Firstly, I saw this off SON's forum. Fascinating and especially relevant today. I shall reprint for all of you (...one of you), and it's fascinating how even 13 years ago, network interference and the stupidity of plot-based, shock-and-awe writing was ruining the dramatic serial. Here it is:
What's Wrong With Soaps? By Robert L. Schork
Former daytime pros offer their sometimes controversial theories.
Paul Avila Mayer (Ryan's Hope), John Conboy (Young & The Restless), Bridget Dobson (Santa Barbara), Pat Falken Smith (Days Of Our Lives, General Hospital), Peggy O'Shea (One Life To Live), Al Rabin (DAYS), AJ Russell (GH), Henry Slesar (The Edge of Night).
They blamed OJ, before that it was cable, then talk shows took the rap. For the past decade, like a bad game of Clue, the networks have indicted an endless parade of suspects for the crime of killing their soaps ratings. Unfortunately, the real culprit wasn't Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard, but the disenchanted viewer. The crime wasn't committed in the conservatory, but in the dens and living rooms of America. And the weapon of choice wasn't a lead pipe or candlestick, but the remote control.
What went wrong? To be fair-there are no easy answers. Certainly, the advent of cable channels-with viewership now divided among upwards of 100 channels- and women moving into the workforce have contributed to viewer erosion. “that's just an absolute fact that the audience has more choices, that women work and their VCR's are blinking 12 o'clock,”comments Al Rabin. But external forces not withstanding, how are soaps themselves contributing to the problem? Since they posses the experience of insiders but the candor and perspective of outsiders, some of daytime's foremost innovators were asked to attempt this elusive soap diagnosis. What's wrong with daytime?
“There is too much homogeneity”, Henry Slesar says. “you can go from one soap to another and pick up the same kind of story. Soaps would benefit from being distinct from one another so that people know they're tuning in to a different drama. There's a great deal of story recycling from one soap to another, because of the recycling of writers and producers. If I see one more evil twin...!”
The soaps now on the air have such diverse premises and histories, yet they are now so homogenous. Why is there no 'product differentiation'? “I suspect the reason is because of team writing”, Bridget Dobson says. “The most intense, best soaps are the ones where there is one strong headwriter who takes full responsibility. “Without that, you tend have it homogenised”
Pat Falken Smith declares that “the breakdown in soap writing came when the the networks got angry at the tyranny of the head writers.” Long ago, the networks would hire only a head writer who would hire his or her own staff, “I was making $2.5 million a year and I had to pay writers out of that. When they got cheap and did away with the big head writers, they made a terrible mistake.” Today, all members of the soaps' writing team are employed directly by the show and/or the networks.
Creatvity by committee is a problem cited repeatedly. “Writing by committee makes it so pallid”, Dobson explains. “It's taking something that used to be chilli and making it oatmeal”.
John Conboy says that shows sometimes recycle stories intentionally. “When I was at CBS, I can remember a very well known executive demanding that I do a story that was being done on another show, that had been told on that show skillfully for six years. He demanded we do it. We had to bend the character in order to do it, and it was a disaster. I was young and I wanted the job. Had I not needed that job, I would have said some interesting 4 letter words.”
Conboy's story illustrates another problem: character assassination. Time and time again, characters are manipulated to fit a particular story, instead of the story being written to fit the characters – and that spells trouble.”If you give a leading lady a gun and have her blow somebody's brains out, and the audience knows that woman would never even pick up a gun or load it or fire it,you've jusy lost half of your audience in one day.” Conboy says. “You bring a new writer in. he gets all the back issues of soap magazines to read what happened to all these people the last 100 years, and the more they change them – their point of view or the direction of the show-the more likely the show will fizzle out”. Dobson agrees. “It's so terribly important to protect the integrity of the characters. It was a terrible experience to return to Santa Barbara after the lawsuits were resolved and find the characters had been decimated. It was impossible to bring them back.”
