I love this crazy, funny, ridiculous video so much I can’t stop watching it! So happy the fans are laughing and screaming right along with us! It’s a wild ride but one I wouldn’t miss for the world!
I want to talk about the new young people on All My Children, and why I think (and hope) the audience should give them a chance. I am not known for blowing smoke up anybodies hoo-ha, right? Let’s just start with that as a baseline for this conversation!
Before you totally freak on me, let me tell you that I TOTALLY understand what happened to AMC during the ‘oughts of 2000-2010. The show lost heart (in my opinion) and it’s way. Franz and company dominated and upended the show during that time, throwing old favorites into the fire and overwhelming the fans with too many new faces. I can totally get why someone might say, “Oh please, not again!” or “Stop ruining my show!”
Here is why I think, no scratch that, I KNOW that is NOT going to happen.
First off: lets look at the COMPANY of actors on the list.
On the classic side, there are: Julia Barr (Brooke), Jill Larson (Opal), David Canary (Adam), Ray MacDonnell (Joe Martin), Debbie Morgan (Angie), Darnell Williams (Jesse), me (Dixie), Eden Reigal (Bianca), Vincent Irrizary (David), Francesca James (Evelyn), Jordi Vilacuso (Griff), Lindsay Hartley (Cara), and Thorston Kaye (Zack)… that’s THIRTEEN veterans of the show in place from the START, and you can bet there are more to come.
On the newbie side there are: Eric Nelson (AJ, son of JR), Ryan Bittle (JR), Jordan Lane Price (Celia, can’t tell you who she’s related to… YET!), Heather Roop (Jane), Sal Stowers (Cassandra, daughter of Angie and Jesse), Robert Scott Wilson (Pete Cortland, son of Opal and Palmer), and Denyse Tontz (Miranda, daughter of Bianca)… that’s only SEVEN and almost all of them are related to long standing, beloved core characters!
Then lets consider that Agnes Nixon was not allowed to give hardly ANY input when Franzie was running things. He REALLY threw her to the fire! NOW she is back in FULL FORCE and is totally and completely respected by the new bosses of the show. I have personally heard Jeff Kwatinetz talk about how blown away he is by her and her genius. Not only that, but Ginger Smith, who was an associate producer under every regime since I started, oh 25 years ago (lets not talk about that number, shall we?) is AT THE HELM. In all my years, I have never known ANYONE who LOVED and UNDERSTOOD All My Children at it’s CORE like Ginger. She is the MAIN reason I returned. I love and respect her so much.
Now let me tell you about my experiences with these young people. I don’t know if you’ve heard me talk about this yet, but you will. The short version is: when I came to the set the first day, I COULD NOT LEAVE IT. Even though I wasn’t shooting until the end of the day, I stayed on the set for HOURS. Guess who sat next to me all that time? Eric Nelsen, who plays “AJ.”
We sat and watched the monitor and I talked to him about the show, it’s history, how to work with cameras, everything that came into my mind on that very special day. He was a total doll, respectful, grateful and attentive. He studied at PCS, aka Professional Children’s School for Actors, and I could tell he is very passionate and committed to his work. As a child actor myself, we had an instant bond. Later, I got to watch him do his thing on set. He is totally committed, adorable, and incredibly talented. I can’t speak highly enough of this young man. I totally adore him.
I also got to meet Sal Stowers, “Cassandra,” that day. I had no idea she was the winner of America’s Next Top Model and I am glad I didn’t! I had no preconceptions when we were introduced. Who I met was a completely respectful and thoughtful young LADY, who was excited to be a part of the show and couldn’t wait to prove herself. I got to hang out with her a little and found her to be totally delightful. She’s funny, kind, sweet, and a vegan! She gave me a little shit about my shearling coat as is an animal activist and I am proud that she did! She was right! I am a bit of a mama bear and told her she needed to be super gentle with herself because this is the hardest job you will ever love. She seemed really grateful for my insights, which I took as a sign of respect. After seeing her work, that respect works both ways, let me tell you!
I also met the adorable Denyse Tontz as “Miranda.” This little lady is so cute and only SEVENTEEN! She’s also a singer songwriter, and such a talented, natural actress. I looked up her VIDEO and it was stuck in my head on a loop. She’s funny and fun, too! At the after party on our last night of the two week shoot, she and I danced our BUTTS off with Eric, Sal, Rob, Jordon and the whole production gang. I can’t wait for you to fall in love with her, like everyone else on our show has!
Speaking of dancing, Robert Scott Wilson aka “Pete Cortland” is a dancing machine! We had so much fun that night. I’m going to share with you one thing that happened because I think you will appreciate it. I think it says a lot about his character. After the full funky freakout on the dance floor I pulled him aside and said, “Hey I might have to leave soon, could you do me a favor and look out for the girls?” The club was picking up and the clientele was looking a little too, shall we say, ready for good times. He leaned over and said, “Don’t worry, I think of these girls like they were my sisters. I am totally on it.” I LOVE THAT! He is also a charming actor, and is really going to make a few ladies fall in love with him. He can’t help it, he’s just that kind of guy!
Newcomer Jordan Lane Price, “Celia,” and I got to hang out a bit as well. I met her the day of the big photo shoot at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. She was looking so beautiful in her blue dress, and I told her so. She made a little fun of herself, telling me, “I am totally pulled in by a corset! I believe in normal bodies. I hope they like me!” I assured her she looked amazing and asked her how she felt about the work she had to do the upcoming week. She confided she was a bit overwhelmed. This is her first job and she was being asked to do a lot of pages, a couple days in a row, which is a LOT for a newbie to handle. So I told her how to do it – how to do what we call “breaking down a script.” She was genuinely grateful and from what I heard she did an amazing job. I find her incredibly touching. I may have to adopt her.
Then there is Heather Roop as “Jane.” Heather is HILARIOUS and so much fun! She is a southern gal who really knows how to lay it on the line and I LOVE THAT as you probably can guess. We had drinks one night with Lindsay and Sal and DAMN if us girls didn’t know how to get right down to it! We all promised each other we would have each other’s back. WOMEN GOT TO STICK TOGETHER, right? If WE don’t tell each other how it is, WHO WILL? Damn, that was a fun evening.
