Recently, Phil Carey (Asa Buchanan on OLTL) was let go. OLTL revealed that his exit was due to his refusing to go off-contract and recurring, which Phil has always swore never to do. Also, Erika Slezak (Viki) spoke out publicly in her fan newsletter about the sad state of the show.
In the most recent issue of Soap Opera Digest, "It's Only My Opinion" columnist Carolyn Hinsey wrote thus:
It’s Only My Opinion By Carolyn Hinsey
Okay, kids, it’s time for you all to pull your chairs really close to this page so we can have a come to Jesus meeting about soap stars and their contracts.
Soaps are a business. They make their money on advertising, and advertisers only value viewers aged 18-49. It’s stupid and it’s not fair, but it’s a FACT. So, the networks do focus groups made up of fans like you and me, and those fans answer questions about who and what they like and don’t like on their shows. The shows then take some of that information--faulty though it may be---and use it to decide what to pay their people. That’s how business works. The most valuable people make the most money.
As we get older, our faves are all getting older, too. A few have trouble remembering their lines. Some have health problems, ego problems, even the occasional drinking problem. We, the journalists who cover daytime, don’t report even one-tenth of what we know a.)most fans don’t want to read about it and b.) it crosses a line into tabloid journalism that is not our territory. Do you really want to read about the actor who beat up his wife and was served a restraining order on the set in front of all his co-workers? Or would you rather keep liking his character while the show quietly phased him out and then recast the role(which they did)? I thought so.
Remember when Anna Lee (ex-Lila, GH) was dropped to recurring at 91 and there was this huge hue and cry about unfair it was? She was a lovely talented woman, but she was obviously frail. GH was willing to keep her onscreen as her health permitted on a recurring basis. How many people do you know who still have their jobs at 91? I know someone who had to retire at 55 because his company has a mandatory retirement age!
Sometimes when a beloved vet is let go or dropped to recurring its because they have a problem you don’t know about. Or they demanded to keep their 1980s salary, which went the way of rabbitt ears on the TV. Or maybe they simply aren’t up to the job anymore and the show is being kind by dropping their workload to allow them to exit gracefully.
Whatever it is, trust me. If an older actor is pulling their acting weight, scoring high with the focus groups, and not making unreasonable demands, they are going to stick around. But if they are a giant pain making crazy demand and annoying their co-workers and/or directors, they’re gone. That’s why they call it show business.
So, keep watching and loving your faves, and don’t tune out because one or two actors aren’t on as much as you’d like. If you want to change things…try to get in a network focus group!
What follows is my response. Warning: It is fucking long, son.
Dear Ms. Hinsey,
Hello. I'm Jase, and I blog with my writing partner "Darn" at a silly soap blog we call "The Wreck Center." You do not know me, but I feel like I already know far too much about you. You see, I've been reading your "It's Only My Opinion" column in Soap Opera Digest ever since I first started surreptitiously, shamefully sneaking issues of it off the shelf at the supermarket as a junior high schooler to buy and take home with me. That was about ten years ago. Actually, I really don't know if you were in it all the way back then, I can't recall, but I imagine so. You're something of an institution in the magazine, after all. And that's all well and good. Institutions deserve a degree of respect and attention, even if they're as consistently wrong as I usually find you to be. But even though I regularly, joyfully disagree with you, I have never felt compelled to write to you until now. You wrote recently about having a "Come To Jesus" meeting with your readers and through them, the contemporary daytime audience. You explained to us poor, starry-eyed soap fans in very sweet language about how "soaps are a business," and how sometimes, the beloved or elderly veterans, or both, have to go in the name of commerce, budgetary concerns, and the youth demographic, and that if they do go, it's usually because they're not "pulling their weight" (like, say, Anna Lee, who you cited in your article, who was fired at 91 and dead shortly thereafter after the new executive producer broke "General Hospital"'s longstanding promise to her and her family) or are making "unreasonable demands" and are thus no longer of use, but that we should "keep watching and loving [our] faves." I'm sure your unspoken addition to that sentence was "....while you can," but I'm just giving you the benefit of the doubt, okay? Okay.