Falken Smith states simply: They're destroying characters. On DOOL. They've made the leading lady a monster who had glowing green eyes-isn't that crappy? I see this Marlena character as totally destroyed. She's been the one important woman always...she's a psychiatrist, and she gets possessed. It's phony and it wrecked the character, which is unforgivable. If you are going to do this type of story, pick a new character, but don't bastardize the good character you have by doing that.”
Rabin cautions that such bending of character can cause viewers to tune out by making them think.”Oh, I don't have to worry about these people because they got them into this predicament unbelievably...so they can get them out unbelievably.”
Arguably,several of the problems outlined are merely symptoms of a larger, underlying problem: interference and micromanagement by the networks and executives. “they bring it on themselves,”Peggy O'Shea says. “what's wrong with the industry is mostly people in power who don't know what they're doing, who don't know a thing about daytime. A very attractive young woman(executive) said a variation on. “I don't know why they hired me...What is this? I'm not even American. I've never watched as soap before.” And another said,'I don't know soaps, but I was a reader in something, and I just feel like a pig in sh____ here.' Well, she should; she's ( at the time this interview was conducted) running a very major soap. Oh, yes, and then there's one who's going to be teaching soap opera writing but hasn't seen soaps before, so she has to study them before she can teach how to write them.”
Many say network executives have stifled the creativity of those getting paid to be creative. O'Shea says,”it's fun to sit in on a story conference. You can bounce things back and forth, and if it's just the writers, you can go.'nah',but if P&G is sitting there ,and you're putting your kid through college you don't go 'nah'. So you sit there and try to make sense of it, for hours, and then you have to go write it up.. and the executives lose their objectivity because they can no longer look at it and say the story isn't working, because it was their idea.
”They're going to be in on writers' meetings. They're going to help plot, they're going to throw their Cincinatti morality on you, O'Shea continue,”One of them actually said to me,'How is it that one man can love two women at the same time?' all I could tell him was, 'If one man can't love two women at the same time,we should hang up our hats,we're out of business. This is a soap!' You don't need somebody giving you his fantasy, or what he would do if he were the writer. You're looking for a very specific dramatic moment, you don't need someone from Procter & Gamble giving you his latest nightmare.”
Paul Avila Mayer agrees. “All of us write our early fantasies. Claire (Labine) and I happened to have very comfortable fantasy lives; her early childhood and mine were compatible. She can start a sentence and I can finish it. But when we get the network executives, and they would want us to write the ideas that seemed good to them – meaning the ideas that would answer their emotional needs from their early childhoods. You couldn't explain to them that their fantasy life ,which seems so right to them, wasn't helping our show. Because we didn't want to write about their mommies, we wanted to write about our mommies. That's what I found most deplorable,having other people insist I write their fantasy life.
Slesar explains, “You are trying to hold onto your job and please the people who control you, and that's not the way to make a creative effort”.
“If the network executives really aren't trained writers, they tend to want you to write according to the latest polls”, Dobson adds, “and like President Clinton. You tend to do flip-flops as the polls change. So you're scared for your job. We used to call it writing on eggs – you don't take the risks, you don't take the strong stances, you're afraid...and it's not a good way to write a soap.” Conboy offers an explanation for executives' motives: “It's job justification for most of these people. They have to justify the fact that they're collecting a salary.”
Those interviewed also blame network executives for two other strategic errors:the use of gimmicks for short-term ratings boosts, and the lack of development and training of new creative talent.
“ Look at Ryan's Hope,”O'Shea says. “It started with a very romantic, lovely idea. Here's Irish Catholic Mary Ryan, who's not going to sleep with this attractive newspaper man until they're married. That's what the audience wants to see, and the show won every award in the book. And then ABC come along and make Delia fall in love with King Kong. Can you believe it? It had to be the network...I can't believe it's Claire. She's not a drinker, so it isn't like she got plastered one night and said, “Wouldn't this be fun? Somebody at the network said, 'It's sweeps time, let's get the ratings up.' Another gimmick, and it started the downslide.