Last, but certainly not least, there is Ryan Bittle as my son “JR.” How do I put this? Uh… DREAMBOAT? I got a good looking son, people. WOW. And he’s really a man’s man. Strong, but with this beautiful secret vulnerability. Since CBS couldn’t release Jacob Young to do the part of JR, I think we got really lucky with Ryan. He is devoted to understanding the character and giving the audience a great new look at him. I think you will be as riveted by his work as I clearly am.
One other point, and I made this on my FB page but it bears repeating: All My Children is a show about generations of families. I started as a teenager, as did Julia Barr and Susan Lucci! Even Michael Knight played a teen story with “Tad and Jenny and Angie and Jesse,” remember? Teen love stories are a long standing part of the tradition of soaps. I also want to assure you that because AGNES is back, there is a great balance between the young people and the vets. It all WORKS because it is all woven together in a modern, but CLASSIC way. Trust me, if I thought it was crap I would NOT be taking time on my DAY OFF to write this blog, or tweeting or FB-ing or all the other stuff I’m up to. I am doing it because I BELIEVE in what is being created. After two shows and 25 damn years in daytime, (cough, gack, did I just say that?) I KNOW what it feels like when a show is in the “sweet spot” and I am telling you, this production is HITTING IT OUT OF THE PARK!
Let’s not turn the soaps into a nostalgia trip. Lord knows, I can’t live up to the past. I can only move forward and try to create something new and authentic for you. Thank god for YouTube, there are hundreds of videos up there with the great shows we once did, so they can keep on giving joy! Maybe one day someone will get smart and put it all on DVD’s for people to own in a higher quality. I sure love seeing them, and I do look back from time to time to ponder my youth and sigh with what we were all able to create as an ensemble… but NOW I am SO EXCITED about the future… it’s simply BLOWING MY MIND.
Okay, really for real, the last thing: I could write a whole ‘nother blog on this point, but let’s just touch on AGISM, shall we? When I was young, I was told I better make it while I was young because there would be nothing for me over 40. Now, thanks to the hard work of a LOT of FABULOUS women, that has totally changed and THANK GOD. But is it me, or does it seem like we are all looking at the kids and giving them a really hard time? The Millennials in particular. Maybe they remind us we ain’t getting any younger, but personally I find them an awesome generation. That’s why I write for policymic.com! I think this generation has so much to share and teach us. I love their VOICE, their liberation, their street savvy, their art. I say BRING IT!
So hang in there and thanks for listening to all my blah blah! All My Children will be up on HULU for FREE April 29th at NOON and, please, remember: give the kids a chance! You might just fall in love with soaps all over again…
Oh and PS: OF COURSE you are allowed your opinion! Free speech, baby! Rock it! Agree, disagree, SAY YOUR PEACE! I love ya no matter WHAT. Guess I’m just stoopid that way.
Okay. You’ve all heard the news, All My Children is going to be a bit more risqué than usual. Yep. I am not the first to mention it, but I thought I might be one of the first to put it on the table for discussion. Let’s talk about sex, and about sex in our dramatic entertainment. Too much? Not enough? Well you can bet I have an opinion.
My opinion is this: sex is a good thing, wait, scratch that, sex is a GREAT thing! It’s a healthy impulse and a wonderful way to enjoy being, well, about as close as you can get to someone. Frankly, I think we have WAY too MUCH violence and way too LITTLE love making in our entertainment. This is probably because we are a country based on a puritan ethos that doesn’t really want to admit, we ALL LIKE SEX.
Do I recommend using birth control? YOU BET. Do I recommend only having sex when you are ready with someone that you truly CARE about? ABSO-F-ING-LUTELY. Is the young generation having a sexual revolution that no one is really TALKING ABOUT? ONE MILLION TIMES YES.
On another note: do you remember when the soaps were mostly LOVE stories, all leading up to the big moment when the characters would make love? Weren’t those FUN stories to watch? It wasn’t disgusting it was beautiful. I don’t know where those moments went but I am sure happy they are coming back. Passion is important!
I think it’s just as important to remember that as everyone has a different taste in clothes, so we all have a different taste in our fantasies and our lovemaking style. You can learn a lot about a person when you learn these details. When you look at a story from a sexual point of view, these choices are as much a part of a character as their fears, hopes and dreams.
Nudity-smooditty. So WHAT. The human body is beautiful and I will admit that I like to look at it, whether it’s a beautiful man or a beautiful woman. And it doesn’t matter what age they are as long as they are an appropriate age and a consenting adult.
Sexiness is beautiful. It is something we can and should ALL enjoy, no matter what age we are. Why not let ourselves relax a little? It might just make for a happier world!
(I swear I am hearing Barry White applauding right now!)
Since word got out that AMC/PP contacted me, I thought it was best to wait a bit until I confirmed it out of respect for the fact I am still sorting out the details of the situation. However, I feel confident in telling you that I will be a part of the AMC Internet Re-boot. I am very excited about the possibilities for the show in this medium and want to help give it every chance at success.
As you probably know by now, I am fascinated with all the many possibilities for creative expression that the Internet has to offer. I have a feeling the show will find many new opportunities for connecting with fans and I look forward to being a part of that as well.
I am also thrilled that Ginger Smith, who has worked on AMC for as long as I can remember, is finally getting the chance to helm the show. There are few people that know and love AMC as much as Ginger. I know for a fact she is doing everything in her power to make the show as wonderful for the long time fans as she possibly can.
Thank you all so much for your well wishes and support.
I am thrilled to share this blog post was chosen to be re-posted at www.policymic.com
It was January of 1995. My mother was at home, dying of cancer, but I had to work. I remember standing in the hair and makeup room at All My Children watching the O.J. trial pre-empt all the effort we had made to put a show on air that day, hard work that would not be rerun elsewhere or ever again. It was a very defeating moment. We all knew that the constant interruption of our daily story would mean the loss of viewers. I remember an actor standing next to me (I think it was Michael Nader) saying, “Well, this is it. This is the death of soaps.”
