December 16, 2003
My plan was to wait until I caught up on last week’s (and now this week’s) General Hospital and One Life to Live before I wrote another column. Even if I had things to say, it felt somehow unfair to just start spouting thoughts without the full, up-to-date story. I still think OLTL deserves that, so I’ll be saving the comments on that show until I have viewed everything on the tapes stacked in my living room. As for GH, it dawned on me just this morning, while I was munching a bagel and sipping hot chocolate in the parking lot of the drugstore pharmacy, waiting out the 25 minutes until my daughter’s antibiotic was measured, labeled, and dumped into a bottle; that I don’t need to see much of anything to make the comments I plan to make. If GH doesn’t owe me any explanations for dropped storylines (The darn CROWN Carly was wearing!? Hey…maybe it was a sign that she should consider head armor, it would’ve come in handy a few weeks ago that’s for sure!), missing characters (Felicia? Puh-fricken-lease! Gia? Guess she’s buried in a stack of books somewhere which is a shame because I liked her and she’s downright gorgeous on that JCPenney commercial!), and missing writing (Uh…So AJ did all that planning off screen? How utterly convenient – and unimaginative.), then why do I have to watch every word to jump to my own conclusions? I don’t think I do! So, take these thoughts, as you will. They are not from someone who is overly informed, it’s true. They are not from someone who has the most stellar memory among women, either. Oh, and they are not from someone who has had much sleep in the last two days (refer to the antibiotic trip above). They are, however, from a long-time viewer who has all but given up several times on this show, and then did give up for awhile. Now, I’m just watching, wide-eyed and speechless at times (and not in that “shock and awe” kinda way it seems the tptb would like), unsure of what to do with my residual love for GH.
I’ve witnessed much discussion over the past couple years about whether a person should love a show because of specific characters or pairings, or whether you have to just love the show as a whole in order to stay sane as a viewer. Honestly, there is probably no wrong answer to that question because everyone watches for something different and everyone has his/her own deal breaker. While it’s easy to listen to the ranting of some fans and dismiss their “If they get rid of HIM, I’m outta here” with a “if you’re watching just for HIM then you were screwed from day one since no one is forever on daytime” type comment, it’s not so easy to dismiss once tptb hit on your deal breaker. I don’t mean to make it sound like some sort of hostage situation or something, because we’re all willing participants for as long as we’re turning our dial to the right channel at the right time every day. I daresay though, that there are few to none among us that will continue to watch General Hospital everyday forever, regardless of what changes occur.
Soaps are very cyclical, and for each of us there was a character, a family, or even more likely, a couple, that drew us in to begin with. At some point, we went from viewing GH as something our mothers, grandmothers and aunts watched to really seeing it for ourselves. Something hooked us, and sure, that something is probably long gone by now. Couples fade, change partners, betray, and reunite. Characters are recast, ruined, redeemed, killed and reincarnated. We’ve all weathered it, even with our favorites being the target at times. But if you’re still viewing, there is still *something* of what hooked you in the first place and that’s what keeps us coming back.
Many of us were initially hooked by a couple or particular character, and then suddenly we found we really did have to know what was going to happen next, and not just to that character! We became interested in intertwining threads and the undercurrent of the particular show. Each soap has a different pitch and feel, and finding “your soap” could be equated to finding the perfect home. You approach and browse around strange houses, and some seem quite nice but they just aren’t “the one”. Suddenly you walk into one, and within a few minutes you can just *feel* it. It’s an inexplicable feeling of belonging. It’s very similar with soaps; I’ve watched at least (because I’m not gonna expend the energy it takes to truly remember for certain) seven soaps in my life that I was truly invested in. I’ve browsed and spent time in several others. Even among the seven though, there are certain ones that have felt more like home to me than others. GH is definitely at the top of those. I’m sure it has something to do with writing about it as well, but I’ve been blessed to have found Eye on Soaps and Katrina, and she probably would allow me to write about whatever show I wanted if it were important enough to me and fit in with the idea of the site. I’ve dabbled a little in OLTL writing, and I enjoyed it. I absolutely adore OLTL right now; it’s my favorite soap of the moment, no question. Unfortunately, it isn’t home to me. When I write for OLTL, it feels different…I’d equate it to writing about someone else’s perfectly wonderful child, as opposed to writing about my own wonderful child. They’re both great, but the personal attachment is less with one. It is that attachment that has kept me at my television for GH, year after year. That attachment is no longer to a specific character or couple, it matured a long time ago into an attachment to the tone, ebb and flow, and most importantly, the core of the show.