“Same thing happened when they brought on movie stars. Sammy Davis adored OLTL. He wanted to be on OLTL. I said I'd love to have Sammy Davis Jr as Sammy Davis Jr; that's wonderful! But please don't take my ficticious town that people believe exists, and give me Sammy Davis Jr, whom everyone knows as Sammy Davis Jr, playing a gambler – all my stories are shot to hell. And it was painful for us. He was charming and he had fun. But he ruined the integrity of the town. The ratings went up for a week. It took away from credibility. You no longer believe Llanview exists because Sammy Davis Jr came in,” O'Shea insists.
Just as outlandish gimmicks and flights of fancy aren't the solution, these soap veterans believe going too far in the opposite direction- with gritty, slice-of-life,reality based drama- is also a recipe for disaster. AJ Russell recalls,”I had a remarkable experience. I turned on GH for the first time in a year, and I was amazed to find a young man lying in bed with AIDS. Now my estimation of this is we are going backward, to what, Irna Phillips? I'm sure you would not get hooked if all you had to watch was tears and sobs. Nothing will dissuade from the belief that daytime is fantasy.
“I don't care how relevant an AIDS story is,” Conboy says. “It took this boy eight months to die on GH. Guess what? We all knew the end of the story. It wasn't a shock that they weren't going to make him better in the last 24 minutes of the show. The audience is not being entertained by an AIDS storyline because the result of an AIDS storyline is that you are going to die. There's no upside. Everybody in the world is praying to God that they don't get it. It's very difficult to tell that story and entertain.
“Life is tough enough”, agrees Dobson. “I don't want to bring more tragedy into my life by suffering as I watch the screen. Certainly we've killed off people, but not by inch-by-inch suffering. It's the death knell for ratings. We've done it and we've learned from our mistakes. They're tuning in for entertainment,not to grieve. Rabin learned from such mistakes on Days as well. “We did a story where Mickey was in a mental institution, and John Clarke was phenomenal. He was just great, we thought we were doing this great story, the critics did, too, but the audience just turned away, because it was too realistic.
O'Shea adds,”I agree with Samuel Goldwyn. If you want to send a message. Go to Western Union. Writers frequently get pressured from organizations asking us to please write a story for public awareness, and they would offer a little award or something at the end. They should buy an ad in the New York Times. When you do slice-of-life you're going to put your audience to sleep. Nobody seems to know that.
So what does the future hold? There is a strong agreement that the industry's troubles will only deepen over time if it doesn't take a more active role to develop new creative talent. Conboy says,”there's no training ground for writers today in daytime. Writers should train writers. It shouldn't be some person who comes to the network to train writers. Training them for what? All headwriters have different styles.”
Because soaps have existed for so many years, there is little in the way of story that has not been done in one way or another. Although the experts disagree on how precisely how to make something new of the same old,same old, there is one thing they all agree: Love is the thing. Romance is the engine that propels drama, and as long as people care about the thrill of romance, they will probably want to watch it unfold on soap operas.
...because apparently we live in China. They know what's best for us.
Someone involved in Whitney Houston's new album have decided to pull down all traces of her upcoming single "Like I Never Left" which were leaked onto YouTube earlier this week. For the sake of simplicity (this does not necessarily mean they are the responsible party), we will blame Arista Records.
Arista Records seems to be completely oblivious to the concept of VIRAL MARKETING. It's this newfangled thing where people hear new songs on YouTube and the like and become excited for and anticipate the release of new tracks by certain well-known artists. This has worked well for bands who now sell records like Ok Go and "artists" like Lily Allen and Sandi Thom.
I would like to think that Arista would like the youngins to be interested in a new track by what has historically been their biggest-selling artist. But apparently not. Apparently viral marketing is evil and cannibalizes album sales. Just like that pesky CD single that got Whitney 14 weeks at #1 with "I Will Always Love You", eh Arista? You know because they released CD singles from The Bodyguard, they ONLY sold 20 Million Copies of that album in the US. What a shame. Could've been 24 Million, you know. Damn those four million cheap bastards who didn't buy the whole album, eh?
