Monday, June 14, 2021

Soap Operas: Daytime Comfort TV

 

This blog has been around for nine years (no, I don’t believe it either) and in all that time I’ve never devoted a single piece to soap operas – outside of Dark Shadows, which was awesome but hardly a typical example of the genre.

 

And yet, for millions of people over the past eight decades, daytime dramas are the ultimate comfort television. They may have been parodied, derided, stereotyped as tawdry escapist romance for lonely housewives to watch while ironing. But like a good friend they were always there with new stories to tell, five days a week, twelve months a year. 

 


 

And even with the vast expansion of the television landscape and the changing tastes and expectations of a contemporary audience, they are still here.

 

True, there are just four left on the networks, when there used to be dozens. But show me four other scripted series that debuted in 1987 (The Bold and the Beautiful), 1973 (The Young and the Restless), 1965 (Days of Our Lives) and 1963 (General Hospital) that are still airing new episodes every weekday. 

 


 

I began watching General Hospital when I was in high school. I turn 57 this year, and it’s still something I watch almost every day. What’s amazing is that there are actors on the show now who were there when I was still worried about passing algebra. They include Genie Francis (Laura, of the famous Luke-and-Laura), Jackie Zeman (Bobbie Spencer), Leslie Charleson (Monica Quartermaine) and Tristan Rogers (Robert Scorpio). 

 


 

Why am I still a regular viewer? Part of it is because these people have been part of my life as long as anyone outside my immediate family. I’ve watched as they’ve coped with marriage and divorce, illness and all manner of violent confrontations. And, yes, amnesia, switched babies, evil twins, and all the clichés so easily (and understandably) mocked by those who look down on them. Somehow, as you watch those daft stories unfold over weeks and months, they still hook you in.

 

At least now I’m down to just one soap a day. In my 20s I was also all in for All My Children. Back then Greg and Jenny were the popular young couple in love, Tad “the cad” was one of daytime’s most appealing rats, and Susan Lucci’s Emmy losses were still in the single digits. 

 


 

Speaking of the Daytime Emmys, it’s remarkable how far that ceremony has tumbled on the pop culture landscape. Once it was a prime time special with the same prestige as any awards show – now, with so few soaps, talk shows and game shows, it can’t even get a TV deal on the Golf Channel or C-SPAN 3.

 

I only stuck with All My Children for about three years; I stayed with One Life to Live quite a bit longer; partly because it was on right before General Hospital, partly because Erika Slezak was as brilliant an actress as any in film or TV, partly because it could occasionally be as bizarre in its storylines as Dark Shadows (anyone remember the underground city of Eterna?), and partly because at the time I thought Andrea Evans, who played Tina Lord, was the most beautiful woman on television. 

 


 

That title now belongs to GH”s Katelyn MacMullen.

 


 

And even when I was watching three soaps, I wondered about all the great stories I might be missing on Another World, The Guiding Light and other daytime dramas. Usually I remembered to catch Ryan’s Hope around St. Patrick’s Day to hear Maeve sing “Oh, Danny Boy,” but while I knew about Victor and Nikki on The Young and the Restless I never tuned in to see what made them special. I was perhaps most curious about The Edge of Night, where Sharon Gabet’s character of Raven Alexander was reaching legendary status among soap aficionados. 

 


 

Of course, even if there were access to the material now, it’s not like a prime time series where it’s easy to jump in and catch up. Taking the full journey encompasses thousands of episodes, and I just have this one lifetime.

 

Still, it’s that very longevity that deserves to be celebrated. Whether it’s Joe West umpiring more than 5,000 games, that weatherman on your local news whose hair was black when you started watching him but has long since turned gray, or the hostess at the restaurant who has been showing you to your favorite booth since your kids were small. These are the anchors of continuity in a world that changes too quickly, and not always for the better. I’m happy we’ve had soap operas to provide that continuousness across the decades. 

 


 

And for those who still think the entire genre is overheated nonsense, all I can say is this: there was a scene on General Hospital that aired close to 40 years ago, in which Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) struggled to come to terms with the death of his wife Laura (who was later found alive but that’s not relevant here). Alone on their boat, the Haunted Star, to the strains of “Key Largo” by Bertie Higgins, Luke suffered an emotional breakdown with angry, devastated, violent outbursts that was as difficult to watch as I’m sure it was to perform. It was as moving and memorable a piece of acting as I’ve seen in any film, Broadway theater or television show.

 

I’m sure that viewers of other soaps could share similar stories about equally powerful scenes. 

 

 

9 comments:

  1. Great post. Just turned 50 here, and have been watching GH since the late 70s, so I began when I wasn't even 10 years old. Been through it all with that show. Have known some characters like you mentioned above (you forgot the perennial Scotty Baldwin) longer than most people I know. I hate that the number of soaps has decreased so much. Makes me worry. Comfort show? Sure, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter, to me and to many more. Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge them.

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    1. Thanks Joe - and I definitely should have mentioned Kin Shriner!