Now, I want you to know first thing: I understand everything you said. I even agree with some of it. Soaps are a business. People do have to go. There is a youth demographic which is, understandably, the primary target of daytime television executives. And what you wrote is, after all, "only [your] opinion." Supposedly, but I have my doubts. But here's the thing, Ms. Hinsey, see, something just hit me like a ton of bricks: For all your long history in the world of daytime media, it turns out that I am a daytime institution too. I know, crazy, right? Not only that, but it turns out that - wait for it - I'm actually a lot more important than you and your opinion. And I'm more important than any of the executives or creative staff at ABC Daytime, be it Brian Frons, or Bob Guza, Jr., or Frank Valentini or Dena Higley. I'm even more important than some of the veteran soap stars who you just might have been obliquely referring to as "unreasonable" or "not pulling their weight," such as Phil Carey or Erika Slezak (Mr. Carey, a recent cancer survivor, was just let go from "One Life to Live" after decades of service for insisting upon his contractual renewal in lieu of "recurring," and Mrs. Slezak just spoke out vociferously on the show's quality, or rather lack thereof, in her fan newsletter) . I'm just plain more important than you and all of them. But it's not just me, right, because so is my blogging partner Darn, and so are most of those obnoxious online posters at Soap Opera Network, and so are most of those shrieking young women in the audience on SoapNet who scream for "old" folks like Hillary B. Smith or line up for Erika Slezak at Super Soap Weekend. Here's why, see: I'm not just the audience. We already know the audience ceases to matter to daytime after they hit 50, or 40 or 35 if we're being honest. No, see, I, and Darn, and all of those others, are all in the 18-49 demographic. Not only that, but Darn and I are both at the very low end of 18-49, namely under 30. Cast your mind back to those halcyon years, Ms. Hinsey, I'm sure you can remember. Which means, as you know, we are gold. We are made of frickin' bling. We live on iPods and cellphones and YouTube and MTV and instant gratification. We're gold to daytime advertisers, we're gold to daytime producers, to daytime executives, to daytime programming heads. If we tuned out or tuned in in a certain way starting next week in record numbers for a long enough time, we could have Steve Burton out on the street doing "Death Of A Salesman" in a Florida dinner theater, like Kevin Kline's character in "Soapdish." In that strictly vicious, corporate sense, we are, then, the only voice or opinion that really matters. Not yours, and not even the voices or opinions of the people behind the scenes at ABC Daytime. Ours. Which brings me to my complaint.
I have been a regular viewer of ABC Daytime since around 1993, hiding it from my friends, clumsily taping it or just staying home sick for unhealthy periods of time. I came into it full-time to watch "All My Children" and Kendall Hart, but at the time the show didn't do it for me so much (it did later) . I stayed, however, for "One Life to Live" and "General Hospital." I was fascinated by characters like Viki, Dorian, Nora, Max, Luna, Todd, Marty, Rebecca; families like the Spencers and the Scorpios, stories like those of Luke and Laura, Bobbie and Tony, Robin and Stone. Later on, I became addicted to the endless foibles of Erica Kane and Tad Martin and Liza Colby, and Dixie and her horrible, horrible hair. God, what bad hair. Now, the fly-by-nighter teens like, say, Bobby and Anita or Joey and Kelly didn't really do it for me; I might've liked them, but except for the rare stars like Susan Haskell, Roger Howarth, or Kim McCullough, my attention was almost always fixed elsewhere, on brilliant older actors and actresses like Tony Geary, Genie Francis, Erika Slezak, Robin Strasser, and Hillary B. Smith. I worship the ground Robin Strasser and Hillary B. Smith walk on, you don't even know. I did even then, and I was only in junior high at the time. Here was Nora, a fortysomething woman with grown children, or a villainous middle-aged dowager like Dorian, and yet they were my single favorite characters on "One Life to Live," which had become my show. Now, what do I have in common with Nora and Dorian? Except Nora's faith, absolutely nothing, including gender (Yes, I am that rare breed soap press and soap executives don't like to talk about: The male fan) . Yet I was entranced by their grit and spirit and forcefulness, or Viki's seemingly effortless grace of character, or Clint and Bo Buchanan's soulful resolve, or Asa Buchanan's steely curmudgeonness.