It’s taken me a long while to figure out what that person really meant, but I think I may have a grasp of it. Of course, I am only one person and one opinion. I always want to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to comment below and add whatever you think I may have missed, or share whatever thoughts you’d like.
What O.J. did that day, or rather, what the media did with O.J.’s behavior, changed our tastes in entertainment. It may be sad to say, but in that moment we became a bit more like the spectators in the Roman Coliseum, watching real gladiators fight to the death and less like the Greeks watching reenactments of killings (although they had their share of real sacrifices, or so I’ve read.) The point is, watching a real man who was once a great American hero melt down to the lowest common denominator of human experience was riveting.
The TV Networks have had a huge part to play in what some might call our “moral demise.” I would like to refer (again, for those of you who follow me on Twitter) to the movie “Network” by Paddy Chayefsky. You know, the one where they shout out the window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”? In the film, an ambitious producer focuses on sensationalizing real stories in order to grab the audiences attention and therefore raise ratings. This movie was way, way ahead of it’s time.
The O.J. Simpson trial was the beginning of the “news” story becoming more relevant than anything a soap could deliver at that time. One major factor in it’s draw was the fact that O.J. was not only a national hero, but an African American man. The very color of his skin dragged back into the light the whole huge history of “black” men in America. This conversation was difficult to address on soap operas, although the writers tried many times to do so. To this day, issues of race dominates our American social consciousness. Trayvon Martin is a tragic example.
So O.J. was probably pissed about the prejudice he no doubt encountered in his life, but he was also a handsome, really successful man. Many men looked up to him, admired his ability and his life. Why else was he so angry?
He was getting a divorce.
I have never seen such rage as in a man who is getting divorced. It seems to shake him to the core. When a man defines himself by his role as a husband and father, this cutting of ties can bring out a lot of anger. I think the feelings of shame and failure that are brought up are difficult for most men to deal with.
I also think it’s quite possible that a lot of men at the time were not so thrilled about women demanding equal rights, equal pay, equal treatment. Add to this women’s developing sexual liberation, and you’ve got a lot of control issues that are going to have to be dealt with in the general male consciousness. O.J. became the focal point for all this emotion. Throughout O.J.’s trial the unasked questions pulsing in many people’s consciousness were not just, “did a black man kill a white woman?” but also “did a husband and father kill his wife and the mother of his children because she was leaving him for a younger man with whom she was having a sexual relationship?” and the worst, “Did Nicole bring on the violence because she demanded liberation from her husband?” which is akin to saying “She asked for it.”
Right or wrong, the tensions under the O.J. Simpson trial were so much more truthful and relevant to our current state of social awareness that, although still charming and entertaining and well made, soap operas were instantly seen as irrelevant and hopelessly out of date. This wasn’t always the case:
Check out some of the flashbacks from the 20th Anniversary and the wonderful, potent conversations between Gillian Spencer’s “Daisy” and James Mitchell’s “Palmer” in the 1970′s/early 80′s:
It wasn’t the daytime writers fault there wasn’t as much edge cutting material in 1995 as there was in 1980. As corporations began to acquire soap operas as a product, it became more and more difficult for daytime writers to tell stories that might outrage a percentage of the audience. Every ratings point counted to the ad-centric culture of Network Television. Instead of being able to tell the more risky stories that might have kept all kinds of audiences interested, corporatized soaps were forced create more general story lines that often became ridiculous in their attempt to avoid being offensive.
No wonder people stopped watching in droves.
The story of O.J. and Nicole was also REAL. They weren’t actors with scripts, they were real people with dramas as big as any soap could manufacture. O.J.’s need for attention, even love from the media was another way in which he reflected something very true in American lives. Many people wanted a little bit of fame to experience for themselves. Others were riveted by the risk of others. Either way, the audience was becoming the star.
Next essay: “How The Internet and The Culture of Choice Killed Television”
Sorry this post is so long in coming. I really had to think about it for a while.
WHY is it almost every woman I meet who USED to watch soaps tells me she stopped because she had to go to work? What does that MEAN exactly? Why did so many women seemingly go to work at the same time, changing their lives and viewing habits?
Important note: Many of these women also told me they started to DVR it, or watch on Soap Net, but as their views were not counted in the ratings system, they were sadly not able to have an affect on the future of daytime TV. See two previous blogs for more of my thoughts on this subject.
Anyway… I had to go back to the 1970′s, the hey day of soaps, to understand why so many women started shifting their ideas about work in the 1990′s. It came down to two things: economy and divorce.
It turns out that in the 1980′s, divorce started becoming quite popular.
Here are some “Divorce Rate Facts” I thought were pertinent to the issue:
- Since 1970 marriages have declined 30%.
- Since 1970 divorces have increased 40%.
- Women are the first to file for divorce 65% of the time.
- Premarital cohabitation increased 70% in the 1990’s.
Now (perhaps obviously) I am not a philosopher, a professional sociologist, a trained psychologist or a statistics guru. All I am is an interested bystander who likes to figure out why things happen and what they mean. When I look at these few facts about divorce since the 1970′s, it says to me that I am right about a trend I’ve been suspecting. This “trend” (if you will forgive the choice of word) is one of women becoming more independent, more self sufficient and more economically aware. The mold of the 1950′s woman at home has been broken. We are still defining it’s replacement.
Women have discovered at least one important truth: if they are in an unhappy marriage, they can leave and be okay as a single person. The stigma of the divorcee has slowly but surely been slipping away. Personally, I think this is a good thing. I believe marriage can make you really happy if you are with the right person, but is a hell on earth if you are with the wrong one. Simply being married does not guarantee you safety, security or happiness. The women’s liberation movement of the 1970′s was an important moment for a lot of women to realize this. Soap Operas, especially the one’s written by Agnes Nixon, were at the forefront of recognizing this change in our culture. She used the medium to reflect the changing dynamic between men and women, and to explore both women’s ambition and men’s confusion towards this change.