The foundation of the soap has long been family. They come in all different flavors, but they all have dysfunction within so as to allow the family members to have our sympathy when they do outrageous, sometimes unforgivable things. The families go through all sorts of changes, I realize, and they most definitely grow and deplete from time to time. I know in my head that I can’t be surprised by GH’s decision to get rid of Edward Quartermaine…it’s pretty much par for the course. They got rid of Laura and the Spencer’s have yet to recover. There is no Spencer family, actually. There are just a couple loose members rattling around mostly ignoring each other. They got rid of Helena (and I realize she’s not gone exactly, but they have chosen not to utilize her in any fitting fashion so it’s all the same to me) and Stefan. They pretty much did away with the remaining Hardy ties a while ago, and we are now reduced to watching for Audrey to appear every time there is a “very special Liz wounding”. Now it’s the Quartermaines who are disappearing, and with that will go the last family unit that actually still functions, albeit with much dysfunction! AJ’s gone, Lila is gone, Edward will be soon, and rumors are swirling about Alan and Monica. How short sighted can they be? How will new viewers be expected to forgive Jason all his trespasses if they can’t insert a scene of Edward calling him a hoodlum and blaming him for ruining AJ? No, seriously, this is short sighted and it’s for much better reasons than that! There are NO families left! Watch any successful soap, and it all stems from the family! Watch any repeat of a once successful (now cancelled) prime time hot, hip “young persons” show (90210) and it’s almost never about those pesky older folk. Funny though, how those shows only go on so long and then suddenly everyone realizes, “hey, sooner or later these people have to grow up and do *something* besides live fast and hard with each other…they’ve gotta get lives”, which, I might add, probably will include remembering that before they moved into their dorm rooms, they had families. So yeah, the cast grows up and the show gets cancelled. No problem, just start a new one with different characters, right?
GH does need a change, but the one thing it doesn’t need is to move even further from its core. Change is hard. But we’re used to it. We’ve had plenty of change in the last few years, so much so in fact, that many of us are loathe to get comfortable with anything or anyone in Port Charles. That, my friends, is a big problem for a genre that has been based from the very beginning on the idea that we turn it on and get lost in the safe predictability of their little world every day. Yep, I said predictable, and mostly it is just that. Sure, there are shockers and twists…but they’re the same shockers and twists from way back when, just updated and refurbished a bit. That’s the point – we want to count on the “soapy-ness” of the whole thing. We want a catfight now and then. We want a blond to melt to the floor, wailing, “He wants Blair!” We want him to say “Don’t you know I’d give up my life for you?” We want her to get sick and die (if her name is Emily, I really, really want it) a heart wrenching death, leaving him alone just in time for the girl with the bad attitude to come in and rock his world, thereby healing them both of their past pain. We want that past pain to come rushing back in the form of a lost love returned or a secret revealed. We want all these things, and we want them to bubble up and overflow out of a core that is solid and steadfast, a core that will be there, supporting and lending the backdrop that keeps our show what it always has been; home.
The core is the innermost, and most important, part. It’s no mistake that the core usually holds the seeds, and it’s not surprising that it’s not among the part that we usually devour before moving on to devour something else. Sure, you can get rid of the core and try to keep the flashier, more attractive parts…but they won’t hold their shape without the core. They won’t stand on their own and they can’t sustain or propagate for the future. In essence, they’re attractive and they taste pretty good, but then often, they’re gone.
