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Monday, April 6, 2009

Flying Blind

So this is going to be one of those random entries that jumps around a bit with no real theme - I've received a few e-mails from people wondering when (if ever) I'm going to update my blog. And now that I'm all caught up on reading breakdowns/scripts and watching air shows, I figured I'd check in and say howdy.

Like everybody else, I'm reeling from last week's Guiding Light news. As most know, Guiding Light and As the World Turns are "sister shows", and I spent many a post-Emmy party and Christmas party with the good folks from Guiding Light. I watched it faithfully from around 1990 on, and as far as I'm concerned Nancy Curlee... although only head writer for a few years... is one of the greatest head writers ever to grace daytime. Her work on that show inspired me to follow my dream and learn as much as I could about the human condition, so I could one day be a part of a team that wrote stories like she did on GL. Those were great years - Curlee on GL, Labine on GH, Bell on Y&R, Malone on OLTL. There was so much thought and effort placed on the emotional beats of a story, rather than the shock-and-awe treatment some soaps are using today. (Plane crashes! Car crashes! Hurricanes! Tornados! Serial killers! Explosions!) I'm deeply saddened by the news, and especially want to mention that I'm pulling for everyone behind the scenes who have invested so much in trying to keep Guiding Light on the air in spite of completely insurmountable odds. They have worked tirelessly to produce something under very difficult conditions, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them. You have my undying love and support, and I wish nothing but amazing prospects in the future for all the denizens of Springfield, whether they're in front of the camera, or behind the scenes. Springfield has touched my life in more ways than I can count, and I'm so appreciative to have been even a small fraction-of-a-part of it, indirectly, through As the World Turns.

So now we're down to seven soaps, and it's terrifying out there. Everybody I spoke to at the various soaps last week were all affected in one way or another - losing another show means we're all looking our shoulders a little more than we were two weeks ago. The doomsday folks are counting down to the next canceled soap, but if anything, we should be looking to learn from the mistakes of Guiding Light.

How did it end up at the bottom of the ratings?

What caused so many viewers to lose faith in it?

Are those of us still working at other soaps guilty of falling into the same traps?

Can we prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes made over the last fifteen years at Guiding Light, from the highest network level, all the way down to the studio floor?

I worry that the fatalistic, defeatist attitude that has been hovering over soaps like a dark cloud will continue - a mentality of "We're fated to be canceled, so let's just get by until it happens." And it doesn't have to be that way. None of us have to go gently into that good night. Those of us working really need to ask ourselves some tough questions - doesn't matter if you're at the #1-rated show or the #7-rated show. What are we doing that's working - and what are we doing that isn't working? And how do we go about changing that?

I think a lot of us were flying blind last week, still trying to process what happened to our friends in Springfield. But now that acceptance is starting to sink in, it's time to figure out how we can find whatever sliver of a silver lining there is in this, and learn from our mistakes, so we're not doomed to repeat them.

And speaking of flying blind...

Many of you have e-mailed me to ask how things are at Young and the Restless, and I'd love to take this opportunity to say I couldn't be happier. The job is everything I could have hoped for, and more. But at the moment, there is an element of flying blind that I'm currently experiencing that I completely forgot about from my first cycles at previous jobs.

Here's how this works - most breakdowns are written anywhere from seven to eleven weeks ahead of their air date. So when I started at the beginning of February, my first episode would air April 20th (two weeks from today, for those keeping track). Now I've written eight shows - we are firmly ensconced in summer storylines, and in a much different place than the show is in currently on air (in terms of where we are in the stories).

Having not watched any scenes I've written so far on the air is a little strange. I've always said here in this blog that it's so important for writers to watch the show they're writing for. You have to be able to see structure and scene tags and commercial breaks that work... and those that don't, so (like I said earlier) you don't repeat the same mistakes. I wrote some pretty stunted episodes at Days and One Life to Live that taught me some very valuable lessons about how not to write a breakdown, once I saw how they turned out on the air. And I wouldn't have learned those lessons had I not seen the air show (and cringed appropriately).

