Don’t say I don’t go to the mountain for you people. With your thoughts, needs and wants in mind, I have made an exhaustive study of fan comments and emails (I get exhausted pretty fast, so it’s not really that impressive, but still, I think I picked up some worthwhile info) and I have received from your keyboard to mine, the top ten requests viewers have of their shows.
A very long time ago, the Rolling Stones assured us via radio waves and a tiny diamond digging into vinyl grooves, “You can’t always get what you want.” (Clearly, they never heard of blackmail, which surprises me of the Stones.) Can we come close to getting what we want? The promise of that is what keeps us, the faithful, sticking around for decades on end… or not.
How close have to come to giving up on one or more of your soaps because they just were not meeting your entertainment needs any more? When does the investment of time, nostalgia and plain ol’ curiosity of what will happen next give way to the feeling that you’re never going to get to watch anything you enjoy ever again?
I am, of course, speaking of soaps in general and this unbelievable dedication we have to them. I have been an avid soap viewer for a very, very long time and, in fact, I can even pinpoint the day I started: April 1, 1963 – the first airing of General Hospital. Then came One Life to Live, then came All My Children. It would take a lot for me to walk away from that history. I’ve had marriages that lasted a whole lot less time and provided me with far less entertainment. In fact, there is not one living soul who has been in my life for as long as soaps have been in my life. I have often considered what it would take for me to fully let go of “my stories,” as my mother and I used to call them.
As viewers, we can be a harsh crowd. We want what we want and truth be told, most of us want something different from the next person down on the message board. As a columnist, I hear a great deal about what people want and a threat that is often made is that the writer (of the email or comment directed at me) will stop watching if _____ does or doesn’t happen.
Sometimes, it’s a cumulative issue where enough things have happened on the show to disappoint the viewer that if ____ does or doesn’t happen, it’s the last straw and they’re done. Other times, it’s because they are so tightly invested in one actor, one character or one couple that if that goes away, they no longer have interest in the show.
In today’s life, we have many choices about how we spend our free time and a lot of demands on the time we have. If you watch live, a soap opera takes up an hour of your time. If you watch minus commercials, it’s around 40 minutes. The question then becomes whether or not the entertainment value you are getting is worth that much of your time.
What are your triggers? Do you hold that 40 minutes of your time hostage to the specific demands you have of the show? After reading countless (literally, I did not count them) comments and emails from viewers who have strong opinions about the shows, I have compiled a list of items that are important to the common viewer and some of the uncommon ones as well.
1) Historical accuracy and respect
I don’t demand perfection at all and I don’t think most viewers do either. Give us a good ol’ fashioned SORAS to make the story roll; we don’t care. Show us a character who struggles with the emotional aspects of an unexpected hysterectomy and then ten years later, struggles with the emotional aspects of a change of life pregnancy; that’s what makes soaps great! Send Bobby Martin on a ski trip and never bring him back. We’re good with that because it makes for a great comic moment when we see a quick flash of his skeleton in the attic 20 years later! (Plus we never liked that kid anyway) We’re easy! Really! Just (Powers that be, pay attention here because this is very important) don’t pretend like we’re stupid. Well, some of us are, but most of us aren’t and this is not the time to dummy down to the stupidest ones of us in the bunch.
Don’t give us the back story of Krystal sitting on the bed painting her toenails and not caring that she hears from Babe until she mentions that she “got herself a rich one” at which time she was suddenly all ears if you aren’t going to stick to it. Don’t give us the sob story of making full course dinners with an iron and a Bic lighter while servicing truck drivers on the side and then turn around and tell us that she was a legal secretary. We were there. We saw it. Check before you write. Don’t make the woman who stole a woman’s baby from her and allowed her to believe it died suddenly the best friend of that woman’s stepfather. It just doesn’t fly and it makes us cross. I knew Ruth Martin. Ruth Martin was a friend of mine. This woman is no Ruth Martin.
Although I was not excited about Josh Madden being un-aborted, I wasn’t offended by that story nearly as much as I was about the rewriting of why Erica had the abortion. Erica had the abortion because she did not want a pregnancy to ruin her beautiful model figure and suddenly that was changed to the poor gal who was just pregnant at the wrong time. Her decision was a landmark, ground-breaking soapy moment and it was pasteurized and sweetened up for that particular story for reasons I can’t imagine rather than bringing out the pure vanity that was at the heart of her choice.
2) Stick to The Formula, please
Since the dawn of time and weekday soaps, there has been a specific formula that is followed and in the past few years, that has gone out the window and frankly, it causes me to feel as though I missed a step on the staircase and everything is all vertigo-y and catterwonky.
For writers and producers who came on board without being given the handbook, here’s The Formula:
Monday: Resolution of the REQUIRED cliffhanger on Friday.
Tuesday: Something Blah and Boring because honestly, I need a day to schedule doctor appointments and to get my mani-pedi and possibly sleep.
Wednesday: The Bridge. Some minor climax needs to occur to keep me hepped up for the week and secure my interest for the next 3 days. Rivet me, baby. Rivet me hard.