Certainly, no one lasts forever and we have to have new young faces come and go. There will be those that stick around and someday, they’ll make up the new core…but that someday is a long way off for most of GH’s characters. It’s hard to even picture it honestly, because GH has managed to scatter families so thoroughly at times that it feels like we’ll never again see any cohesive character mapping. Remember when most characters fit in a family tree under some other (maybe even long gone) character that was around at the beginning? Sure, it’s trite that most newcomers to town end up being related to *someone*, but it’s sort of necessary. It’s the nature of soaps to take their time in developing a new branch to the soap family tree and many a new character comes and ultimately goes because they were pushed too far from the soapy nest. They didn’t have the ties, the history of other characters to draw from. A few, usually the ones that are played by great talents or great developing talents, manage to end up with a family built especially for them and a new area for the writer’s to play with is born. Writers have to remember though that the new toy still has to be part of a whole and if you push aside the elements that supported the branching out along the way, you may very well end up with an island that feels more like a trap than an tropical escape.
I could give you a foot long list of soap stars that I’ve adored over the years that have moved on to bigger and better things, or moved on into something different entirely. It’s the nature of the business. They become popular, they decide to strike out and see what’s out there. Understandable. Then you have those who do that and come back, only to leave again. Understandable again, if not slightly annoying when it occurs at the expense of other long-term characters or story. There are those who stick with it in a more or less long-term fashion though, happy enough to continue developing a beloved character for the long haul, and in my mind, those characters become part of the core. It’s a sometime fragile thing, depending heavily on writing and almost as heavily on an actor’s willingness to stick with a steady job. It’s not easy to recast a Bobbie, an Alan, or a Tracy. It’s almost impossible to recast an Edward, a Lila, a Laura, or a Luke. Sure, it can (and has) be done, but it becomes a very thin thread holding the character to the canvas and the viewer’s hearts during the transition. There simply have to be faces that have been around “forever”.
At some point, many young women return to the soap that their childhood caregivers watched. I think (and this is far from scientific, I admit) it often goes something like this: Grandma watched GH, Mom watched GH, and you grew up listening to them talk about the stupid stories when all you wanted to do was turn it to Little House or Lassie. At some point, you started taking a slight interest in the soapy issues and secretly became involved in watching a little along the way. You hit mid teens and got your own TV, or at least access to one that you could control and you changed the channel to an altogether different soap because, hey, no way is what Mom watches up your alley. Fast-forward a few years and many, many of you turned back to GH and saw that familiar face or two, along with some interesting new faces and you were sucked right into coming home to GH.
There are a thousand and one variations to the story, but the truth of the matter is that when we flip over to something we haven’t watched in ages, we aren’t checking out all the new blood – we’re searching for a familiar face. We catch a glimpse of Nora or Bo and we wonder what the heck they’ve been up to! We say, “Erica’s doing Adam? Holy crap!” and then we set down the remote and see what the heck else is up with these old friends. We meet the new characters, and the new faces of old characters, and we become ensconced once again. “Search for Tomorrow”, the oldest soap that I remember, began airing in 1951. According to the wise Naomi Hersch Clackum, 25 new soaps were aired within a few years of that, obviously most went into television oblivion in fairly short order. Things obviously evened out and we’ve had many of the same staple soaps for quite a few years now. I think it’s no accident that once the genre really took hold, those that were in it from way back have proven more successful than those that have tried to break into an already crowded success story. Santa Barbara and Port Charles are two that, in my mind, were brought in to try to capture a younger audience. I watched both, and SB I watched as a late teen so I suppose I fit into the target age at the time. They ultimately failed though, for both similar and different reasons. One has to wonder though, if targeting a soap opera directly (and exclusively to some extent) toward the “young” demographic is any way to be successful long term.