I am anxious and petrified to see my first few air shows - not to satiate my ego, but to see how what I write translates to the Y&R episodes, and to see what I may not be doing right. I'm curious to see the feedback I get from the fans - about what they liked, but more important, what they didn't like. What seemed out of character, what didn't work for them, where improvement is needed. We may produce this show for the advertisers, but we write this show for the fans. And until that kind of give and take happens with my air shows (April 20th and beyond), it feels sort of like I'm flying blind (at least in terms of fan reaction. I'm well aware of reaction from the show and network, as I write from week-to-week, and that has been immeasurably helpful).

So for the next two weeks, as my nerves continue to be frayed until my first air show, I hope what I'm currently contributing to the process for the summer is strong and entertaining and moving and respectful of the audience. I just know that six months from now - having written for nine months, and watched six months worth of stories I participated in their creation - I will have a much better understanding of what my pros and cons are as a member of the Y&R team. But for now, I continue to work hard to do the best I can. And I wait...

And really, with the Guiding Light news, that's all any of us in the business can do right now. Work hard, go the extra mile, focus on making our product the best it can possibly be... and wait for the reaction.

And saying a little prayer never hurts either. :-)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back in the Saddle... like Riding a Bike... or Mixing a Metaphor...

So this is my first entry in a month... weird to be back.

For those of you who are here looking for scoop on The Young and the Restless - you'll have to look someplace else. Sorry, folks... this blog was never meant to gossip, and it certainly was never meant to reveal things I shouldn't. I'll tell you this much - I am three episodes into my trial. I am regrouping, learning, growing, and contributing as much as I can. I adore the team of people I work with, and I am doing the best I know how, and working hard to live up to the legacy Y&R has given its fans all these years. My first episode will air in late April, and I'm highly enjoying myself as I step back into the role of Breakdown Writer. Whatever comes of it, I'm living for the moment and enjoying each week as it happens.

And that's all I'll say about that.

In the meantime, I've also spent a week in Los Angeles, a week in Vegas, and... yes... even a few weeks here at home in Brooklyn. Suffice it to say, it's been a whirlwind month, but I'm keeping my head above water and just trying to keep myself positive and upbeat.

And why, you ask, would I need to try to do this?

I received an e-mail from a friend after I wrote my first episode, that said simply, "How was it, writing again?"

I'll tell you.

It was positively terrifying.

Not because of anything anyone said to me, or because of anything involving the show (Far from it, in fact). But throughout all of 2008, while I was doing other jobs besides soap writing, I had completely forgotten about the internal mental process that I went through when I was writing. It didn't matter if it was on a show that I knew like the back of my hand, like Days, or a show I was unfamiliar with when I started and had to learn so much of the history, like As the World Turns - it didn't matter if it was on a show like OLTL, where I worked for nine straight cycles of thirteen weeks each, or a show like my first trial at Y&R back in 2006, where I hadn't worked there long at all - none of these conditions seem to matter, this writer always seems to go through the same weekly mental process.

You get your assignment. You spend hours either in person around a conference table with other writers, or on a conference call with other writers. You have pages and pages of short-hand notes - where your episode begins, where it ends, all the beats you need to hit in between, and dozens of little notes in the margins of ideas you've had, ideas other writers had that are important and you want to make note of in your breakdown, and numerous arrows drawn (in my case), trying to make sense of the "traffic of an episode" (you need Character A to be *here* by Act Two, and over *there* by Act Four, but in the meantime, they have to cross with Character B in Act Three, so you better make sure their paths... i.e. their "traffic"... aligns properly). You have pages upon pages of notes, and suddenly you need to put it all together and make it a coherent episode.

So you start playing. You figure out, for purely practical reasons, how many scenes you need for each story, where your act breaks are, what the best midbreak tag will be... all of the logistics of the episode. Occasionally you have scenes that say one thing, and one thing alone: "Big Confrontation Here" Gee... wonder what happens in that scene?

But you figure out all of these practicalities, and your brain is kind of in "putting a puzzle together" mode. You're not really thinking creatively, you're trying to fit the pieces together so that no act is longer or shorter than the others, you have good act tags in ALL your stories (not just the front-burner one) and somebody doesn't show up in two places at once.

