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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Writer Reminisces and Rambles about The Cancellation of All My Children And One Life

I had a lot of good times watching All My Children and One Life to live back in the day. Soaps were a guilty pleasure when I was in High School and College and even afterward. I’m gonna miss these shows when they go off the air in September and January.
I had a lot of great memories watching All My Children and One Life to Live. When I was a little kid I remember watching parts of the classic storylines that introduced Adam and Stuart Chandler, on All My Children, Viki/Niki and the City of Eternia on One Life to Live, and the Classic Tad Martin/Billy Clyde Tuggle battle on the Bridge. All Awesome stuff I thoroughly enjoyed and still remember fondly to this day.

As I got older they were something to watch between doing homework and research on papers. I remember scheduling my life around now classic storylines like Natalie/Janet, 15 Motives for Murder the mystery revolving around the death of Will Cortlandt, and Michael Malone’s masterpiece storyline dealing with the physical, emotional and psychological ramifications of rape featuring Marty Saybroke, Todd Manning, Powell Lord and Zach Rosen. That one storyline is one of the best in soap operas and shows how effective the genre could be at storytelling when a good writer is at the helm.

And after I graduated college, I loved watching Noah and Julia come together as a supercouple on All My Children. That was one of the best written and acted interracial romances ever presented on television, full of fire, chemistry and passion in a storyline that where I saw people and not their skin colors.

Then sometime in the late 90’s early 2000s I started to lose interest in soaps. Why? Not because of the actors, most times their performances were good.

And it wasn’t because of my busy life. I still checked in to see what was going on when I took a break from the laptop. A lot of my favorite characters were still on the show. Plus David Canary, Michael E. Knight, and Bobbie Eakes were putting on a clinic for aspiring soap writers and actors with the Babe/Adam Chandler/ Adam Jr. feud which evolved into the Adam/Babe/Tad Martin feud of the early-Mid 2000s. That was a great feud with humor, with tight writing, solid acting and excellent pacing. I’d have to say it was the last great storyline on All My Children.

No, what made me lose interest was the overall bad writing that began to plague the genre.

While some Television executives will say that it was the internet and a changing world that made soaps go out of vogue with viewers, what turned me off was the bad writing. I was tired of the gimmicks, one-shot characters, tired plot devices churned out every week. Sometime around 2002 for me, soaps devolved from programs featuring tight, fast-paced action-packed inspired storytelling to a bland formula of weekly bed-hopping, baby switching, evil twins, and paternity results.

Not to mention the attempts to insult people’s intelligence with storylines that revised forty years of history with retroactive continuity.

Story wise there was nothing excite someone about an episode of All My Children or One Life to Live after 2002. Every character on these shows was becoming rich and professional, and by the mid-2000s the show focused so much on people working in offices, living in mansions and driving luxury cars it became a turn-off. The shows’ characters and stories in Pine Valley and Llanview became out of touch with the middle class and working class American television audiences who grew up with them. Seriously, where are the guys and gals who worked in stores? The ones who struggled to pay the rent in an apartment? The two or three people who huddled up in a two-bedroom apartment just to make the rent? The angry loner watching TV after midnight? The people working to start a small business? The ones who owned a small business? The guys and gals in the entry level jobs looking for a big break? Where were the underemployed twentysomethings who had college degrees and no jobs? The kids struggling with student loans? The families struggling with debt? The families struggling with mortgages they couldn’t afford? The Dad who grew pot out of his basement? The Ex-con coming out of jail to recruit teens for the drug gang he wanted to establish Pine Valley? The Muslim Families dealing with prejudice years after 9/11? Housewives dealing with Prescription drug addiction while having an affair? Seniors who servicing prostitutes in the seediest parts of Pine Valley and Llanview? Stuff I read about in the headlines of my paper? Stuff I saw going on everyday? This is the kind of stuff that made soaps a huge hit back when I watched them regularly. The people on those soaps were people like you and me, and the stories mixed romance and adventure in with those everyday experiences to give viewers an escape from their own lives.

I have to wonder if an All My Children or One Life to Live writer has read a newspaper or watched the TV news in the last five years. Hell, have they taken a ride on the subway or walked around the block of the ABC SuperStudios? Instead of crumbling under the pressure of writer’s block sometimes a writer has to go out and EXPERIENCE LIFE. Then they can return to the keyboard inspired with new ideas and a new perspectives for a story.

Because in serialized programming like Comic books, Soap Operas, and Wrestling the bad stories from out of touch writers starts a chain reaction. Without good scripts, the directors don’t know how to motivate the actors to portray their characters onscreen. The actors have no subtext to work with so their performances don’t have chemistry or passion, and wind up stiff and wooden onscreen. Worse, they repeat themselves in the daily dialogue. The bad acting in these bad storylines causes the show to fall apart and the viewer loses interest. And ultimately, this bad writing leads to cancellation of a beloved classic program.

It was clear to me way back in 2002 that the current crop of Soap writers were burnt out, out of ideas and out of touch with viewers. But instead of searching for new writers to take the soap genre in a new direction that focused on storylines featuring issues middle class viewers relate to today like Cyberbullying, Internet Predators, being unemployed over 40, Being unemployed over 40 and having to start over, elder abuse, prescription drug abuse, (I’ll admit a great Erica Kane storyline was done about this in the 90’s) the producers continued to recycle the same crappy tired bed-hopping storylines over and over again but with more and more absurd gimmicks around them and crippled the genre.

Personally, I feel the soap opera isn’t dead. Like the Comic book, the medium is in a rut because the current crop of writers lost their connection to the middle class American audience. And when a writer loses their connection with the reader they can’t write stories the reader relates to. They don’t create characters the reader identifies with or experiences that the audience is having. And when viewers don’t see themselves living through the characters and don’t see their experiences transpiring in between the adventures onscreen then they have no incentive to buy into the program or continue watching the program. TV 101. Romance Novel 101. Film 101. Marketing 101. Writing 101.

However, when the writing is good on soaps people want to watch them and tune in to the next episode. The action is so compelling that people just can’t wait to see what happens next; people stop what they’re doing to watch it. People reschedule their lives around these shows. They plan to buy the products in the commercials.

I believe the concept of Soap Operas is strong. It’s just the current approach to writing them that needs an overhaul. I feel if ABC hired new writers connected with today’s audience and they wrote about problems middle class people could relate to people would get excited about watching soaps again. I really feel all it takes is one good storyline and the viewers who once abandoned the Soap opera for Reality television will be back in droves and bring their kids with them.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a most entertainning commentary on the demise of two of the most interesting soaps. I'm light years older than you, but once upon a time I carved out four hours daily to watch the soaps. I wouldn't miss even one and everything else got put on the back burner. We watched on our lunch hour and sneaked peeks with one watching for l5 minutes, etc.

    This seems like a lifetime ago. Now we have reality TV and a host of other entertainment I don't find half as entertaining.

    Now, please find a venue that can bring others up to date on what that life was life. Just a few of the good things we are and and will be missing in the days to come.

    Thanks, Shawn, for a beautiful portrait of the soaps and us.