However in order to have an audience to speak to, Soaps needed to have an audience at home or somewhere watching the show when the TV show aired. In the 70′s and 80′s many women (and college students of both sexes) organized their day around one show or another, making sure they were somewhere they could watch at 1 or 2 or 3PM. In the 1990′s, this audience began to slip. Why? What other than the VCR and the DVR attributed to the loss of this audience? Remember- this would be the audience the advertisers cared most about- one that had to WAIT through the TV commercials, insuring those commercials messages had a chance to make an impact.
I think one reason was there were just not enough hours in the day for a woman to do everything society was challenging her to do.
Do you remember the ad’s for “Engelie” body spray? “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man- ’cause I’m a woman, Engelie.” Women were being told (and still are, frankly) that they could “do it all,” which in my opinion is a fool’s errand. There is simply NO WAY you can do it all. I have worked all my life, and coming home to a man who has not made dinner for me when he didn’t work all day makes me pretty pissed. In a relationship, you gotta divide up the responsibilities. The point is, after the women’s liberation movement, women were told they could have their liberation and assuage any guilt they may have of achieving said liberation by continuing to take care of their men.
Many women were feeling guilty for not being super mother and super wife and super professional and super friend and anything else she felt she had to be perfect at. Most women were getting super tired.
Here is where Soaps started becoming irrelevant. They did not follow closely enough the shifting trends in women’s views about home, family and work. In a way, women’s frustration with being asked to “do it all” was too much of a hot issue to handle. It suggested they might not WANT to take care of their men anymore. I know Soaps tried to get into this issue, I really do. I was there day after day during this decade, trying to truthfully play out the stories I was given. I remember specifically a line my character said, “I’m more than a mom, I’m more than a wife, I’m more than Dixie Cooney Martin Martin Martin!” There it was- a 1950′s dilemma right in the middle of the 1990′s.
It may sound odd, but one thing I think Soaps really did right in this era was to focus a bit more on the men. The male reaction to women working- their excitement or repulsion about the change in women’s identity was the next phase of story to tell, and IMHO nobody did this better than Michael E. Knight as “Tad Martin.” Our character’s divorce was both painful and popular, as it reflected what was going on in the culture. To recap: Tad thought he had married a little homemaker but was attracted to Liza the businesswoman… Dixie also needed more but didn’t know what more was going to look like.
Dixie, like many women, learned the hard way- divorce did not necessitate economic freedom, only physical.
Money changed everything.
What has been one of the foremost struggles in the workplace between men and women in the last 50 years? Equal pay for equal work. Yes, every man I have ever worked with has made more than me, even if I worked longer hours, speaking more lines, saying them backwards and in high heels. Why? I would say it had to do with an old tradition that has been slow in changing. As a culture we don’t want to let go of the idea that men are the providers for the home, even if they aren’t always. What this has done to women, however, is pretty sad. Single women, especially those with children, often have to suck it up and work two jobs.
How the heck are you going to have time to watch TV if you have to work that hard? I didn’t with one job! If you needed money to raise your kids, and had to work two jobs to do it, you were probably NOT going to be at home at that vital hour the Neilson’s and therefore the advertisers counted as the most important.
The women that did have time to continue to watch the Soaps, (whether on VCR, DVR or at home) I believe did so mostly because of the ritual- the comfort of consistency they provided. The stories often reflected their world in part, but there was always the fantasy to fall back on: the man would return redeemed and help her, rescue her and protect her OR she would suddenly become like Erica Kane and come up with a fabulous business idea that would make her millions. It was (and to some degree still is) an “either-or” fantasy.
Either way you chose to fantasize- MONEY was more and more becoming an important factor. The man will love you and TAKE CARE OF YOU, or you will come up with a way to FINANCIALLY liberate yourself. (Hey, I’m not above this fantasy!) However in the 1990′s, this fantasy began to shift in ways nobody could have predicted.
Here is an interesting quote on the subject from the National Bureau of Economic Research:
Going back decades, women were perceived as secondary earners within the family, more likely to be affected by their spouses’ wages. Now the traditional division of labor between men and women is breaking down. Men and women are more equally sharing home and market responsibilities, although women still bear a larger share of housework and child care than men do. These changes in gender roles are likely to help explain the authors’ finding that the responsiveness of women’s labor supply to economic incentives is becoming more like men’s.
In other words: in the 1990′s women’s decisions ABOUT work were changing. They were thinking less about how much their husbands were making, and more about what they wanted to do with their own time and money. They were becoming independent thinkers, able to conceive of a life without a man to support them. Women’s new attitude towards money affected the soaps in a profound way, I believe, as soap operas were considered a “throw back” to the 1950′s and not reflecting the modern woman’s dilemma. This dilemma sounded something (to me) like this: “Who am I now that I know I don’t need a man to survive, that love is a choice, not an economic imperative, and how does this change my view of romance?”
It’s a big question. One that Soaps, a medium whose origin was steeped in 1950′s rhetoric, was not created to deal with. A big white wedding was not going to make the modern woman feel like she had attained the ultimate goal. In fact for many women, it was a disaster.
Next blog: OJ Simpson: How One Angry Man Reflected A Societies Rage Over Shifting Gender Roles and the Birth of “Reality” TV.
Let’s just say it: things are not what they used to be.
Everyone seems to have heard the news: advertisers want to sell to a younger consumer to buy their products. Why is this? Some folks over 40 feel like their hard earned dollar is worth just as much (if not more) than a 20 year old. (We certainly remember working hard for it.) What’s going on?
I’m no economic expert, but I know a few things. One of those things is the effect of advertising on a child as opposed to an adult. As a child, I loved commercials so much I wanted to live inside the big TV box where the happy Mr Kool-Aid guy was. I wanted to eat hamburgers and pretend to be a cheerleader with girls my age, shouting, “you deserve a break today!” I really believed that products like these were making people happy, making their daily life better. I was eventually hired for over 30 commercials by the time I was sixteen years old. You could say my belief had an effect on my ability to get hired. I truly BELIEVED MacDonald’s loved the world, oh yes I did. I was a kid!
