The Soap World is Heavy on Rumors, Light on Facts

Genie Francis (ABC)

Genie Francis (ABC)

The Rumor Mill

Screenwriter William Goldman famous summed up the movie industry in three words: nobody knows anything. That applies doubly to daytime right now. In the past few weeks, several credible sources have published rumors that “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” are on the verge of being canceled. This week, AMC has promoted Lorraine Broderick to headwriter (again!) and OLTL has got everyone hot and bothered with the news that Roger Howarth is returning. To optimists that’s a sign that the network has no plans to get rid of either show. To pessimists, the new hires are tasked with wrapping up the shows in style. Who’s right? Who knows? Well, Disney president Bob Iger probably does, but he is keeping quiet. Or maybe he isn’t going to think about daytime until he’s figured out next season’s primetime and cable lineup.

The conventional wisdom is that “Days of Our Lives” has never been worse, yet everyone’s excited that the soap is launching a gay storyline this summer. Everyone decided Maria Bell had lost her footing on “The Young & the Restless,” until she hired Genie Francis and was instantly deemed a genius. Last week I nearly went Travis Bickle on my television while watching “One Life To Live.” This week, I am saving the episodes on my DVR. The sheer volume of material and fast pace of daytime means that everything is constantly changing.  That goes for behind the scenes as well. Here’s the thing about working on a soap: it’s staffed by people who love soap operas. That means at any given time there are a half-dozen rumors and juicy bits of gossip floating around. With all of the verified breaking news over the past few months, from Becky Herbst’s firing and rehiring to last week’s drama, everyone’s on red alert. Yet nobody really knows anything. I was at the “Guiding Light” Florida remote that happened weeks before the show was canceled. If the cast or producers had any idea the axe was dropping so soon, then every single one of them deserved not just an Emmy but an Oscar for keeping it quiet. Everyone’s in the dark.

Right now, the one goal that unifies everyone in daytime, from production assistants to network heads, is keeping their jobs. Everyone knows that if they get fired, there’s a good chance that it will be the end of their daytime career because, with fewer shows on the air, there simply aren’t any jobs. That means that everyone is panicked and terrified. Gone are the days when a head writer, producer, or even a script writer, might quit over creative differences with the network or coworkers, secure that his or her talent would soon land her another soap gig. Everyone is trying to figure out a plan B in case the worst happens. What comes across as a conscientious attempt to alienate fans is actually panic and fear. Brian Frons goal is not to destroy daytime dramas. His goal is to keep his corporate bosses, who made the decision to replace SoapNET with a channel for pre-schoolers, happy. All of the ABC head writers want to craft story that will make Frons and the rest of the executives happy, because unless the ratings miraculously rise, that’s their only hope of staying employed. The fans don’t sign anyone’s paychecks. Unfortunately, this has led to “high concept,” plot-driven, dark storylines. Everyone is trying to figure out how to defy ratings gravity so that their show can get a stay of execution. The optimist in me hopes that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the pressure will lead to brilliance. Gloria Monty was famously handed “General Hospital” when it was on the brink of cancellation. The result was Luke and Laura. But I, like everyone else, don’t know anything.

“One Life’s” Teen Bullying Storyline Gets Real

Tuesday, “One Life To Live” got its teen bullying storyline so right that it was uncomfortable to watch. After months of painful after-school special build up, Shane (Austin Williams)  considering suicide after a video of him in the nude was posted to the Internet had me crying even harder than Jake’s death on “General Hospital.” As Shane stood on the roof, poised to jump off, his parents Rex (John Paul Laviosier) and Gigi (Farrah Fath) trying to convince him that his life was worth living, I flashed back to my own, smaller scale experiences with being bullied as a child. They still hurt. Shane was right. Being the victim does stay with you forever. I liked that the writers allowed Shane to make valid points. There is no way out for a bullied teen. When parents intervene, the teen is just branded a tattle tale. This is where I lost it: “I just want to be happy, normal. I don’t want to always be the sick kid that has to always go to the doctor with asthma or cancer. I don’t want to have to sit out while everyone else gets to have fun. I don’t want to have to make up friends in a comic book because I don’t have any real ones. I don’t want to live like this.” Gigi really is an idiot. She attempted to make Shane feel better by telling him that she was ostracized when she got pregnant with him in high school. Way to make you son feel guilty for existing, Gigi.

Then there was the sweet justice of Blair delivering Jack (Andrew Triscetta) a much needed – and literal – smackdown for tormenting Shane. Kassie DePaiva defty conveyed Blair’s horror and guilt at learning her son was not only a bully, but felt no remorse. I was impressed that the show drew the parallel between Todd raping Marty and Jack bullying Shane. I gasped when Jack said that Marty was asking for it. Then I cheered when Blair slapped his face. As far as I am concerned, he had it coming. Sometimes bullies need a taste of their own medicine. If OLTL wants to be topical, Jack could be prosecuted for distributing child pornography. Shane is underage, and, as he pointed out, once something is on the Internet it’s there forever. I am fascinated to see how Blair and Todd are going to handle the little sociopath they created. This is not a situation that can be resolved with Jack apologizing to Shane. This is a complicated story that is as much about the parents as the teens.

Watch “One Life To Live’s” Bullying Storyline:

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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