Here's a thought: If you continue to patronize and mistrust the record-buying public, they will continue to spite you and NOT buy your records. Just because you want to force people to buy what YOU want them to buy DOES NOT MEAN THEY WILL. Oh I'm sorry. Silly me, corporate America knows what's best for you. Better than you do. You DID know that you don't want to see anyone over the age of 25 on your TV set, yes? You DID know you hated scripted television programming, yes? You DID know you like ONLY vapid hip-hop, yes? What? You're over the age of 30? Oh well you might as well go into a home anyway then. Old shit.
I've decided to start a series about the one group of artists who inspired me to sing, and get into voice and music. I may not yet have their level of success, and I may never, but they've inspired me in one way or another. A lot of these artists never achieved the level of success they should've, but looking at what's happened to the few who have had overwhelming success, that could very well be a good thing.
And to start, let's go with one of those whose success has virtually ruined her life. Whitney Houston.
Whitney's been one of my absolute favourite singers since I was a kid. The first song of hers I remember was "I'm Your Baby Tonight" when I was just turning four in 1990 (yes, I'm a youngin'. Shush.) The song was catchy, danceable, had soul, jazz, and Motown influences with an amazing voice that rose above everything else I was hearing at the time. I made my mother record every MuchMusic Spotlight she was on, and idolised her right up until the point when the drugs and smoking did her voice in. (note: I can almost guarantee all of you that the drugs are NOT what blew her voice, it's the smoking. The smoke has lowered her voice and caused her breath intake to be extremely short. Don't ever expect her to sound anywhere as good as she used to until she quits smoking.)
Whitney is a massive talent and undoubtedly one of the biggest artists in pop history. very few artists can claim a 14-week #1 single ('I Will Always Love You´, of course), and no one else can claim seven consecutive #1 pop singles in the US. But it's not all just charts, Whitney's talent is her combination of soul, power, versatility and commanding presence that reach out and grab you. Most everyone, whether they enjoy her songs or not, recognize her as an amazing talent. I had somewhat bored of her in recent years until I turned to YouTube (ahh, YouTube, what a wonderful thing you are) and uncovered a rare a capella recording of "I'm Every Woman", from the Bodyguard soundtrack. Not only did I hear her amazing gospel vocal roots shine through, but the whole tone and sound of the song shone through for me as well in a way it never had before. Ashford & Simpson are an amazing writing team in this respect, because they always build their best songs around a choral gospel base. It's something writers and producers today should really take note of, because that's where classic soul comes from. Not the crotch, but church. And I'm not even religious.
I'll leave you with that track. Listen to the very end, the end for me is the most lifting and interesting part:
I'm actually somewhat happy with the state of pop music right now. It's not perfect, but it's a relief that the Usher wannabes and their crew of half-witted no-talents are finally sodding off and allowing soul and melodies and real musicians get a word in edgewise again. It's just too bad the ringleader of this is Amy Winehouse who is currently too busy tenderizing her arms to help see this change through.
I still look back to the past however, in one area. What I like to call "Vapid Gay Pop" is still in a rut. Sure we still have Girls Aloud, but that's only the British. Anyone outside the UK is stuck with the Pussycat Dolls and the latest cyclone attention whore off Big Brother with botulism for lips. Apparently it's too much to ask for one of these girls to produce something that isn't about who ate her out for dinner last night. Half the joy of songs about sex is the nuance and romance. This is apparently lost on Miss Sherzingerator and crew. Then again, it's not like she writes the songs or anything. Nor is it like any of the other 14 Pussycat Dolls sing on the albums.
I've been listening to some early 90s pop fare as of late. I turned to an old friend, Kylie Minogue. I was at her concert in Rotterdam recently, and she not only puts on a great show, but she also sings live, well, for 100 Euro less than Madonna. Her songs also have a melody, and are about varying topics. They tell stories and create a scene, and have multiple meanings in some cases, always a good sign. Granted, a lot of this credit goes to her vast team of fantastic writers, but I give her credit for not shying away from a bit of depth with her pop.
I'll leave you with a reasonable example: "What Kind Of Fool (Heard All That Before)".
