I miss most.

 

And here are several other scribes I've looked to for inspiration...

 

Henry Slesar: Next to Doug Marland, he was perhaps the best storyteller in the business.  He also had a way, it seemed, with bizarre and indelible characters.  It says a lot, then, that Slesar's style, like Bill Bell's, is one that would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to replicate.

 

Wisner Washam: Not to minimize the contributions made by show creator and guiding force Agnes Nixon, but I feel Washam has never been given his full and rightful due for solidifying the mixture of social issues with broad humor that defined AMC in the '80's.  As HW, he was chiefly responsible for many of the characters, romances and storylines that we still talk about.  I've long believed that that AMC was gone by the time Janet dumped Natalie down the well, and I think that's because Washam was no longer there to keep it going.

 

Sam Hall, Peggy O'Shea and Gordon Russell: Although these three did not head-write OLTL at the same time, I tend to group them together, because they seemed to be the three HW's who understood this one-of-a-kind show best.  Like Henry Slesar (who, coincidentally enough, also toiled for a time w/ Hall in that HW'ing chair), Hall/O'Shea/Russell had this knack for creating characters who not only were unconventional by other soaps' standards, but also were imbued with enough humanity to make you, as the viewer, actually give a damn about them.  Only on OLTL, for example, could you have a story about a doctor's wife (Karen Wolek) who turned tricks in the afternoon, with a pimp (Marco Dane) who blackmailed her into staying in "the life," and have both characters come out as viewer favorites and mainstays for several years.

 

Bridget and Jerome Dobson: Separately and together, I look at them as the Billy Wilder of daytime drama.  Like the legendary director of such classics as "Double Indemnity," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Some Like It Hot" (among many others), Bridget and Jerry's work on SaBa in particular was marked by unpalatable subjects made less so with irreverent, black humor.  Now, the argument could be made that it was that same irreverence that ultimately did in their creation.  However, I think the takeaway from their work -- not just on their own series, but also on other shows (GH, GL, ATWT) where they played it more straight -- is that soap scribes' number one obligation to viewers is to remain entertainingly fresh.  As Wilder himself would say, don't bore the audience; and while you could say a great many things about the Dobsons' work overall, you'd be hard-pressed to say they were boring.

 

Pamela K. Long: If Marland, as a HW, was often "all head and no heart," then Long could be the opposite.  Like her arguably greatest creation, Reva Shayne, Long never gave less than 110-percent to GL (even if those who witnessed the marginalization or outright elimination of many longtime characters under her first of two HW'ing stints might beg to differ).  Could she be sloppy or excessive in her writing?  You bet.  After all, the downside to being an earthy and homespun kind of writer is the tendency to over-indulge in things like sentimentality.  However, when her style is done right -- which it often was on her GL -- it can also make for pure, back-to-basics entertainment, the Four Musketeers story w/ Philip, Rick, Mindy and Beth being but one example.

 

Nancy Curlee: Perhaps the last great HW who will ever work in daytime, Curlee was a seeming combination of Doug Marland and Pam Long's best qualities.  Like Marland, she possessed that rare, peerless ability to craft umbrella stories that played well on GL's long history and affected multiple clans and generations.  At the same time, storylines such as the run-up to, and aftermath of, Maureen Bauer's untimely death -- a run of episodes often cited both as some of the genre's finest hours and as the beginning of the end for the seemingly invincible GL -- shared with her predecessor's better work a raw emotionality that could break viewers' hearts while keeping them firmly glued to the edge of their seats.  Years from now, after the last soap has vanished from the airwaves, we might look upon the day she left her duties at the show as "the day daytime died."

Edited by Khan

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4. Bill Bell - modernized the genre, played with the form by using music, the first "showrunner" producer/writer, amazing story pacing (so slow and yet the stories progressed and twisted)

 

3. Agnes Nixon - the use of social class as a motivator for storyline defined why soap towns were so important to each soap.  Rich families were often the least happy and yet there was always someone who wanted to be a part of the power center of town.

 

2.  Ron Carlivati - not a classic writer but he introduced the notion that characters should remember and be effected by their history.  My favorite was when OLTL's Todd returned from the dead and was mad at his family for believing his brother's story and they reminded him that they bought it because of all of the other people they knew who had returned from the dead.

 

1.  Henry Sleasar - the run from Margo's murder through the Clown Puppet Murders and into Sky Whitney is an amazing feat in retrospect.  Edge stories had a distinct beginning, middle and end.  However, Sleasar's transitions from one story to the next is genius.  Draper is on the run from being convicted of Margo's murder, he meets Emily, gets exonerated, Emily gets jealous, her mother becomes a serial killer,  she tries to hang on to Draper by getting pregnant by a guy who worked at the clinic where Nancy Karr was being held and Jeff became Sky;  it all pieced together into one long tale.  Also, even though there were trials, Edge never relied on long exposition to explain a story.  Fans got clues along the way and at the finale of the story all of the parts made sense.

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I know most people mainly praise Bill Bell for his achievements with Y&R, but I would like to put forward his work on B&B as well. I know it's hard to believe now when the show has become such a travesty, but during it's first years when Bill Bell was HW it was much different and so much better. Characters like Stephanie and Brooke were vastly different and much more complex compared to the caricatures they later became under Brad Bell, the battle over BeLief remains the best story ever on B&B, early Sheila was a fantastic villain, and he also created the one-and-only Sally Spectra.

Even after he handed over the reigns to Brad I'm sure he still provided input for a few years, which is why the show didn't veer of the rails too much until somewhat later when Brad was on his own.

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People often credit Pat Faulken Smith, Margaret DePriest, Marland, and etc for GH's renaissance during the late 70s and early 80s, but what about Robert J. Shaw? On another post I saw that he may have written for Bright Promise during one of their more stronger periods, and his name is rarely mentioned after having written for shows such as Dallas, Peyton Place, and Our Private World. 

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On 5/7/2018 at 12:32 PM, Soaplovers said:

It's difficult to rank soap opera writers for myself because I was a child of the 80s and didn't really watch soaps until the late 80s/early 90s.

 

With that said... here a few of my favorites.

 

1) Pam Long (only her GL... Santa Barbara was so far gone when she got there then even a great like Nixon or Marland couldn't save it.  I liked parts of her OLTL).

 

2) Agnes Nixon (I was a big fan of early 90s AMC when she ran the ship).

 

3) Lorraine Broderick (Her mid 90s AMC was fun.. and she was the perfect writer to close out the ABC era of AMC).

 

4) Donna Swajeski (Her AW was consistent, fun, and had some misfires.. but a lot of great things... she was sole headwriter during that time.  her GL and AMC were shared head-writing duties during a weird time for both shows and the era of soaps).

 

Do you know off hand which year did. Donna write Another World?

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On 13/05/2018 at 12:58 PM, j swift said:

 

2.  Ron Carlivati - not a classic writer but he introduced the notion that characters should remember and be effected by their history.  My favorite was when OLTL's Todd returned from the dead and was mad at his family for believing his brother's story and they reminded him that they bought it because of all of the other people they knew who had returned from the dead.

 

 

I respectfully disagree with the contention that RC "introduced" the notion of characters being affected by their history. Master writers like Irna Phillips, William J. Bell, Harding Lemay, Pat Falken Smith, Douglas Marland. etc., had been doing so for decades before Carvivati. Indeed, some of the masters' very best stories stemmed from characters struggling to deal with and overcome their history.

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