This is a simple column by a complex
As the years turn into decades into centuries, past, society turns into fragmented cliques of specialization—a natural evolution of population explosion and finite geography.
The center cannot hold, and all that Yeats modern poetry jazz, y’know? Three’s a crowd and five billion’s crowd control gone out of whack.
People need order amid the chaos, backed up by reasonable explanations, usually a god’s involved to take care of the meddlesome bother of sorting through an over-flow.
Farmlands spread and condense into urban jungles. Technology affords convenience with the spread, but a strange isolation. Expanse into the Wild Wild West, tamed until there is no more paradise left to explore, but a phalanx of resort boutique complexes to sooth the civilized beast. Neighborhoods—borne of early pioneering spirits—become individualized bomb shelters, without the WWIII.
The expanse condenses, crowds, until, ironically, instead of community again, the isolation, the cliques form ever tighter, closed.
The family doctor everybody saw for coughs, the Clap, Cancer, splits into the pediatrician, the ob-gyn, the neurologist, the gastroenterologist, the urologist, the oncologist...a specialist for every body part, apart.
For all the Madonna-inspired grasp of New Age ethics, naturopathic embrace of the whole, cue Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village,” we are, ever more, divided, disconnected.
Which leaves soaps one of the last frontiers, Doug Marland died, Luke and Laura divorced, Jonathan Jackson left the building in the 1990s.
Lately, 2003, reports of soaps’ demise have not been greatly exaggerated. To the contrary, before our very eyes, amidst fan bases campaigning and board-warring over favorite characters’ air times and fictional pairings, TPTB have changed the very face of soap operas to fit the changing of the times.
Naturally, the changes reflect societal tendencies toward the latest trend, the clique, the specialization, the inward naval-gazing of a segregated life based on familiarity, similarity, pleasures of the flesh and private perverted hang-ups.
No outsiders allowed.
Communities, families, friends, have been replaced summarily by young couples and their hangers-on. Real people being real with each other over real-life subjects have been taken over by idealized body parts in the 17-31 age range, preferably Caucasian, blonde, WASPish, the men towering hunks with rippling muscles, the women slender to the point of anorexia with huge breasts (real or imagined), round buttocks and tiny waists.
ABC Daytime – run by Disney, of whitebread fantasy – leads the pack. With budget cutbacks and network executives obsessed with reality-TV and keeping up with primetime programming (never mind that primetime’s been blatantly stealing from daytime serials in notable successes such as 24), veteran actors and actresses, actors and actresses of color and character actors and actresses are in big trouble and dire straits.
The network wants what sells immediately, what sells fast, and what sells to the group most likely to buy, a lot. Unfortunately, that rules me out, all of my friends and acquaintances and the people who raised me on soaps in the first place.
How’s that for loyalty?
I’m not sure what the network wants for long-time, loyal viewers in my age group, viewers who look nothing like OLTL’s Jennifer Rappaport or GH’s Jason Morgan, viewers who care nothing for AMC’s “Sexiest Man Contest” – being pimped constantly at an embarrassing pitch – or PC’s supernatural, sexualized vampiric bent featuring a former Playboy Playmate, viewers who miss simple, good old-fashioned storytelling with interesting, diverse characters, easily relatable, identifiable, understandable.
Maybe the network suits, as an afterthought, want us over-the-hill viewers to just go with the flow, sit there and take it, force ourselves to fall in love with jail bait who mindlessly parade around and fret over the most mundane minutiae of shallow life, boys, stripping, hooking, marrying for fun and profit, give these models and acting wannabes a chance to prove themselves with the two-year training ground that used to be ground-breaking daytime television, the kind of ground-breaking television that primetime and the mainstream have appropriated and adulterated.
Most importantly, encourage the youngsters we know to buy the bullshit.
Michael Bruno, manager to several soap stars, including Billy Warlock (A.J., GH)—poster boy for what’s missing in soaps lately—recently talked to Soap Opera Digest editors about the sad, sorry state of affairs. By no means the lone voice in the wilderness (James DePaiva, OLTL’s outgoing veteran who will say his last good-bye as Max this fall, joined the chorus), Bruno flat-out speculates that the industry will continue to cut back by cutting the dead weight of the older veterans, while chasing after a select few who meet the marketing ideal: young, beautiful, sexy... or, who meet the youth demo group’s preferences. Anybody else better hit the gym, the plastic surgeon and the fountain of youth. These network executives aren’t above excising beloved mainstays, the veterans who put daytime on the map, in order to pursue the likes of on-screen nymphet (who moans and fakes orgasm pretty decently, but couldn’t act anywhere near as convincingly as a, say, Robin Strasser/Dorian, OLTL) Kelly Monaco (Livvie, PC).
It’s even been bandied about that Finola Hughes (Anna) decided to leave AMC rather than take a hefty pay cut. Finola Hughes?!
Who’s next? That’s the point, Bruno explained, anybody’s possible. The ratings have crashed, the demographics have changed, the cost to put on a show has skyrocketed and the interest in general has lagged.
Networks will do anything to keep from losing money and viewers, even defile their soaps, abuse their soap vets and alienate their soap viewers.
Meanwhile, I can’t help feeling pushed out of a clique I always felt was merely a favorite form of entertainment. Before, I turned on the TV – with my own two fingers, mind you – waited out the commercials, sat back and lost myself in the stories of other people with happy endings and social morals. Now... now, I don’t know...
Am I supposed to quietly disappear in a retirement home? Go to Vegas, Fiji? Sit on an iceberg off Antarctica until I die in my sleep? Bust out my vibrator and join the mile-high club?
Should I get a lobotomy and forget 20-plus years of outstanding soap operas?
If I complain, they list me as an interested viewer. If I boycott, they think about cancellation.
I can’t win.
Last night, my alter ego Mrs. Blondi von Slagdevicz received a few irate e-mails over this week’s Llan-VIEW, “Carousel begins,” over at SoapTown USA. The readers had a bit of a problem with my x-rated slip of the tongue bath about some of the OLTL characters. It read like soft-porn, exactly the intention of the network executives pulling the puppet strings of the EP and the head writers. But instead of taking me to task for my potty mouth and dirty mind, maybe these readers, AND YOU TOO, should think about the effect these shows intend.
They’re not playing tiddly winks here.
If your tits sag and your dick wilts, with a few wrinkles, gray hairs and love handles, you can’t play.
The train to hell leaves in one hour. Take a shower first, for God’s sakes.
“AMC, kinda sorta maybe better”
“an audience of one”
“add a real dose of reality-TV to soaps”
“Bianca sucks, let’s rape her!”
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