I won’t claim to understand a darn thing about demo’s and ratings. I watch the ratings with some interest purely because I keep hoping that falling ratings will equal change, for the better, at GH. I do realize, through reading other’s thoughts and reading the inane comments Brian Frons seems to be able to churn out on an almost weekly basis, that the youngest viewers are the most important to tptb. Again, I won’t pretend to truly understand (and I’ve read several explanations so maybe I just don’t want to understand it, lol) why exactly the networks are concerned with selling detergent to children who probably can’t find the washing machine to save their own baby soft skin, when once again, I assert that what Mom uses probably goes further in the long run toward establishing a detergent buying tradition. If I accept, begrudgingly, that there must be a reason for the teen being the Holy Grail of viewership, then I would most humbly suggest that it has worked for many a year to reach the teens through the best conduit out there, the viewing caregiver. To my (albeit limited) knowledge, the main sponsors for soaps are still things like department stores, toiletry makers, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc. These are things that teenagers just expect to appear when they need them; they don’t often spend their time going out to actually hunt them down. I suppose the point could be that if they can draw in the younger viewer, they can get more (possibly higher paying?) of the sponsors that kids might actually care about. Personally, I’d rather they go ahead and use the primetime arena for that, seeing as how the 13 year olds are actually home at night.
Look, I don’t know how “PC” this is, but I’m just going to say what I think. Sure, characters like Monica, Alan, Edward, Bobbie and Mac aren’t cute young things anymore. Sure, most of them have transitioned from the half-naked love scene into something a bit more sedate (not that I don’t think they could pull it off, given half the chance). Yes, it’s probably cheaper to pay the salary of a teenage new hire than it is to pay someone who has been around for years, and the already installed tongue ring is just a bonus! I think that the cast has been too big for awhile now – well, let me restate that actually – the cast is too big for the current writing staff to possibly handle with any aplomb at all. Several of the characters that are to be cut are not surprises to me because they are rarely utilized, but making their cuts in the area of Edward Quartermaine is the dumbest thing I’ve seen this regime do, and that’s saying a lot, believe me. Edward *is* the Quartermaine family. He should be among the faces that are kept around as long as possible. There should be a Q Thanksgiving episode every year. There should be a Nurses Ball every year. There should be a grouchy ole (sometimes loveable) curmudgeon like Edward, heading up what basically constitutes the only partially intact family left on the show. You can’t take two characters who are slightly related (Nikolas and Alexis) and call that a core family. You can’t take an upstart family that has been on the screen for a quarter of one generation (the Corinthos’) and call them your new core family. You can by all means begin to prep them into becoming a future cornerstone of GH, but if you try to pass the torch prematurely, you’re bound to lose out in the end. Again, I’m not sure of the political correctness of this either but what the heck, I’ll say it anyway. Basing your show on a core of teen, twenty-something and even early thirty-something’s is a really risky move. Some of these actors (in our new “core”) are very talented. They’ll follow the same path many soap stars do, they’ll move on. If you rid yourself of all the pesky long-time hangers-on and throw in completely with the “new and improved”, how do you expect to sustain them? How cheap do you figure they’ll be once they figure out you have no one but them to depend on? And more power to them if tptb are stupid enough to go there.
I’ve yet to see any explanation for what amounts to frivolous spending in hiring or rehiring several actors, only to push them aside and play with the same six or eight characters day after day (Take that back, read Katrina's column after writing this and discovered that she has some great explanations. That system obviously sucks!). I also have yet to understand why we’re “making cuts” and reducing on one hand, while luring big name talents from other networks on the other. The supposed explanation for that comes in the form of a quote from Mr. Frons, in a TV Guide interview with Michael Logan:
"The hard part of the job is to try and figure out which of our veterans - of any age - are still as incandescent and attractive to the audience as they were at the height of their fame. If we feel the value is gone, we let them go. If we feel there is still value but it's not what it once was, we renegotiate."