And then you've finished that, and you have a nice little four-to-seven page "outline-for-your-outline".

And then the "fun" part. Then you get to be creative.

Here's a sample of what happens in Tom's brain during this process (if anyone cares... and really, like most blogs, if you don't care, no worries. I won't be offended. :-)) And let me reiterate - this is my usual weekly process at every show I've worked at - this is in no way specific to any one show. ATWT has a Pro and Five Acts, OLTL and Y&R have a Pro and Six Acts, and Days has a Pro and Seven Acts - so just for the sake of averages, we'll look at a Pro and Six Act show. (This isn't really a trade secret - anybody can figure out how many Acts a show has based on how many commercial breaks there are)

And here we go...

Prologue - "No problem! I'm picking up a few stories from yesterday, and I'm starting a few new ones. Short, snappy scenes. No problem. There! One pro down... another pro down... the last pro down... cut to credits. Wow! That was easy! No problem! I've already written a page and a half, and the scene breaks are really quick, and RIGHT ON... I know what I'm doing! Yes!"

Act One - "Wait, what did I write in these notes? I can't read my own writing. I think that says 'kick'. Or does it say 'kiss'? Hmm.. I'll come back to that later. Oh, here's a good scene. A pick-up from the Pro. Something really emotional. Really important. Lots of history to be mined here. Let me just dig in. And dig in. And dig in. Wait a minute... I just a wrote a scene that's ALMOST TWO PAGES, single-spaced. That's about five times too long. Good GOD, boy... rein yourself in! You can't turn this in. Okay, I'll edit it when I'm done. Leave it as is. Get to your act tag. You can do it. Wow, I just wasted about two hours pontificating on one scene in Act One. How in the world did I get so off-track? Just get through this act. Then you can take a lunch break."

Act Two - "Okay, I wrote for a few hours, then I took a lunch break. Now I don't want to work. Yes, I do. You can do this, Tom. Just dive back in. Pick up where you left off in Act One. Okay, now I've got the hang of it. Oh, wait. This scene is REALLY cliche. I mean, unbelievably typical soap scene. You can't turn that in. And... did you just use the word "soulmate"?! UGH! You know better! Come on, be creative. Think - you can do this! God, you're a hack. This is it. This is the episode where everyone reads it, and realizes you don't have the first clue what you're doing. Okay, now get serious. Give them something original... something powerful... something they've never seen before. (...) Okay, you can't think of anything. There's plenty of time. Just move on. Get to the Act Tag."

Act Three - "Now I have a second wind. This isn't so tough. So you wrote a few cliches in the last Act... you'll go back and fix them later. This is your big mid-break tag! You know what you're building to. So what if you're already running about four pages too long? At least you have something written and you're not staring at a blinking cursor. Wait, the suspense is building... you're actually building anticipation to that great mid-break tag. Oh my God, I can actually feel my heart race as I get to the Act Three reveal! Fingers are flying over the keyboard, everything's coming together... and suddenly... BANG! That's a great tag! Go out to a thirteen minutes long commercial break on something you KNOW will bring the viewer back! Yeah! I did it! I'm not a hack! WOO HOO!"

Act Four - "Oh wait. I'm not done yet. Okay. Deep breath. You've only been writing for about ten hours straight. Maybe you ate lunch, and maybe you watched something on your Tivo for a little bit there. At least you didn't pause to watch a train wreck on The View (today, at least) Just keep trucking along. Wow, I'm running out of steam. And so is this act. Where am I? Oh, right... the 'Big Confrontation Here' scene. Wait, what do they say that these two characters haven't said a million times before? I don't remember. Somebody said something interesting about this, but I can't remember. Is that my stomach growling? Is it already dark outside? Man, my head is starting to hurt. How long have I been staring at this screen? Let me just play a round of Solitaire. Or watch Damages. Or Battlestar Galactica. Screw that, do I have any 90210's on my DVR? I need to get away from this computer..."

At this point, Day One ends. Insert full night of sleep here.