Thursday: The False Resolution. I need to feel like things are somewhat resolved from Wednesdays little mini-drama and starting to come down again before…
Friday: BAM! We hit with The Cliffhanger that keeps me on the edge of my teeth all weekend and makes me eat up the spoilers on the internet and count down the seconds until Monday’s episode.
That’s how it should be. Sure, I understand that there are pre-emptions for news crap and the schedule gets thrown off by these new stupid rerun days, but plan for it when you can and catch up as soon as possible because The Formula is essential. Lately (as in the past few years), Monday has felt like Thursday and Friday has felt like Wednesday and the rest of the week is always Tuesday. I can only have so many appointments and naps in a week. Fix this, please.
3) Stay true to the character
It is understood that over time, a character must grow and develop as a result of the many exaggerated experiences they will encounter by living in a soap opera. It is understood that new Head Writers will see a character through a different filter than the ones that came before and give that character different nuances and highlight personality facets we did not see or consider before. We get it. Where it becomes disconcerting is when a character is suddenly someone we do not recognize.
After the violence in which he was raised, I was surprised to find that Tad had buried Greg Madden under the flowers in the park and tortured him over time, ultimately leading to his death. I could have let it go had – as in a plot our Eye on Soaps readers developed – there been some resolution to the act. They suggested that Ray Gardner should come back to haunt Tad for his actions until he atoned, sort of a “Ghost of Fathers Past” kind of thing. Tad has already shown a penchant for connecting with the other side, so bring it on. Instead, the only roll out we saw from this horrible act is that Krystal “comforted” him by cheating on Adam with him and getting pregnant with his child. As so many others do, every time I hear Tad sneer about what a horrible person David Hayward was, I think, “Oh but Tad. He never tortured and killed a man, now did he?” He blackmailed. He threatened. He bribed. I don’t believe he ever killed anyone. O hypocrisy! Thy name is Tad.
Where is my Jesse? Is it fair that I enjoyed him more as a ghost than I do in present form? Since his return and that beautiful, heart-wrenching Valentine’s Day reunion at the train station, I barely recognize one of my favorite characters. I continue to mourn the death of the cop I loved and I have no idea who this clown is walking around in a Jesse costume.
When they do it, they do it right. Jackson is always Jackson; Erica’s lap dog. Annie is always dependably Annie. Opal is wonderful Opal. Erica will forever be Erica. Kendall is Kendall and Bianca is Bianca. Knowing that the show can be true to the integrity of the character unfortunately makes it stand out all the more when they don’t.
4) Don’t focus on one character or couple exclusively
Above all, most viewers see soaps as an ensemble production. At any given time, there are 20-30 contract actors playing characters on the show and we draw alliances with certain ones who resonate with us. There is a broad spectrum of stories going on at any one time and we can usually expect that our favorites will be involved with one or more of them on some level, must to our pleasure. Ideally, we have four stories going at any one time: the front burner story, the up and coming story, the one that is just starting to perk and the one that is resolving and going away. Unfortunately, there is a trend as of late to involve one character or couple in all of those situations and have them be the constant, ongoing primary focus. Yes, I’m talking to YOU, General Hospital and All My Children is skating on some seriously thin ice about to fall into that same icy death trap of a lake.
If the primary focus is on a character we do not enjoy, there is a far greater chance we will tune out and find something we do enjoy. I can’t imagine any one character I want to watch for the majority of the episode. OK, that’s a lie. I will admit to a secret hope that “The Adam Chandler Show” will one day air. I’ve met Adam Chandler. Adam Chandler is a friend of mine. You, Ryan Lavery, are no Adam Chandler.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
5) Don’t overuse the joke.
Dorothy. Because she fell out of the sky. We get it. Now stop. Please.
6) Two words: fact check.
As with so many other things, we do not expect perfection by any means and we are perfectly willing to suspend things like reality and common sense to keep the story rolling. Writers have enough to do without having to nitpick every single little thing to death. We do understand that. But c’mon. Throw us a bone on the obvious stuff. There are enough of us out here without law degrees and having not ever appeared on a single episode of “Cops” who know that there is no way on God’s green earth Caleb could pull enough strings for Marissa to get exclusive custody of AJ without an investigation or hearing of some kind and especially allow his primary caregiver to be a woman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for baby-napping and have his primary place of play be a bar. Google that stuff before you feed it to us and we won’t choke quite as hard on it.
7) Easy does it on the new characters.
We fear change. Change is bad. We want everything to stay the way it was when it was at its best. We want Ryan to always been that roguish, devilish con artist we loved. We want Leo to live. We want Adam back in charge of Chandler Enterprises. We want Palmer shaking his fist at him from across town. Myrtle… Oh Myrtle. The reality is that actors die or retire or don’t work out or ask for too much money in contract negotiations and are bound to eventually go away. A show often benefits from a flow of new blood into the character pool. How else would we get the staples of long lost children and evil twins and abusive husbands who show up out of nowhere and reformed hookers? As much as we hate it, we need new characters. Our favorites were once new characters themselves.