But more than just these great characters played by great actors, I was entranced by the shows themselves. I don't mean just the concepts or the production values or music or surface things like that, I mean the density of it, the scope, the length, the sheer weight and time spent - the history. I knew going in that soap operas had been on for a long time, and that these shows dated back at least twenty years or more at that time. I knew these characters and these families, the Lords, the Buchanans, the Spencers, the Scorpios, the Quartermaines, had been around for years and years, had gone through so much, had been everywhere and done everything, and that I was just the latest to come into their space and be with them. It was like a whole other universe, cozy and real and warm and full of life, not only when I was there watching but also when I hadn't been, before me. For a child watching, this fictional world was theirs, not just mine at my beck and call, and these people and these families and these towns went on and on. If you were ever that child in the audience, then I bet you know what kind of a comfort the continuing story of a daytime serial can be sometimes. A sense of history is what I kept watching soap operas for, a sense of a rich, long tapestry, something that spooled out beyond my memory and further than my eye could glean, a sense of history and a sense of family. It was because these characters remembered it all and loved each other that I remembered and loved them, too. And I was not the only one.
Here is something that I think you and those in the business of making daytime television already know but often don't acknowledge: Kids do not watch soaps for other kids. Okay? They just don't. They see enough of that around them in everyday life. They deal with it everyday at school. They watch for adults. They watch to see older people doing adult things that are so much adult and serious than kids think they could ever possibly be. I watched for Nora, Dorian, Viki, Luke, Laura, Bobbie, and all the rest. My friend Darn here at The Wreck Center watched Y&R for Jill and Katherine. I watched Nora fight to be with Bo, I watched Viki struggle with Sloan and Clint and her past with Dorian and her father, I watched Dorian defiant on Death Row. We watched for the older people, doing things older people do, and we watched for the families, and we watched for the memories and the history, like the Victor Lord story, that wrapped us in it without asking, sucking us in, making us part of the tapestry, and we didn't complain - we loved it. We still do. We watched for these characters and these things, we stayed for them, and yet here, today, in 2007, we are essentially being told, in deed if not word by the powers that be in daytime television, that even though we are the key demographic, we don't really want to watch these things, this isn't really what's interesting to us, these people don't really matter to us, and we should keep watching these shows even as they turn inside out into some of the worst, most unrecognizable crap I have ever forced myself to sit through. And now, Ms. Hinsey, in your condoning the recent daytime business practices, you're essentially telling us that too - of course, I'm sure it was "only [your] opinion" and Soap Opera Digest has a totally independent editorial stance, right? Right.