Act Four - Part Deux - "Man, coffee is AWESOME. Okay, where are we? Right, here we are. In Act Four. Wow, these last few scenes are really unfocused. But the solutions are really easy. Just fix *this* and cut *this* line, and change *this* to *that*. Wow, that wasn't so tough. I wonder why I didn't think of that last night? That was the easiest solution in the world! Wow, I'm plowing through Act Four. This is so easy - I don't know why I was freaking out last night. What's wrong with me? I'm brilliant! I'm awesome! I'm the king of the world!"

Act Five - "I'm crap. I'm a dead cockroach trapped in a piece of gum on the bottom of the shoe of a homeless drug addict. I'm a worthless, awful, untalented writer. Have I been writing this episode for about ten days or what? It sure feels like it. Only one more act until I'm done. Who cares that it's either A) four pages too short or B) nine pages too long. I'm almost there. Just keep going. Keep typing. Oh my God - did I just write a line from an old Seinfeld episode? I think I did. Jesus, what a nightmare. It's going to be awful. They're going to note you up the wazoo. It's going to be a disaster of epic proportions. Seriously. This next notes meeting will be the Hindenburg of notes meetings for you. Say adios to your paycheck, buddy. This is just bad. Bad, bad, bad. Are we in Act Six yet? God, if I can just get to Act Six, at least it'll be written. And at this point, that's all I can ask for."

Act Six - "Oh, these are my tags. This is easy. BAM! Cliffhanger #1! BAM! Cliffhanger #2. These aren't so bad. And here's the big finale. The big last scene. Give it all your worth, dude! This is the finish line! You can do it! Holy hell, you did it! You're done! You wrote an entire breakdown! That's right! I did it! I pulled it off!"

"But this is just a first draft. Let's go back, look at what you wrote from the beginning. Oh. OH! Yikes. Really? I wrote that? Was that really me? Ee! Ah! Oh, man... just stop reading. This is just depressing. Stop. Put it down. Before you slit your wrists on paper cuts or something"

Insert second night of sleep here.

Day Three - "Well, this isn't that bad. Okay, so your page count is a little off. And one scene is three times longer than it should be. And another is way too short. But it isn't so awful. Actually, this cliche is terrible - but it's easily fixed. Stop and breathe. Think. Oh, I know of something that will work here, instead of this awful final line. That wasn't so tough. Wow, I can't believe I didn't think of this yesterday! And here's another scene that meanders too long... dude, I can write the same thing in three sentences that I wrote in TWELVE sentences. Pro, Act Three, Act Six - all pretty solid. Just need to make these fixes. Move this here - copy and paste this here... this is actually starting to look pretty normal! My God, the page count is finally right. The scene count is right. Cover page looks good, and I think... dare I say it? As I read it again, I'm really happy with how it turned out. I mean, it's not the most amazing, Emmy-worthy outline either, but there are some nice romantic moments, some nice family moments, some nice history nods... and a little action/suspense. Overall, it's not terrible. I think I might actually be done. Yeah... yeah, I think I'm done."

At this point, after reading and re-reading about nine times, you open up your e-mail program, ready to send it in to your employers and other writers. And then there's one last moment of panic.

"Wait, are you really going to send this? Once you send this, you can't take it back. It's out there. If you want anything changed, you can't change it before the notes meeting. You better be sure. Are you sure? You better be."

And then you stop and take another deep breath. And you realize - yeah. I'm sure. Maybe it's not perfect, but I'm pretty happy with it - and whatever I missed, my colleagues and/or network reps will call me out on it. And they will only improve my episode. And when all is said and done, I'm pretty damn happy with it.

It's going to be all right. Yeah, hit "Send". It's going to be just fine.

And you know what? It usually is. And when it isn't - then you buckle down and you make the changes you need to. Either way, you suddenly realize you actually ENJOYED the process. Sometimes it was exhilarating. Sometimes it was confusing. Sometimes it was boring. Sometimes it was damn near orgasmic. And sometimes it was completely horrific. But you wouldn't trade it for anything. You just went on a journey with 12-20 contract characters, and all of their joys, their insecurities, their travesties and their personalities became part of you. Not every part of the process left you smiling, but you feel like you just climbed a mountain, and you stop and you wonder...