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    2. Caffeinated Joe, do you remember when Kin Shriner left "General Hospital" to work on the ill-fated daytime serial "Texas"? He ended up on the back burner and wound up returning to "GH." (You remember when a bearded Scotty Baldwin caught the bouquet at Luke and Laura's wedding, don't you?)

      Speaking of "Texas," a pre-"Arachnophobia," pre-"Santa Barbara" Harley Jane Kozak was a regular cast member during the soap's final year on the air. By then, it was officially entitled "Texas: The New Generation."

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  2. Well, you went and did it - you mentioned (however briefly) one of my all-time favorite TV shows (regardless of daypart), The Edge Of Night.

    Back in the late '50s, when my brother and I were doing our grade-school homework in the late afternoons, we were both digging Edge's crime and mystery stories, which were pretty heady stuff for the time.
    John Larkin as Mike Karr, Larry Hagman as Ed Gibson, Ann Flood as Nancy Karr - and for one stretch, Logan Ramsey as a really bad drug lord named Scofield Kilborn (boy, was he a baddie - and he kept it up in all media for 30+ years after this).

    For 15 years in the '70s and early '80s, Edge's head writer was Henry Slesar, one of America's best mystery writers - and he delivered the goods for the whole term of his service (assisted by some top subwriters).

    When Slesar was "retired" from the show in '83, his replacement, Lee Sheldon, was more than up to the task; he brought Edge Of Night's last year through in grand style.

    Much of the '80s run of Edge can be found on YouTube, more or less intact.

    Up for a challenge?

    Visit YouTube and look up one episode of Edge Of Night - specifically the episode of August 26, 1983.
    I'm not spoiling anything; for best results, you should watch this show cold (actually, it might surprise you how fast you can catch up to what's going on).
    Anyway, just watch that one Edge, and tell us what you think of it - who knows, you might get a post out of it ...

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  3. Mr. Hofstede, when did you start watching "All My Children"? When did you STOP watching "All My Children"? Marcy Walker began appearing as Liza Colby on "AMC" in 1981 or so. She left "AMC" in 1984 and began appearing as Eden Capwell on "Santa Barbara" that year. Did you have an opinion of the "AMC" supercouple Jesse and Angie (played by Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan, respectively)? From 1986 to 1989, Darnell and Debbi cohosted the music-video program "New York Hot Tracks." I wonder what Martha Quinn thought of THAT show! :D

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  4. Speaking of the Daytime Emmys, it is very much worth noting that the 48th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards are slated to be aired on CBS this month (Friday, June 25, to be exact). I understand that the Daytime Emmys were not aired in prime time prior to 1991. They were still aired in daytime when Marcy Walker won HER Daytime Emmy in 1989 for her work on "Santa Barbara."

    Speaking of Marcy, I personally consider it unfortunate that the only footage of her in last year's ABC special "The Story of Soaps" was at the 1999 Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. (Yes, the one where Susan Lucci FINALLY received her Emmy statuette.) Why couldn't "The Story of Soaps" have shown footage of Marcy as Liza Colby on "All My Children" or Eden Capwell on "Santa Barbara"? Marcy's former "Santa Barbara" costar A Martinez actually shot an interview for the special where he brought up his work with Marcy, but said interview wasn't used in the final product. Oh, by the way, "The Story of Soaps" doesn't contain any footage from "Santa Barbara" at ALL! Doesn't Disney/ABC own at least some of the rights to "Santa Barbara" now?

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  5. Just giving your post another once-over ...

    When you mentioned All My Children above - and particularly Jenny and her brother Tad the Cad ...

    ... and when you also mentioned that you currently watch General Hospital ...

    ... I'm wondering if you're aware that Kim Delaney (Jenny) and Michael E. Knight (Tad) are now both in the cast of General Hospital?

    Sideline roles, basically: they're both Older Players now, after all (Mr. Knight is now 62, and Ms. Delaney will turn 60 later in the year).

    But the parts are good ones: Kim Delaney is playing Jackie Templeton (that was Demi Moore's role back in the day), who is the mother of grown sons these days, while Michael Knight is silver-haired lawyer Martin Grey, the newly-revealed half-brother of not only Mayor Laura, but also super-villain Cyrus Renault (that's going to figure majorly in the future, I'll bet).

    The Circle of Life, soap style.

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    1. I am indeed aware of the AMC vets now on GH - the stories in which their respective characters are involved have not allowed for any scenes together - but I'm sure they'll get there. GH is also home to a couple of One Life to Live vets in Roger Howarth and Michael Easton. And of course there was a time when GH icons Genie Francis and Tristan Rogers were both on The Young and the Restless. Circle of Life, indeed.

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    2. Mr. Doran, do you think Marcy Walker would fare well on any daytime soap opera if she were to return to show business now? So far, I have come across no indication that "Pine Valley," the planned primetime revival of "All My Children," is planning to bring back the Liza Colby character that Marcy played for so many years. If it IS, perhaps Jamie Luner can participate if Marcy isn't available.

      By the way, there is conflicting information about when Kim Delaney was born. Some sources say she was born in 1961; others indicated that she was born in 1958. It's my understanding that Kim graduated from high school in 1977.

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