Thank you Mr. Frons, for pointing out where the value is. There is little doubt in my mind that Mr. Frons, and ABC’s “value” scale has nothing whatsoever to do with acting ability. That’s not to say that I don’t think some of the obvious “keepers” in their eyes aren’t talented. Some of them are. Some of them are highly overrated and wildly overexposed (on several levels), however. I suppose none of this should be a shock to me, it is happening all over America. Businesses everywhere no longer place value on dedication to the job, long-term commitment or pure, time acquired skill. It’s a different world and I suppose I’m expected to move with it. Unfortunately, most people would agree that service and products haven’t become better, they’ve become cheaper and disposable. Soaps are not disposable. Daytime television should not be treated like prime time. General Hospital is not 90210 or Melrose Place. Modeling a successful for 40 years show, after a show that has already demised in its infancy (comparatively speaking) is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. And since I’ve already stomped all over political correctness over the last two hours, I may as well say that this show seriously needs more female input in the writing. That’s a whole other column, but damn, there is something so *off* about the viewpoint of the entire show. It’s like it’s all told through the eyes of a male, sixteen-year-old high school drop out (obviously, since nobody goes to school anymore in PC) or something. “Oooh, if I were a mobster, I’d have me one of those wife’s too! And she’d want me no matter what I do or say…and she’d do it all with a smile!”
Apparently, certain networks feel that they already have a lock on the “old” viewers and that no matter what, we’ll keep tuning in. Maybe they think we were born before there were more than three channels so it never occurs to us to change, or maybe they think we’ll let our tweenage daughters decide what we view every afternoon *snort*. Am I suggesting that everyone shut off GH because John Ingle was fired? Nope. I stay out of the “Watch because if you don’t it’ll get cancelled” vs. “Don’t support such atrocities as this because it’ll only ensure it continues” debates. Mostly because I have no idea what the right answer is. I just go with my gut: Do I want to turn on GH today, or not? That’s what it truly comes down to for all of us. No matter what soapbox we step on, on occasion. We always have and always will make up our mind on a daily basis. What we saw yesterday, last week and last year play a part and what we expect to see tomorrow is most important of all. Soaps always have the ability to swing back the other way when things get bad, and they’ve done it plenty of times. Problems can arise however, when you’ve killed off or decimated too much of the core and I would certainly caution GH’s writers about that at this point. A year from now, when they realize (or the new writers realize, I should say) just how dire the situation has become and just exactly how many viewers are disillusioned beyond repair, can it be fixed? Sure, it can always be fixed given enough time. The real question is will there be enough time? Will the networks hold onto to something that may need a lot of reconstructing, and will then need even more time to lure back those viewers who gave up when they realized one day that they weren’t looking at home anymore when they turned the channel to General Hospital?
I’m not asking for much, and yes, I’m being selfish. I want to see Edward, in the form of John Ingle (whom I adore and whom I was looking SO forward to getting to actually meet at the GH Fan Club weekend this year, *sob*…I’m still trying to hold onto hope that maybe he’ll be there anyway) on my screen at least on occasion! I want to see Monica and Bobby and Alan as well. Are we really going to end up with a bunch of twenty and thirty something’s with no parental figures to whine to? How is that good? How do you have a girl show up and claim that she’s the long lost child of a major heroine if all the heroines are 25? The kid could only be about 12, at most. Oh wait, I got it, she’ll be accompanied by her “faux mommy” who is…hmmm, lemme guess: 25, buxom and loves to dance half naked around strange men in her spare time. Oh yeah, they’ve proven they can work with that!