This came out in 1992 for Kylie's first Greatest Hits package for PWL. It was a completely disaster, peaking at #14 in the UK, making it at the time her second-lowest charting single, and it still ranks as her fifth-lowest showing in the UK. (with over 40 singles released to date in the UK, that's quite an accomplishment). The song was brilliant and was completely cheated due to two major contributing factors.
a) in 1992 pop was essentially dead in the UK. Kids weren't listening to it and had turned to "cooler" dance and rock music. Kylie was seen as part of the uncool 80s Stock-Aitken-Waterman stable that ate everything in the Top 10 in the late 80s and while her success continued far later than any other SAW offering and with far more consistency, any pure pop offering of the traditional SAW ilk was immediately panned and rejected by the press and public at large.
b) Kylie went through a more dramatic bout of what's happening right now in her career. After a long period of constant success, she'd become what the radio would call "burnt", meaning the public had tired of her constant presence on the airwaves, and were less interested in purchasing her records. As a result, public exposure was low for this single, and the public's growing indifference to Kylie was so bad at this point that even a performance on Top Of The Pops didn't get this single into the Top 10.
It would be really brave to cool down the sex enough on a modern pop female to make a song like this palatable. The lack of a defined gay music scene of the sort that defined 80s and 90s pop makes this even more difficult, but I still think it's possible, and I guarantee that with the right person singing and the right promotional push, this song can easily become a huge hit. It's a shame it wasn't in 1992.
An excerpt from a reply I posted on "The Critical Condition" regarding the poster child for warped attitudes on homosexuality:
Personally, I think it's definitely got a hint of negative gay message in it. Consider her last single, "UR So Gay", where she lists off about 20 stereotypically effeminate characteristics of her ex-boyfriend, then proceeds to tell him "You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys". Essentially equating homosexuality in men as being inherently synonymous with emasculation. She seems to have a real set of hangups surrounding homosexuality that I really don't understand, although they're really a fantastic reflection of the culture we live in. It's too bad that instead of satirizing and rising above this aspect of our society, she's essentially acting as the prime depiction of it instead.
Any opinions on this? I think my reply states it all.
(Link to the original post on thecriticalcondition.com)
Maybe it's not that record labels are being racist (or really care one way or another that you're black), maybe it's just that there are VERY FEW BLACK FEMALES DOING ANYTHING THAT ISN'T SHIT SNAP MUSIC.
I agree, Adele isn't really "soul music". Nor is Duffy. But if you want people to embrace you and treat you like an equal, stop accusing them of passing judgment on you every 3 seconds because of the colour of your skin. Is this the only conclusion that you can come up with as to why there are no black females doing soul music? Have you spoken with Beverley Knight lately?
I am so entirely fed up with the R&B world bumming Chris Brown. Everyone and their dog thinks he's cute and charming and so talented and such a great dancer and wah wah wah wah wah...
Enough. He is so utterly useless and unexciting I can't even begin to explain all the way in which this kid bothers me. I'm entirely convinced that he's a drone commissioned by Usher's management company to ensure that dumb 12 year old girls stay addicted to tuneless snap music in the periods between Usher albums so that he doesn't have to ever release an album of any real quality or artistic growth and still get multi-platinum albums.
I find it especially interesting that despite the fact that there IS no difference between Usher and Chris Brown other than age, no one seems to notice. Nor do they notice that the exact same comments they made bumming Chris Brown this year are the exact same ones they made about Usher 4 years ago when
8701 was re-released Confessions came out. No one seems to realize that Chris Brown apparently has no natural body shape whatsoever, being constantly housed in clothing clearly designed to fit only Ruben Studdard.
His whole persona is ridiculous. He's so macho and hip-hop and puts T-Pain on his albums (a rant about THAT clown later), and yet he poses in pictures like he came straight out of Menudo. There is no style, no class, no aspiration to be either. He's just drudge aimed at tweens, and yet patronising those same tweens all at once by feeding them unimaginative, derivative crap in an unimaginative, pre-treaded package.
If you don't believe me that every aspect of this boy's image and packaging are derivative and co-opted from others, take what the father of a friend of mine once said: "He'd be great if he just stopped dancing like a Michael Jackson impersonator."