...when can I do it again?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Blog Entry Fourteen Months in the Making

If you've been spying on a few soap message boards in the last couple of days (or my Facebook/MySpace pages), you might have heard rumors of my return to daytime.

In fact - I am.

I have accepted an offer for a trial deal on The Young and the Restless. Next week, I'm flying out to Los Angeles to reunite with some old friends, and meet some new ones - including my new head writer, who I'm thrilled to meet and work with.

To be honest, I pretty much said goodbye to daytime at the end of 2008. I was working steadily on my own projects, making some headway networking with other career paths, and was generally resolved to start 2009 with a new lease on life. I never thought I'd ever receive a phone call again from a daytime show, and even went as far as to say goodbye to my agent of the last eight years with a heartfelt farewell in early December when I decided it was time to start over with something else. New year, new dreams, new goals, etc.

And then this came out of nowhere.

Readers of my blog will know that I spent a brief nine weeks at Y&R back in 2006. I said in an interview with SON a few years later that it wasn't a very good fit - and back then, it wasn't. I loved getting to know the writers on that show, but overall, it wasn't working and I could feel that at the time. I didn't understand the vision for the show back then, and it was incredibly frustrating and left me really disappointed in myself and my abilities that I just couldn't get on the same page as the people in charge of the show at that time.

But at the end of the day, it was an incredibly respectful parting of ways, I got to know people I've idolized my whole life, and I had a tremendous fifteen months at Days after that, so I don't regret it at all.

Now, I'm heading back, to work with many of the same breakdown and script writers I worked with back in '06, but under new leadership. I'm incredibly excited and unbelievably nervous, but I can tell you that I plan on devoting my ALL to this show. I love what Maria Arena Bell has been doing this last year, and I've been incredibly invested in the show for a long time now. After talking to the different members of the team I worked with, just knowing I have their support as well, on top of Maria and Hogan and Scott's support, means everything to me. I never want to get a job on my friendships alone, so knowing many of them believe in me as a writer is truly amazing. I can't wait to dive right in.

However, it is a trial deal. That means they have the option not to pick me up after the first few episodes. This is standard in the business, and it just means I work all that much harder to knock their socks off.

It's been a long fourteen months, but I've spent much of that time trying to listen to you guys, take in what everybody loves about their soaps, and what they feel is missing. Hopefully, I can put all of that to good use.

Please understand that my job is to take the head writer's vision (not mine), and assist in bringing it to life. And I plan on doing my damndest to live up to Y&R's history, its characters, and Bill Bell's legacy. I won't have any say in the future storylines of the show, but I will do everything in my power to deliver the kinds of scenes in my episodes that Y&R fans love - those deep, soulful, character-driven moments that make Y&R so unique.

So what does this mean for my blog? That's a damn good question.

Obviously, breakdown writing is a full-time job, and I plan on devoting most of myself to knocking this trial out of the park. So I won't be blogging three or four days a week like I've been doing. But this whole "blogging" thing was uncharted territory in daytime not that long ago. And I don't know the rules because there's never really been any rules. We're all in this together, just trying to figure this out as we go along. I've always been very upfront about the blog, and was writing it for most of 2007 when I was writing for Days. I never gave away story spoilers, I never talked about behind-the-scenes goings-on... although occasionally, I'd suggest tuning in on a certain day because I thought it was a particularly strong episode. But I would never reveal anything I shouldn't.

If people are at all interested, I'll probably touch base once a month or so, let you know how things are going - what it's like to get back into the heads of these characters again. How I find the inspiration for the scenes I'm writing. That kind of stuff. I'm really moved by what Shonda Rhimes writes on her blog, or Jon Robin Baitz and Joss Whedon, for that matter. I'm nowhere NEAR the talent they are, but if folks are still interested, I'm happy to continue along that path.

But for now, you'll probably hear from me less. And if at any point, the Bells ask me to discontinue posting how my crazy little brain works, I'll be happy to do so, and I hope my readers will understand and respect that.

Whatever happens next, if it's meant to be? It's meant to be. And if not? So be it.

