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?