It's hard being a fan of "All My Children," "One Life to Live," or "General Hospital" these days, Ms. Hinsey. The older, veteran characters we love so much seem to keep dropping like flies. Edmund Grey got murdered and his killer is now a romantic lead. Dixie died by poison pancake but apparently, it's okay because, hey, look, we have Babe and Krystal! Nobody's ever sick of them! Asa is hitting the bricks on "One Life to Live," just like Max and Gabrielle did, just like Cassie, just like Nora almost did when she went into a magical contract negotiations coma for what felt like ten years. But it really almost doesn't matter if Nora woke up, because she, like Viki, like R.J., like Bobbie or Mac or Robert or Jack Montgomery, like virtually any and all major veterans on ABC Daytime, have practically no story or airtime, or when they do, it's for the most idiotic, shallowly written stories, such as the horrible, character-defying "triangle" with Clint, Dorian, and David on "One Life," during which time the show brainlessly wrote out male god made flesh Tuc Watkins and, apparently realizing their mistake while unwilling to admit it, have been dragging him back ever since as some sort of ridiculous stop-gap measure. Meanwhile, in the place of these beloved characters, we have to entertain constant, dubious new "prospects" like John McBain or Evangeline or Spencer Truman or Tate on OLTL, or Maxie's various doomed boyfriends on GH, or, worst of all, Zarf or Josh the abortion baby on AMC. But it must be hard for the soap press most of all, because you guys have to spend all your time breathlessly reprocessing these new names and faces and ad copy in the pages of your magazines, pretending like they matter, pretending like any of us give a damn, and frankly, we don't, and frankly, you know we don't, because you, Ms. Hinsey, know the facts just like we all do: This is a con job. It's a meat grinder. The ratings are plummeting under this policy of daytime management and production. Fans of all ages are dropping in droves. They're not being replaced by new young fans. They're not being replaced by more of ME. These same useless latest "next big things," these new prospects are all starting to look the same, and none of them ever measure up to what they've taken the place of, and they're all failing and they're all going to continue to fail.
But it's not just the actors or the characters' faults, not at all. New characters are a fact of life on soaps. Change is a fact. Balance is the key. Actors like Alexa Havins or Jeff Branson or Renee Elise Goldsberry are not all that bad. Except the thing is, it's not just them, it's the productions themselves, who have abandoned all sense of balance in the ensemble or on the story canvas. It's the completely incompetent head writers who fail to give these new characters who might sometimes work any dimension or roots or layering, who throw out history and characterization and don't bother to take the time to write thoughtfully. It's the 'yes men' executive producers who spend all their time telling me why Dixie's death was an "emotional journey" or how Alan Quartermaine's passing is "storyline dictated." Okay, you guys can't pay for Genie Francis but Maurice Benard gets another raise while his latest love interest half his age once again fails. Okay, Emmy nominee Dan Gauthier has to go but ratings-killer Michael Easton is priceless. Sure. Whatever. It's not just the shows, either, Ms. Hinsey, it's you too. Because you folks in the soap magazines report it, but that's all you do: Report, and perhaps briefly editorialize, but ultimately, say nothing of actual journalistic value. Or, in your case, Ms. Hinsey, make an unctuous hypocrite of yourself.
In your recent column, you talk about how "some" older performers are refusing to go recurring when they are no longer seen as much as they used to and seem to be saying, essentially, that we can't fault the networks for removing these veterans when they no longer are "valuable" or "reasonable" in the eyes of the show, not necessarily the fans, and that we shouldn't complain if "one or two actors" aren't seen as much as we like. You invoke the name of Anna Lee from "General Hospital" as your example, whose case I've already addressed; she was 91 years old and "obviously frail," you reason, explaining away GH's conduct. And in the case of Phil Carey at "One Life to Live," he refused to go recurring and is now being written out, reportedly without an exit scene, despite playing the Buchanan family patriarch since the late '70s, and that seems to be okay with you. Likewise, ABC pulled a similar stunt a few years ago when John Ingle, the long-running second Edward Quartermaine at GH, left after being offered recurring and not a contract renewal. Now, surely you remember writing in your August 2004 column about how, and I am quoting verbatim from your text, "...I'm sure the GH brass knows full well by now what a colossal mistake it was to drop John Ingle (ex-Edward) to recurring in the arrogant belief that he had nowhere to go." And I sure don't remember you being happy about how GH treated Anna Lee at the time she was let go either, but now you seem to totally understand it! So now, I gotta ask you: Et tu, Carolyn? How was Mr. Ingle's refusal to take recurring so different from Mr. Carey's that you yourself might applaud one veteran's choice and - possibly, remember, we're not naming any names - dismiss another's? What's the difference? Did John Ingle just have the good business sense not to develop life-threatening cancer like Mr. Carey, or lose the use of his legs like his former leading lady? And how did ABC change your mind about what was done to Anna Lee? I'm sure we'd all love to hear this one.