What a long, strange trip it's been... and now, a whole new adventure is starting. I hope you'll all share the ride with me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Set(s) in Stone

Recently, I've been reading letters in the soap magazines from fans, as well as posts on various message boards, about the constant repetition of certain sets on many of the shows. Many viewers wonder why so many scenes lately take place in the hospital, or in a restaurant. Why don't we see people in other sets?

In defense of the writers on all shows, I hope to de-mystify that a little.

One of the great joys (and great frustrations) of laying out weeks worth of episodes is the constant looming specter of "repeat sets". In many ways, it's like a big puzzle the writing team has to fit together, week after week. When it works, it can make you feel utterly triumphant... and when it doesn't, it can make you feel like you're banging your head against a wall. But this is definitely one of those aspects of a writing job that I am quick to rise to the writers' defense. Because most times, it's out of our hands.

Here's how this works - after taping (and heading long into the night), the crew strikes all the sets from the previous episode not needed, and puts up the sets for tomorrow's taping. Because of the short amount of time they have to accomplish this, most writing teams are required to "hold" a specific number of sets from the previous episode.

In other words, let's say a writer writes his/her breakdown, and there are five sets used in that episode: a hospital, a restaurant, a hotel room, a living room and a kitchen.

The writer writing the following episode is REQUIRED to "repeat" a certain number of sets from the preceding episode. I've worked on shows where you're required to repeat two sets, others (where the budget is tighter) where it's three or four required repeat sets. The more sets you repeat from the previous episode, the happier those financial folks are - it's less work (and less money) they're spending on those over-night crews. (And we like when the money people are happy! Believe me!)

So the next writer has to repeat a certain number of sets. And the beautiful thing about sets like hospitals and restaurants? They're public places - where anybody and everybody can run into each other and share a scene, no matter what storyline they're involved in. So naturally, the writer will try and repeat those sets.

In a perfect world, story would dictate set use, and writers would be able to write any set, on any day, to fit what's happening in the plot. Unfortunately, that's not the case these days (and hasn't been, for quite some time). More often than not, we (as writers) are constantly asked to tweak the stories from day to day to make sure scenes take place in "repeat sets". Ironically, a show like Guiding Light, with its controversial production model, is free from many of these restrictions, with the incredible amount of location-sets and little studio space. (Now you see why there's less money needed for their new production model.)

As a viewer, I understand the head-scratching people have, when sets like bars, restaurants, hospitals and police stations are used day after day after day. I can see that side of it, sure. But in defense of the writers on all of the shows, I can tell you - it's something we all work to keep as natural as possible. Unfortunately, there are times we have no other choice but to play scenes that ideally would take place privately in a set like a hospital corridor, or the docks, or a "main street" set.

All of the teams I've worked on strive to find a middle ground between the storylines, and the financial restrictions these shows are under. I know it can be visually dull to see the same set day after day after day. But during this economic crunch time, I encourage viewers to have patience in this regard. Budgets are being slashed, and repeating the same sets is a relatively easy, painless way to save money without it taking too much of a toll on the show as a whole.

Over the next year, I'm sure we'll see much harsher cuts that will affect these shows we love so much in a more immediate way. If the worst that happens is we see the same public set every day for a couple weeks, then I, as a viewer, will be extremely happy.

Hang in there... the writers are doing all they can. I assure you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goin' Down in the Afternoon

It certainly is a strange week for sex on daytime, isn't it?

Most of the week, soap fans, the soap press, bloggers, mainstream media, and probably a few Conservative Right groups are a-buzz about the Nuke sex over on As the World Turns. Meanwhile, today on One Life to Live? Dorian gave an implied... um... "job" to David Vickers at the end of today's episode.

Okay, so I know what you're going to say. You're going to say "Tom! It's David and Dorian! It's funny! Laugh!"

I love David and Dorian. I can watch Tuc Watkins and Robin Strasser take turns reading computer instructions to each other, and enjoy every minute of it. But never mind the fact that ATWT is fighting to even show a kiss, while ABC is showcasing oral sex. Never mind the whole "Where's love in the afternoon?" argument. Here's what bothered me - Dorian found out David is a Buchanan, and wants to get him back before he finds out, so she can get her hands on the money. So in order to do that? She did... this. In other words, Dorian Lord got on her knees for money.