After sixteen, I began to develop a sneaking suspicion that advertisements were not the world I thought they were by virtue of the fact the products I sold were not buying me, or anyone I knew, happiness. My parents spent my money and the kids at school called me “Katie the Cleaning Lady” after the Dawn Dishsoap spokesperson, which I laughed off but did not enjoy. I found myself moving further and further away from “normalcy” and deeper and deeper into show business, as if show business were simply hiding the joy I once found in it. I also felt a bit betrayed by Tampax and Maybelline. As I got older it bothered me more that the products didn’t always live up to their ad line. Sometimes my tampon was not so comfortable and my mascara flaked. This led me to a state of confusion. I saw these products were flawed, but the ad’s still were pitching the same line: “Be Loyal To Us, We Are America.” What to think? I tried hard not to.
My last commercial audition was for Oil of Olay. I was twenty-two and my mother was dying. I was working on All My Children and feeling a fair amount of stress, which no doubt played a part in what was about to happen. At the audition, I was to take a plastic tulip out of a glass and softly place it on my face while telling the camera how nice Oil of Olay was. I looked at the tulip and could only picture a penis. This is an absolute fact. I could not get the image of a penis stroking my young cheek out of my head. I believed the advertisers wanted the audience to see me as “sexy” and they were using this phallic symbol to push the message “Oil of Olay Will Make Men Want (A Younger) You.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even get through the lines. I burst into tears and the very kindly casting director offered to get me a cab. I had reached the statute of limitations on my suspension of disbelief.
Think about it: I, a child actor who grew up around advertising and once believed every promise it made, was in my 20’s finding it impossible to buy into the advertising world. That was almost twenty years ago. How much harder is it these days? How can the 20-somethings of today in our culture of maximum exposure to violence and sex, believe the sweet lies that ad’s sell?
The fact is, they generally don’t, and that is why their dollar matters more than mine. The younger generations KNOW they are being sold to but they buy stuff anyway. Watching what they spend and HOW they spend it is like putting your finger on the heartbeat of a generation. Look at what they buy and you know what they value, who they are and possibly what they think. I think these many of these young people know the advertisers want their attention and resist much more strongly than I did. Once they buy a product, that company can feel pretty confident their sales pitch did a good job that day. So we get more aggressive advertisements to capture a more resistant (younger) audience.
Now these young people are bound to grow up and when they do they will act just like us older folks did. They will stop following the trends so much and start spending less. They will develop brand loyalty and not risk so much on newer products. Some people I know only buy Tide because their mother bought Tide and that’s that. Life has changed since then. Many young people will take into account the new environmental issues we have and break from tradition to only buy detergent that is proven not to hurt the water system. Advertisers watch these trends- the trends of older spenders and the trends of younger ones. It’s not that the younger dollar is more valuable, it’s that it is harder to get. ONCE YOU HAVE IT, you can exploit it for what might be a reasonably long period of time. Nostalgia plays it’s part. Think about Proctor and Gamble and how many people of the past few generations BELIEVE in their products and use them out of a sense of loyalty to their once more mobile past. That is one major thing advertisers want out of young people. Loyalty to their product which will last over a generation or more.
How has this affected Soap Opera’s? A few years ago, this new awareness in the advertising world of the long range promise of the young consumer led them to start paying attention to a new system of rating: THE DEMOGRAPHIC. Many of the soap opera viewers were sticking loyally by their soaps, but their children weren’t always following, partly because of other factors which I will talk about in other essays- economy, the internet, the culture of choice. The audience for soaps was not only getting smaller but the bulk of the audience was getting older. That isn’t to say there weren’t younger people watching, but they were harder to capture and not always as loyal.
Since advertisers changed their idea of what was the most worthy audience, soaps, a medium that was built to sell a product like SOAP, was asked to change in order to accommodate their advertisers new focus. For example let’s say Tampex wants to get more young people to buy their tampons. They tell the network it is worth it to them to pay MORE if the shows appeal to a younger audience. So the network told their shows to make them more appealing to the younger generations. It’s about making money, right? This is how a change of emphasis on a ratings system heralded a change of programming. Where once the Neilson rating (how many people on average are watching in what areas) reigned over all, now there was a new focus: a focus on AGE, with higher ad rates for viewers 18-49.
The New York Times made an interesting point when they stated, “When a show has a disproportionate number of women over 50 in its audience, it simply cannot charge as much for commercials. That is not because advertisers do not like older women, but because they are so easy to find all over the rest of television.”
Although this seems slightly arrogant and insulting, it is a significant point for those viewers over 50 who feel slighted their viewership isn’t counted as valuable as the younger generations. Because of two customs that come in spades with age- habit and loyalty- many people over 50 watch more TV. They are used to being sold to, and often watch the commercials. Many are making the shift to DVR’s and the Internet, but slowly. This means they are still a willing audience for ad’s, which means advertisers can tell the Networks they won’t give them a lot of money to sell to them. It’s a strange logic, but it’s the latest “truth” in advertising. Your willingness is not as valuable once it is gained. Now what relationship does this remind you of?
It seems that advertisers (or perhaps the agencies that cater to them?) have convinced themselves they do not want what they have because they have had it for so long it DOESN’T FEEL as valuable anymore. Like the older man who leaves his wife to date a younger woman, advertisers are going to where they think the grass is greener and will grow for longer. It’s certain one day that man will look at the ceiling and say, “I miss my wife.”
“Focus on the young, because the advertisers will pay more for that dollar,” is what soap opera producers had to hear and follow if they wanted to keep their jobs. This is why you saw, starting around 2002, a huge shift towards younger storylines, which (you know it) started to piss off the loyal, older audience. But guess where the younger audience was really going? Where there were no advertisements or cable bills at all. The Internet.
