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Classic Soap Fan


This was the year that soaps got impatient. Impatient with ratings that were lackluster, with story lines that weren't making sense and with characters who weren't wowing viewers. Instead of subtle refining, change -- shocking, constant change -- was the order of the day. From January to December, the only thing you could count on was that actors would be recast, writers would be let go and producers would switch shows. People got sick of their jobs or, just as often, someone else got sick of seeing them in their jobs, and gave them the boot.

If began in the executive suites of all three networks. Michael Brockman, former head of daytime, late-night and children's programming at CBS, showed up at ABC. Lucy Johnson, once an executive at NBC, now heads up daytime at CBS, and Jackie Smith, the former legend at ABC, who took a low-rated network and made it number one in daytime, is now charged with the same job at NBC. Whatever changes these executives may have wanted reverberated down through producers, who did their own tinkering and finally the actors on daytime dramas.

One day, the interracial romance between Cliff and Angie on ALL MY CHILDREN was being touted as a socially significant story line that engrossed viewers; the next, it was abruptly cut short and actor Peter Bergman (Cliff) was out of a job. GENERATIONS came on encouraging viewers to expect a new kind of soap opera; instead they were treated to standard fare. It's hard to make drama steam from an ice-cream shop. SANTA BARBARA, an industry darling, still attracts the best actors in daytime, bu twith uneven writing -- sometimes brilliant, other time incoherent -- it's rumored to be on the network's list of shows in need of surgery. And the list of actors leaving their jobs seemed endless: Y&R's Terry Lester, SB's Lane Davies, AMC's Kathleen Noone, ATWT's Martha Byrne, DAYS's Genie Francis and so on.

Whether all the changes that began in '89 will continue throughout the new year and make a dent in viewership remains to be seen. But one has a sense that this is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Changes have occurred, to be sure, but who are these people occupying new jobs? Too many times they are the same writers, actors, and producers we heave seen again and again on other soaps. They are hired and rehired because they have experience in the serial format. Often that seems the only reason they're hired. Granted, soaps are a very specialized way of telling story. And given the furious pace, shows need talent familiar with the format. But in constantly rehiring the same people, soaps prohibit the real change they seem so intent on nurturing. Many veteran writers, producers, and actors lack a fresh point of view. They've been toiling in the field for so long that they have tunnel vision. In order for soaps -- and this includes prime-time soaps -- to break through into the nineties, they need to add new talent: writers from other forms of television, film or print who are passionate about the medium, but have a different perspective on characters and storytelling. Soaps have never shied away from hiring totally inexperienced models (when there are many accomplished actors begging for work) and giving them the chance to grow on screen. Why not do the same for writers, who have at least proven their talent in other mediums? Instead of hiring talent who have been fired from other shows, executives need to develop new talent. This is easier said than accomplished. Developing talent takes time and money, two commodities with which networks are notoriously stingy. Still, without new talent, they are in danger of preventing the kind of growth and scope in drama that artists are eager to create, and viewers want to see.

Having said that, there are promising projects in development right now that could point to an innovative decade. While the current prime-time serials are sagging, ABC will premiere TWIN PEAKS. With David (Blue Velvet) Lynch and Mark (HILL STREET BLUES) Frost producing, and an initial cast of twenty-five moving upwards of forty, TWIN PEAKS has been created with a blend of talented people not soaked in the serial traditions, but anxious to make their mark on the format. Perhaps they can create something classic yet fresh, and inspire others.

Finally, as we enter the new decade it msut be noted that 1990 is the sixtieth anniversary of broadcasting soap operas in America. We encourage the shows to make changes while noting that soaps are still the most profitable, involving, and entertaining way to tell a story.

And they said it wouldn't last.
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SOD Best & Worst -- 1989 · Soap Opera History & Discussion