Deep Soap: Soap Reasons to Be Thankful

'The Bold and The Beautiful's Susan Flannery (Photo: CBS)

Last Thanksgiving was bleak for daytime fans. The day before the holiday, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” were canceled for a second time when plans for the shows to continue online fell apart. There was every expectation at at least one more soap would be canceled in 2012. What a difference a year makes. The ratings for the surviving soaps have risen to the point that the networks have started sending out press releases touting their success. “General Hospital” has undergone a creative renaissance. Things that seemed like they would hurt soaps — a time period change, the departure of some of the genre’s most popular actors — turned out to have minimal impact on the shows’ performance. Most important, the soaps themselves are, on the whole, more entertaining than they have been in a long time. This year soap fans have many reasons to be thankful. Here are a few of  mine.

“General Hospital” and “The Bold & the Beautiful” Make Me Cry All Over My Thanksgiving Dinner

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This week, daytime is saying goodbye to two beloved veteran characters. “The Bold & the Beautiful’s” Stephanie (Susan Flannery) and “General Hospital’s” Edward (John Ingle). Both have been classy, poignant salutes to the actors who have played them. After weeks of Stephanie telling her friends and family that she is terminally ill, and a goodbye party featuring traditional Irish music, it is the quieter scenes this week that have gutted me. Stephanie has gone to her beloved cabin in Big Bear to spend her final days with her husband and her best frienemy, Brooke. She is at peace with her fate, though her loved ones are still struggling with it. Watching her take pleasure in the simple joy of a quick walk by a lake was beautiful and a reminder to all of us about what’s really important.

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GH’s tribute to not only Edward, but Ingle, who passed away several months ago, was an even bigger tearjerker. The show hit every beat. Thanks to a smart decision to use a body double (seen only below the neck), the Quartermaines got to say goodbye to their patriarch. Tracy, whose relationship with her father has always been complicated, vacillated between denial and anger before finally breaking down. Her monologue at the family mausoleum about how she was the last Quartermaine of her generation was not only gut wrenching but an acknowledgment of how the show’s former core family has been decimated. The moment of baby Daniel grabbing his great-grandfather’s finger was touching and a not entirely expected beat. It was tragic that A.J. (Sean Kanan) did not get to see his grandfather until after he passed away, but good that no fan can blame him for killing Edward. The return of Ned and Skye for the funeral was a nice touch that probably would not have happened under the show’s old regime. It would be great if they stuck around to rebuild the family. Then the end, with Edward’s ghost arranging for the delivery of a stack  of Thanksgiving pizzas to replace the as always destroyed dinner before singing “We Gather Together” then reuniting with his love, Lila, slayed me. I appreciate that a writing and producing team who spent barely any time working with Ingle made this much effort to honor him and his character. I suspect that a year ago Edward’s death would have merited about ten minutes of screen time and focused on how lucky Jason and Michael were that they would no longer be pressured to reconnect with their biological family.

“The Young & the Restless” is Starting to Improve

The Young & the Restless” hit a creative nadir earlier this year. Between the sensationalistic plots, the rushed romances, and the longtime characters who were suddenly written like completely different people, the number one soap opera was not living up to its own standard. Fortunately, So finally decided to take action, replacing showrunner Maria Bell  with headwriter  Josh Griffith and executive producer Jill Farren Phelps. Right now, on a day to day basis, I find the show dull. That’s a big improvement over offensively bad. Y&R is a difficult show to write. There aren’t any character whose returns from the dead would generate tons of excitement or storylines. If a character impersonated another character via a latex mask, fans would riot. Because it is a quieter, more realistic show, fixing it is going to be a long, slow process. However, Sharon (Sharon Case) is once again a sympathetic character. After a string of engagements to women he barely knew, Jack (Peter Bergman) is slowly easing towards a reconciliation with his his ex-wife Phyllis (Michelle Stafford). I optimistically hope that by next Thanksgiving, I will once again love Y&R.

Networks Supporting Soaps Again

Last year, ABC couldn’t wait to get out of the soap business. It seemed clear when the network gave an hour back it its affiliates so they could air the syndicated “Katie” that “General Hospital” was slated for the chopping bloc. Instead,”One Life to Live’s” replacement “The Revolution” bombed, as did its summer replacement ‘Good Afternoon America.” “Katie”, so far, is not a huge hit. GH, in contrast, has grown. The network’s new leadership seems to realize that it needs GH, even if its only to drive viewers to its cheaper to produce talk shows. Here’s what the network publicized last week: “General Hospitalranked a strong #2 in Women 18-34 (0.8 rating/266,000), posting its largest competitive advantage over “Young & The Restlessin nearly 4-1/2 years (+39% – vs. 191,000) since week of 6/23/08.   Versus the year-ago week, General Hospital” soared by 21% in Total Viewers (2.82 million vs. 2.27 million), by 54% in Women 18-34 (266,000 vs. 161,000) and by 23% in Women 18-49 (679,000 vs. 571,000). NBC also issued a press release about “Days of Our Lives”, ““Days Of Our Lives” has equaled an 11-week high in women 18-49 and matched its best women 18-34 rating in nearly a year, according to “live plus same day” ratings results for the week of November 5-9 from Nielsen Media Research.” The previous week, CBS bragged about the growth of its entire daytime line-up including Y&R and B&B. While we’ll probably never see another new network soap, the big three seem to have realized that the success of their talk, cooking and game show is dependent on the still higher-rated soaps that drive viewers to the network.

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

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