I may not be the world's leading expert on Dorian Lord, but to me, this negates any dignity and class the character has. Sure, Dorian would do a lot of things to get her hands on that fortune (and she has!), but the implication of getting down on one's knees seems beneath her to me.

When Todd and Marty kissed last summer, I wrote a blog entry about the importance of direction in scenes like this. It disturbed me that Todd was the dominating force in that kiss, going so far as to be standing over Marty when it happened and it would have been less disturbing to watch had Marty been in a dominant position... or at least less reminiscent of the rape.

I had the same issue here. Watching Dorian try and seduce David is one thing, but bearing witness as she got on her knees for him diminished her character so much in my eyes. My issue here had nothing to do with writing - but with the direction of the scene. I understand it was being played for comedy, but Dorian is a far greater icon on this show, who deserved better than to be pushed underneath a Buddhist robe. She is a force to be reckoned with - not a high-class hooker.

There's comedy... and then there's just degrading one of the strongest women on soaps today. There were a hundred better ways to shoot this scene - because my Dorian Lord? She doesn't get on her knees for anybody.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doin' It and Doin' It... and Doin' It Well

When I was a kid, I remember distinctly the first time Jack and Jennifer had sex on DOOL.

I remember the years of build-up, the work done on Jack's character to get him from guilt-wracked marital rapist to insecure lost man-child, and finally to leading man. I remember Jennifer fighting her feelings, trying to convince herself she was better off with Emilio Ramirez, until being kidnapped by Jack on her wedding day, whisked off... only to fall asleep before hearing Jack's confession of love. I remember the time taken to reform Jack, and the time taken to make sure Jennifer was no longer a baby-faced, wide-eyed teen - but a tough, sarcastic, witty, caring young adult. And I remember them still not crossing that line, until after one fateful shipwreck, and that cave...

The headlines on Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Magazine, Soaps Opera Weekly proclaimed it to the heavens: JACK AND JEN FINALLY MAKE LOVE! And on that day, as millions of fans watched, an entire episode was built around Jack - the man who brutally raped his wife years earlier on-camera, and Jen - Days' version of America's Sweetheart, barely out of her teens... finally made love. In a cave. (With Jen's diaphragm somehow surviving the shipwreck, of course)

Why this walk down memory lane?

Because yesterday, the Nuke fans finally got what they've waited years for. Noah and Luke finally lost their virginity! And it was... not mentioned to the press. And it was... after another one of their Oldtown fights over commitment and their relationship - the same fight I've seen a few times this year through various storylines. And I'm not sure Luke or Noah have grown or evolved in any kind of way since they first met a year and a half ago. Noah's been in and out of the proverbial closet as many times as... well, Brian, the step-grandfather who proved to be the latest obstacle of the week in their relationship. (In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find much of a difference at all between the characters of Brian and Noah, other than thirty years.) They've faced shame, psychos, prejudice... and then, uh... more prejudice and another psycho, and another dash of shame thrown on top. Apparently in Oakdale, homosexuals have three great foils: shame, psychos and prejudice.

Noah and Luke, as daytime's first gay male on-screen couple from a core family (the first gay couple, of course, goes back to Hank Eliot and his lover on ATWT under Doug Marland), represent the first time in years a show has been committed to telling a "long-term love story". This is their way of skirting around standards and practices... they're not "testing the waters with the censors", but rather they're "taking their time, like any great soap love story". It's a fantastic spin on words, but unfortunately, ATWT plows through every other story like they're in a race with the other soaps to see who can fit the most storylines in one year, so I don't really understand why anyone thinks they want to take their time with Nuke, and this isn't (in fact) a struggle with the censors. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that they wanted to wait a year and a half before the boys finally sealed the deal. (And before I go on, let me add that I'm not trying to change anyone's minds. This is just my personal opinion about yesterday's show, but the great thing about television is that it means different things to different people. What I love, you might hate. And what I don't love, you might rejoice at. Doesn't mean one is right and one is wrong. So no need to tell me "I'm wrong", but opinion in regards to art is never about who's right and who's wrong.)