The loyalty of longtime, older viewers was left in the dust while young people were chased using any and all of the latest trends (websites, blogs, v-logs, instant messages, “behind the scenes” videos online, etc.) When those didn’t help raise the demo score, they resorted to altering the look of the medium (Hi-Def cameras, new sets, more location shoots) and increased sexuality (girls in bikini’s, girls kissing girls, more topless guys), and over the top violence. Even onscreen torture became acceptable if it got the attention of the young folk.
It is only in the last two years, when soaps are at the very end of their tether, that networks desperate to keep the audience they have are allowing producers to do what they think will save their show. Save them from the awful fate that so many good soaps have fallen victim to: replacement. In a effort to bring back the audience whom they ostracized to an almost infinite degree- they are bringing back the actors, writers and production values that once captured millions.
Will it be enough? Who knows. Sometimes the betrayed wife can forgive, sometimes she can’t. But now you know (at least my thoughts on) what part demographics played in the demise of what once appeared to be an invincible medium.
Next Essay: Money Changes Everything
“Derided by critics and disdained by social commentators from the 1930s to the 1990s, the soap opera is nevertheless the most effective and enduring broadcast advertising vehicle ever devised. It is also the most popular genre of television drama in the world today and probably in the history of world broadcasting: no other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers in more countries over a longer period of time.” –Robert Allen, Museum of Broadcast Communications
It has become painfully clear: the American soap opera is going the way of the dinosaur- dying a slow, painful, and to some, mysterious death. In 2002, there were eleven American daytime “soap operas” on the air and now, less than ten years later, only four “soaps” remain. What is happening to this “effective and enduring” medium? If, as Allen states above, “no other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers,” why is it disappearing from our televisions?
I invite you to join me in my attempt to try and tackle what is no doubt a multi-layered and complex issue. From the obvious to the ridiculous to what may seem outright mad reasoning, I think you will find here a number of ideas in this series of essays of which you will be able to relate. Perhaps there will even be something to give you an “ah-ha” moment. I am certain some of you will think my ideas are super obvious, and I apologize to those of you who feel perhaps I have wasted your time. Thank you for reading and commenting all the same- I am a fan of spirited (but polite) conversation, so feel free to share even if you disagree. It is the heart of the matter which counts, something that often takes more than one person to discover in full. On a certain level, these essays exist for those of us who either made our living in this now disappearing medium, or those that once loved and lost it as a fan. If you fit into either of these categories, welcome!
My investment in understanding the answer to the question, “what happened to the soap opera?” is both personal and professional. As some of you in the TV viewing public might be aware, over the last twenty-three years I worked as a full time contract player on two soaps, As the World Turns and All My Children. To the audience of All My Children, I was (and probably forever will be) “Dixie,” a clueless romantic who went on to fall in love with the town’s bad boy/local hero “Tad.” I am very proud my contribution to “Tad and Dixie” helped my co-star Michael E. Knight and me to make the list as one of the top soap opera “super couples” of all time. (Thanks Entertainment Weekly.com!)
However, All My Children was more than just a job to me. It was my home during some of the worst years of my life. I was a pretty stressed out teen- my father abandoned my family when I was twelve and five years later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Making a living by pretending to be someone else provided an important escape for me at the time. Simultaneously, it allowed me to channel the enormity of my feelings onto a format that lauded melodrama, and my feelings were pretty darn humongous. As a result, I ended up working on All My Children over twelve years, winning a daytime Emmy only two years after I began the show. I left AMC in 2002 with the idea of going to college but was quickly lured back to play the role of bitchy businesswoman Rosanna Cabot on As the World Turns, culminating in a second Emmy- a proud moment for me. Approximately seventeen years of employment gave me a fairly solid base financially (economy notwithstanding) and the ritual of meaningful work served to comfort me emotionally. Long story short: I have spent a lot of time working to understand the medium of daytime soap operas.
I knew I was not alone in my need for the unique combination of consistency and fantasy soaps could provide. For years I was daily joined by millions of viewers who embraced my characters make-believe life: her romances and family drama (with touches of adventure on the side) were fodder for conversations around the water cooler, campus and the living room. The soap opera story structure was (and still is) a potent one: in 1995 the ratings for All My Children floated around 7.5, each point in that number representing 1% of the total number of television viewers for the year. In 1995, there were approximately 100 million TV viewers for both daytime and nighttime television, so for the mathematically disinclined (of which I am one) this means in 1995, All My Children (which had already been running for over thirty years) had an audience of approximately 7.5 million. That’s a lot of people, even in today’s world of 115.9 million television viewers. So what happened?
Part One: NEILSON.
The decline of the Neilson ratings number for American soap operas usually tops the list of reasons as to why they are disappearing and for good reason. According to the Washington Post, in 2005, “General Hospital averaged 3.4 million viewers, less than a third of the 11.8 million who typically tuned in during the year of the Luke and Laura wedding (a popular event marking a record ratings high in 1981.) The Young and the Restless saw its ratings share drop from 10.3 million during the 1991-92 season to 5.3 million in 2005, while All My Children tumbled from 8.2 million to 3.1 million during the same period, according to Nielsen. Today, the Young and the Restless is earning a 3.4 share of the viewing audience, a record low. That said- in the Neilson equation (which considers the overall number of viewers) they still pull 4.5 million viewers.
Unfortunately that number is not high enough for the networks or their advertisers. They want to bring back “the good ol’ days.” I can’t tell you how many times in my daytime years I heard an executive reference the “Luke and Laura” phenomenon and how their latest new idea was going to bring back the magic “eleven million.” It was almost a chant, a mantra formulated to elevate those who signed the check. Now I consider myself a practical woman. I am aware I must consider this soap opera dilemma from the point of view of what might be called in economics class a “business conundrum.” Certainly a company must grow and expand or the shareholders question its value and their investment in the aforementioned business. This is why there are board meetings and charts and graphs and sales pitches- all to hold the interest of the original investor, aka the person who holds the purse strings. Once upon a time, this investor could be counted on to employ within themselves a certain amount of flexibility and patience with their wavering product. A compelling argument might’ve even been, “For goodness sake, even plants take a certain amount of time to grow!” But times have changed, and oh boy have they.