Someone had to bop DA North on the head with that bookend and she needed to be expendable enough that she could be prosecuted after the false, red-herring arrest and then go away. But she stayed. SOMEONE had to come forward to run Cortlandt Electronics and be the foe to JR’s reign of terror and if we can’t get Nina or heck, even Petey to do it, I guess Caleb will do (I am admittedly biased, blinded by the fantastic hugs Michael Nouri gives at Fan Club Weekends and do not want him to go away before I can score another 15-20 of ‘em). Damon needed an arch-enemy to battle for Colby lest they fall away into teenage relationship boredom, so enter Asher.
As with so many other protocols, there are rules for newcomers. There must be a respectable period of lurking and background scenes with promotion to the forefront only when in conjunction with an established character or some issue likely to rate high on our interest meter (please consult with a designated viewer who is not affiliated with the show professionally to make certain this scene will interest us). They are by no means to be thrust into prominent position or in any way established into a circumstance where we are expected to care what has happened to them in the past, what is happening to them currently or what will happen to them in the future except as it involves an established character. Please see the information below to further explain:
Ensign Ricky wears a RED shirt. To answer the riddle posed above, Ensign Ricky is not coming back. Asher, for instance, is Ensign Ricky. We do not care if he gets eaten by a sludge monster or blasted away by an angry Greek God Child on The Planet (or in Pine Valley). Asher/Ricky has earned neither our disdain nor our interest. Having him turn out to be Caleb’s son does not interest us because Caleb is still Ensign Ricky as well. (Are you keeping up here?) Having Asher turn out to be Silver Kane in disguise — now that might captivate us for a while.
Di Miller was Ensign Ricky and we did not care about her in the slightest. Having Di teased to us as though she was actually Dixie, however, upped her value and moved her from red shirt to a sort of tentative blue shirt. Do you see how that works? When she was revealed to not actually be Dixie after all, she was relegated back to red shirt and no one cared again.
Do not ever attempt to put a red shirt ensign into a captain’s gold shirt. We will hurt you. Seriously. Honor the pecking order at all costs.
8 ) Bad acting or just bad casting hurts our teeth like tin foil.
Overall, our casting directors on all three ABC soaps do a great job and we get to meet some wonderful actors we might otherwise never get to encounter. It is rare that I have the “Oh my dear Lord what were they thinking?” thought go through my head, but when it does it, it’s typical that I see a whole lot of other people voicing the same thought. Sometimes, it’s not really that the actor isn’t good at what they do, but more than they are simply wrong for the part and do not remind us of the established character we have grown to know and appreciate. This Liza is so far away from Marcy Walker’s Liza that it might as well just be another character altogether. Between the actor’s interpretation of a character and the writers’ interpretation of a character when neither was around during that character’s previous tenure, things can get really dicey.
Again, a little homework and due diligence goes a long way and make us much happier. A great actor is a fantastic asset, but not if we have to keep reminding ourselves who they are supposed to be playing.
Sometimes, sadly, there are just bad actors and that’s definitely a shame. Casting someone who looks like the previous actor who played the character, but is just not all that talented is just as grating. All we ask is that you be careful and give a nod to the previous actor if it’s a recast of an established actor. Equal weight between familiarity and talent is extremely important.
9) If it’s not working, know when you’re done
I don’t even pretend to know why certain couples are pushed and pushed when they are universally hated, why interesting stories are dropped (Who the complete heck killed DIXIE??? and why is Tad not moving Heaven and earth to find this out?) and other horrible ones are continued (Please make Angie un-blind immediately!), but when a story is moving along and it becomes cumbersome and isn’t working, don’t be afraid to let it go and start something else. We’ll forgive you.
Surely the writers can feel when a story isn’t working, when a couple is just played out and when a particular aspect of the story is just dragging down the whole show. High five and call it good, but please, make a cursory effort at tying up those loose ends so we don’t have even more crap running through our heads at 2:00am when the menopausal brain monkeys are keeping us entrenched in that “night restlessness” we were warned to expect.
Who DID kill Dixie?
10) Remember the lost little kittens
“Out of sight, out of mind” seems to be the calling card of soap opera. When a character is written off of the show, unless there are established plans for a return (Kendall and Zach, for instance), that character might just as well never have existed. What the writers forget is that we form attachments to certain characters and an occasional mention warms the cockles of our wee baby hearts and further endears the show to us.
I am not suggesting that a full role call of all past characters and their current circumstances and whereabouts be given on a regular basis, but it’s nice to know that those who were once essential story material are still in the minds and hearts of the characters who were close with them. If a character is not killed off, we do not get to adequately grieve their exit and darn it, we want to know! What happened to Ben after he got out of prison? Where and how are Lily and Reggie? Can Tom Wopat please come back and romance Opal a little bit more? Can Father Clarence maybe get hit by a train or sent back down to hell where he no doubt originated? Tell us a bit here and there about those characters unseen but not forgotten!
The business of soap opera production depends on people – like me, I’ll admit it – who aren’t going anywhere. I love my shows and I don’t expect to stop watching them at any point. I might lag behind once in a while if I am not swept away by the stories being told, but I will have them in my life as long as they are around. I have definitely watched soaps longer than anyone involved with ABC soaps has worked for them. That doesn’t by any means give me a license to tell them what to do, but hey, a girl can dream, right? ;)
See you in two weeks.