I brought up Jack and Jen before because in their year of waiting, work was spent on getting the characters to where they needed to be in order to take that controversial step. Jack HAD to be, even in just the audience's eyes, forgiven for what he did to Kayla. And Jennifer HAD to be viewed as a woman, not everybody's teen daughter, after her popular teen romance with Frankie. So the writers worked really hard to take what was, on paper, such an improbable couple, and make them the couple you cleared your schedule for.

So based on that super-couple theory, Luke and Noah each needed to have their own steps taken. Luke's journey involved - I don't know. Possibly learning not to make everything about gay activism? And Noah's journey involved getting over a domineering father who tried to kill them, and... well, his possible bisexuality, I guess, although even that's a grey area.

And so once these two character finally faced down their... uh... demons, they finally jumped in the sack/shower on yesterday's air show after... well, a fight. The same fight they've been having for weeks, mind you.

I went to the Nuke boards yesterday, just to get a feel for what the Internet fans were thinking. And they were rejoicing to the heavens. And God bless 'em, they have every right to be rejoicing. They've been campaigning for this hard for years now. It's a small step for two B-characters on a soap, but it's giant leap for disenchanted gay television-viewing men all over the world, who finally feel like America and ATWT have joined the ranks of Hollyoaks as a soap that finally represents their struggle, their joys, their passions, their loves. And for that, I applaud their efforts, I raise a glass to the script-writers who worked their magic to try and make this work, and I give a standing ovation to the advertisers for letting it make it to air.

But what do these characters want? Jack Devereaux wanted to overcome his demons and feel worthy. Jennifer Horton wanted people to see her as somebody other than "Squirt". Whereas in Oakdale, Luke wanted... love? (Who doesn't?) And Noah wanted... I'm still not exactly sure what Noah wanted. He still feels like a plot point to me, after all this time. Losing their virginity was born out of an argument, but it was an argument I've seen so many times over the last year (always in the same set), that when I started to watch the episode last night I half-wondered if I was watching an old repeat on my DVR by accident.

And now what? We send Lau's Brian off into the sunset in a week or two, and hang on until the next external plot point shows up to drive a wedge between them. (Paging Paolo Seganti...)

Lest my vinegary subtext turn everyone against me, I assure you I couldn't be happier that the event finally happened. But after P&G's insistence that this was their "old-fashioned soap love story", I can't help but compare it to other old-fashioned soap love stories where the men battled personal issues to finally consummate their relationship after much hand-wringing. The Nuke fans held their own and campaigned for this in all the mainstream publications. The show gave them what they wanted, slyly and with zero fanfare, hoping not to anger off the conservatives aligned with their show. Anyone who reads my blog knows I campaigned for Nuke just as hard - I published the phone numbers, and gave to the charity, and hoped against hope to see something ground-breaking and beautiful and wonderful and phenomenal happen when Luke and Noah finally consummated their love for each other. Because I've always been in their corner.

But for this viewer, there is no sitting back on his couch, feeling like I've just been on a wildly romantic journey, like those many years ago in a watery cave.

Instead, it just feels like a hollow victory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

SOD Goes Back In Time!

Hey all!

SOD took a page out of the book We Love Soaps started writing (and I piggy-backed onto with my Marland Long Story Analysis), by pledging to start re-posting old interviews with soap opera legends from their archives!

They're starting by re-printing Douglas Marland's How Not To Wreck A Show Rules... which is a little disappointing to me, only because it's available on pretty much any soap message board these days. But I can forgive them, because there's so much at their disposal, I just know they'll deliver some goodies long-thought forgotten.

So please - if you'd like SOD to continue posting interviews with soap opera legends who are long since gone or retired, PLEASE visit this site and drop a line to and ask them to continue this feature.

At a time when we're all praying for a return to greatness in daytime writing, it's wonderful to even have a few moments with some of daytime's greats, and I (for one) would love to see further interviews with Labine, LeMay, Curlee, Nixon, Marland, Washam, the Cullitons, Bill Bell and so many others.

I encourage everybody - if you want to see SOD continue this feature, please let them know!