The sad fact is, no one seems to want to ride out tough times anymore, which leaves us in a tough corporate environment- an environment that cannot call on loyalty or even quality as a factor used to convince shareholders or investors to stay put. To illustrate: there are some in the business sector who deride the government bailout of the most American of businesses- the auto industry. This is, in my opinion, a painful example of the current business ethos. A certain sector (I’m not saying ALL, mind you) of the business class has somehow lost its connection to our shared humanity. Greed and “slash-and-burn” tactics are rewarded while the very foundation of a business (or town) is left to rot and ruin. I’m not saying life is easy and if we all just hugged each other at the end of the day everyone would have enough to eat. However it seems no one wants to hear we cannot have what we once did, that the past is in the past and we must look at who we are now to make positive choices about how to proceed- how, in my opinion, adults deal with life. Conversely, many of the corporations of America are behaving like impatient, indulged, greedy children caring very little about those they wound in their wake. In psychological circles this kind of behavior is often defined as sociopathic… but lets not call one another names. Let’s just agree it’s poor behavior and get back to the topic at hand.
The Neilson rating, which is an outmoded, outdated way of judging the worth of a television show, is still considered viable despite huge technical errors and the invention of the DVR. There are several arguments for its lack of viability, the main one being the chance for basic human error. It’s a reasonable possibility some Neilson families (those who fill out the report of viewing habits) may err deliberately or simply make a mistake. Let us also consider these families are only a tiny percentage of the actual viewing public. If you think about it, the Neilson scores are basically a poll. Watch any news program for a half an hour and you are going to hear at least one poll that makes you shake your head and wonder, “Who the heck did they talk to around here?” Another factor is how easily these scores can be manipulated to create the desired effect- numbers can be skewed depending on what market you are looking at.
In short, the Neilson’s are basically a flawed polling factory. As far as I know, there have been no other companies whose polling efforts have even been able to compete with it. This is an important point. It is interesting to note how the Neilson scores are used by the networks to make a case to cancel programs that had existed for decades (yes, the soaps.) I wonder about this. I am hesitant to say lest I be labeled a conspiracy theorist (of which I am one, okay, lets be honest) that this relationship smells dicey. It is a relationship easily misused to benefit an individual preference. Whose preference is a question I will leave up to you. I wouldn’t mind working as an actor again one of these days.
My bottom line: TV is not a democracy.
Look for Part Two: Demographics, coming soon! Whoop whoop!
Life is funny, isn’t it? The changes keep on coming. Just when you get used to one thing, another comes along and suddenly what you counted on being there is gone forever.
All My Children
For better or worse, I had to get used to changes at an early age. My parents divorce, my sister’s exit for college, my mother’s illness and early death, my father’s death… it was intense, but I learned young not to get too hung up on things staying the same.
HOWEVER… what consistency allows us to have is structure. Structure is like a big lovely wall that we can lean on. That wall allows our ever changing selves to be able to remember who we are, or who we were, and feel comfort in the familiarity of that wall, even as we continue to change. We can project ourselves upon it and compare who we are to who we once were. Like a good parent, it serves an important purpose.
Too much change, as I can attest to personally, can make a person really have to struggle to grow. Afraid there will be no one or nothing to catch them when they fall, they get stuck. Frozen in a mess of indecision and anxiety, the littlest change can make a person panic.
So what do we do? We remember. We look back and think about who we once were when… and that is a comfort. It helps us sort through the shifting times to find the core of who we really are now. Remembering is a beautiful thing in that way. It’s like a treasure hunt and the treasure is the truth.
So who were you when you used to watch AMC? Why did it mean so much to you then? What about it being gone feels like a betrayal or a loss? What does that loss remind you of in your own life?
I was a young girl looking for home. I wanted all the comforts of family and babies and rituals but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to have that in my “real” life. In my “real” life I was only supposed to work for a living. I was supposed to take care of my mother. Before that I took care of my father. That’s how they trained me- to be “there” for them.
But underneath the young girl who was a caretaker, there was me. The artist, the writer, the shy girl who liked animals and wore glasses and loved horses and nature. Who saw people with families that loved each other, who celebrated rituals together as something devoutly to be wished for.
Being on “All My Children,” as pathetic as it may sound, gave me some little touch of that world, but it wasn’t enough for me to only have the fantasy. I had to go out and make it happen in my real life. I had to show people that I was an actor who had trained hard to play many roles. That’s why I went to “As the World Turns,” and did movies and plays and went to art school and university and tried out different relationships… I was seeking to find myself. Seeking to find my “home” within and without.
If Steve Jobs left us with any great legacy, I think it wasn’t simply a world of technology, although clearly that would be enough. It was his passion for living his truth. For trying to be as authentic to his inner voice as he could possibly be in his lifetime.
When we are authentic to ourselves, sometimes we piss people off because it’s not who “they” want us to be. We have to strive to have courage to be ourselves anyway. Besides, as Steve Jobs pointed out, death is the one thing we ALL have in common.
As the poet Mary Oliver (and my dear friend Davyne) likes to say, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
Here’s another way of thinking about it… where do you feel the most BEAUTIFUL? The most like the best self you can be? I feel that way in New Orleans…
It’s a funny thing, getting fired. It suddenly frees you in ways you didn’t expect. It’s depressing, to be sure, but on the other hand, it has given me perspective. I know what I think is important. I know what I think is right. I am not afraid any longer to stand up for what I believe, because I know the consequences. Frankly, they weren’t all that bad. I just had to figure out some other way than acting on a daytime soap to make a living. Turns out, I have no problem with working hard at just about anything.
This is not to say that I am not grateful for the job, or for the love that I have received from the producers, the writers and the fans, and sometimes even my co-workers (little joke there.) This is all just to preface what I am about to tell you.