I’ll readily admit that I can no longer watch the mob story or any of it’s surrounding characters with any semblance of objectivity. I resent them. It’s pretty difficult for them to do much right, in my book. Carly has been more mature acting of late, Sonny is sweet with the baby, Courtney impressed me for five minutes when she decided she didn’t want to be a mob moll…and that’s about it. There are plenty of other characters that I can take or leave on soaps, but none I feel such complete dislike and disinterest in. The dislike comes from the very real feeling that those characters suck the airtime away from so many others that I enjoy, and I can’t get past it. It’s not the fault of the actors; it’s the fault of the writers. Those characters (all of them) were among my favorites (and I mean, almost at the top of my list) a few short years ago. The disinterest, in general, comes from feeling like GH is nothing more than a series of experiments at the moment. Let’s bring on Cameron, have him be Zander’s father and have him be interested in Alexis. All that is set up and then…nothing. They couldn’t write through it, they couldn’t make any of it come to life on screen. We watched it, we were shocked that Zander shot his brother, we were shocked that Zander maybe didn’t shoot his brother, then we realized all of this meant absolutely nothing to either character in the long run. Cameron’s very best day was his first day. (And that is a huge tribute to Lane Davies’ acting ability, how many actors can make their first day stand out in a good way?) After that, they completely forgot about why they brought him on board to begin with. Sage was introduced in typical GH “shocking” fashion, but that whole introduction, the gun, the revenge…that only lasted a day. Am I supposed to think there is something actually *to* this character? Don’t worry, I know better than to bother wondering. Alexis had a baby, and occasionally we get to see her feet, which is cool.
Can I accept that Sonny and Jason will never lose, and Carly and Courtney will never grow a brain between them? Can I accept that I’m supposed to (apparently) be cheering when Jason rides the time travel rainbow over to the island and rescues Courtney and the kids from the evil people claiming that their daddy is a fugitive and their mommy apparently ran off with him, by scuttling them out the back door in yet another hail of gunfire (Did you notice Morgan didn’t even jump at the noise? It’s so convenient that that sound reminds him of being safe in mommy’s womb!)? You know, I think I could actually live with that stuff, coexist with it, if there were other things that were just as prominent. At this point, that’s all I’m asking. It’s a waste of my time to expect any real change in the mob arena of GH (regardless of the claims made by tptb), and I don’t plan to bother anymore. Just give me something decent that has equal time, and leave me a few characters I enjoy, along with a few of the traditions I have every right to expect after years of viewing and I promise to try to just enjoy that and let the rest pass by. Take ½ the screen time Dillon and Sage have gotten lately (and I adore Dillon, but come on! This story should NOT be taking up so much airtime) and even a ¼ of the time the mob (in any form, I don’t even care where the cuts come from anymore) gets and you have time to give me some grown up, true soap staple stories. Oh yeah, and I want it completely bullet, fire, and explosion free. I want all human drama, all the time - no trying to hide the fact that you’re really trying to write short stories under the guise of props, both animate and inanimate. Stop trying to sell me this staccato crap! It’s really very simple, oh Powers That Be: on soap, what happened to this character before you decided to reinvent him, does matter. Time and tradition matter, the core is integral. Diversity and sweeping story arcs are paramount. The only way you can circumvent any of that is to be a good enough writer to make me see a reason it can be viewed differently. Otherwise, you’re stuck with it. So if you can’t hack it - get out. Before you take things any lower than they already are.
Until GH catches on again to the way it’s been done successfully, for decades, I think I’ll just keep hoping for the cyclical thing to catch up with them. Fashion is working its way back to the eighties, VH1 is all over the eighties…maybe soaps will catch the wave. I’m not sure I ever thought I’d be craving big hair and shoulder pads, lol, but I might take them if it means GH can return to love in the afternoon. I miss the fun, I really do.
I hope you all have a blessed holiday! I always love to hear from you, and Lane, I have no intention of replacing my email button with a younger, more “valuable and incandescent” version. You’re always at the height of your fame with me! So everybody give Lane a tickle and tell me how you feel!
I leave you with 10 reasons I’m still watching:
Kristina’s feet, courtesy of GH World 4!
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