I am of a particular generation, and cut from a particular type of cloth, such that certain issues are very important to me. I think of myself as a humanist. I like people. I think we are inherently GOOD, even if we do act stupidly sometimes. I believe in fairness, and honesty and looking out for those who have less, or who are less fortunate. I am not a Christian, nor do I subscribe to any particular order of belief. I think they all have their good points and bad points. I have been told I make “everything political” yet I have no real political affiliation, nor am I that involved in politics. I simply feel that the things that we let slip in our lives are sometimes the most important things that happen. We only realize later that we should have grabbed that moment to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” or “No, that is NOT okay.”
I think I am experiencing one of those moments now and I feel if I do not speak, I will live to regret it. So here goes.
There are people who work in Daytime Television who represent what I shall lovingly refer to as “the old guard.” These people wrote or acted or produced back when social issues still drove the story. Real human feeling, real questions of right and wrong were constantly being investigated. They were the whole point! When every part of the production was affected and called into action, these moments became history.
Human issues are what keep daytime drama relevant, even important as a form through which we as a society can question who we are in the very time we are living in. No other form can do this as quickly and I believe, as effectively as daytime drama, because of our schedule. For example, unlike the time it takes to make a film or night time TV show, we can ask “how does my boyfriend’s traumatic experience in Iraq affect our family,” days, not weeks or months, after it begins to come up in our social consciousness.
This is why I am so frustrated. Look at the history of great stories that have been told on daytime TV. Now look at where it is. Long histories washed away. Shock value placed before character. Seriously, (and this is putting my butt in the can) how many times can a person come back from the dead… really… before an audience says, enough?
I am deeply concerned about the shift in values and morals on daytime TV and I am not talking about love scenes or gay characters. I have no problem with either of those things in any combination. I am talking about people. Characters and what they stand for. This tendency to throw everything out the window in order to make a plot point that will supposedly “grab” the audience. Now this happens on EVERY show, not just AMC, but now that AMC will be the first to travel into the new world of internet TV, I am very concerned that values and morals will be the first two principals thrown right out the window.
One thing I know from playing Dixie, and why I think my character worked on AMC is that without the “normal” girl, there is no “glamour girl.” The clown makes the king. Without the clown, the king just looks like anybody all dressed up. When people ask me “Why aren’t you as pretty on TV as you are in real life?”
I say, “Because I am playing a character. That’s the way SHE looks. Normal.”
This is true in another way. Without the good, there is no bad. When everybody acts the same, wants the same thing and looks the same, there is no conflict. We now have more bad characters than good on a general canvas. What does that say about a show? More importantly, what does that say about the society it is supposed to reflect?
For me, Dixie was an everywoman. She came from a humble background and wanted simple things: a husband, a family, to go to school, and someday to have a job so she could contribute to the general household. She was blatantly middle class. She personified the meaning and the dignity of a middle class existence.
Perhaps it is a problem of our culture. We are told we should want to be rich and thin and beautiful all the time. I don’t know about you, but for me, trying to get those things did not make me happy. In fact they made me really, really UN-happy in the middle of a group of really, really un-happy people.
What makes me happy are simple things. Caring about others. Wanting for those I love to do well. I need a basic roof over my head, a couple of friends that make me laugh and something to work at that I feel good about. I don’t think I am alone in these needs. In fact, I think I tend to represent the norm far more than those that long for the glamorous life.
Back to daytime. In this last go around, I felt glimmers of the old days. The days when stories were about normal people like me. About the lure of money and how it does not bring happiness. There were romances, “Montague versus Capulet” types of family warfare, the tragedy of illness, the grace of divine intervention. Boy, it felt good. Even the boom operator cried and he has seen some days.
In those days, as long as 15 years ago (gracious!) the stories were plotted slowly and carefully. Characters acted a certain way because it was true to their nature and those characters were like “us” – they mostly all wanted love and family and the life that came with that.
In the last 15 years, new trends have, I believe, have contributed to the decline of daytime drama. Shorter scenes are supposed to keep the audience watching longer. Pop is celebrated over substance. Writing that may have started off as a wonderful idea in the breakdown room, ends up confused and sloppy in a shooting script because one person has lost the will to care.
Why? Why throw away this once beautiful medium? For speed? I don’t think our audience is bored. I think they have been busy trying to make a living themselves. Does that mean they deserve less than what we once gave them?
Some people will say it’s about the budget, but I don’t believe that. I think the only reason anyone watches daytime drama is to see good actors tell good stories. Period.
I don’t think the audience watches to see what a tornado will do to a town anymore, or to see a cool crane shot outdoors, or to see good looking people with their clothes off. We can see all of that done better in a long list of mediums.
I think the audience watches daytime drama for quality STORY about interesting CHARACTERS.
If those two elements aren’t kept before all, then no matter what, these shows won’t work.
Finally, I believe the audience has to be held culpable for the restraints they have put on these shows. We all know that daytime drama is fan driven. So when the fans write in en-mass in a campaign against a certain storyline, guess what? The story is going to get dropped, even though it may be a well written, socially relevant story, even though it may be true to the times we are living in.
What, we can watch women kiss each other but not dudes? I don’t get it. Seriously.
Now it’s not just the fans that have to be held accountable for their sometimes too quick reactions, but also the powers that be that listen and want the fans approval and acceptance. If TPTB constantly react out of their desire for ever higher ratings, then there is no “guiding light” (if you will forgive the pun.) No one really watching the overall meaning and very purpose of the show’s existence- to tell important, relevant stories well and thereby be a part of the larger social conversation- not an afterthought, not a throwback, not an act of programming desperation.
And that is what I believe is bringing about the death of daytime. Loss of a compass, if you will. The loss of a True North.
I hope this essay will arouse some thought, some conversation and who knows, perhaps even some argument. I have learned to be disagreed with by now (oh joy) but what I really hope for most of all, is that it arouses CARING and a reminder of how important it is to strive for QUALITY.
Because in the end, we are really only the sum of our actions… aren’t we?