Understand: Your opinion, and it is only yours and the network's, does not matter to me. Not only does it not matter to me, it is also increasingly clear that this perspective and this point of view is inherently flawed as a business model for ABC Daytime and all other daytime programming departments. The ratings bear that out. Audience feedback and turnout bear that out. Don't blame the O.J. trial, because I watched through O.J. Don't blame cable TV, it's been here a while. It's the shows, Ms. Hinsey. It's what's being done to the shows and the people on them, like Phil Carey, like Cady McClain, like Anna Lee, like Stuart Damon, like all the veterans still hanging on who are still being starved out, or as you say, "not being seen as much as you like." It's the shows. My inability to continue watching "All My Children," "General Hospital," and "One Life to Live" after over ten years, after growing up watching these worlds, these families, after immersing myself in these tapestries, bears that out. I can't do it anymore, Ms. Hinsey, because maybe you have the heart for it, but I don't. I can't watch them being hollowed out any longer, every last character, every last bit of heart and soul and memory being slowly scooped out and replaced with more new plastic, two dimensional replacements. I can't even laugh at it that much anymore, and that used to be my business here at "The Wreck Center." This practice is not good business, and furthermore, as a member of the prime 18-49 youth demographic, their struggle to find a reasonable, even-handed business model for their daytime programming is not my problem. But it is ABC Daytime's. Because I am the desired consumer, and so, when I am not happy, somebody pays: Them.
I am the youth demographic and I am not happy. I am the youth demographic and I can't watch anymore, because I hate it, and it's horribly written, and there's no balance in old and new, and I miss the veterans who are apparently too old for me to care about and the better stories which I supposedly shouldn't notice are gone. Now, if I was 40 or 50, if I was some poor woman whose opinion who is just as valid and golden as mine but who had the genetic misfortune of having been watching 1970 or 1965, you and Brian Frons might be telling right now, 'too bad, tough luck, time marches on, get over it, not our problem.' But I'm not 40, or 50, I'm not even 30, so it's not my problem. It's theirs. It's daytime's. And there's a lot of us, not just me, or my friend Darn, there's hundreds, there's thousands, and we're all unhappy, and we're all tuning out, more and more every day, every week, every month. We are unhappy because current daytime management now presumes to know us better than we know ourselves, they presume to know what we really want, that we can be, as Mr. Frons says, "trained" as an audience; they presume to know that these shows can last without their families, their histories, their roots, their tapestries. They're wrong. They don't know. We are the youth demographic, and we have had enough. No more breathless press releases. No more sweet little excuses like "storyline dictated" or "soaps are a business." We're the youth demographic, Ms. Hinsey, so we're more important than you, or Mr. Frons. You work for us, and that includes the soap press. We say what and who we want to watch. We've been saying it for several years now, except you folks seem to be deaf. You produce what we tell you. We'll let you know when we're ready for you to stop. Try starting now, instead of ever writing another cute little piece about how sometimes people we love have to be fired to pay for Miles the dog-faced boy on OLTL or another mob boss on GH.
This sad state of affairs appears to have become some sort of ridiculous power struggle between the existing unhappy daytime viewership and the management, which stubbornly refuses to admit its major mistakes and overall errors in judgement, and believes that we will eventually buckle and give way to some magical new youth viewership who will have no memory of the past. You have made it clear whose side of this debate you're on, Ms. Hinsey, and in doing so, I can only conclude that you and your column are disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. You are no longer the voice of the "average fan," speaking with candor and honesty on behalf of a silent majority out there watching from home. You don't speak for me, or the thousands of unhappy people of all ages, colors, and creeds tuning out. You no longer have any right to your column, your position, your status or your byline.
So, in conclusion, lady, it's like this: I'm younger and stronger than you. I appeal more to people ages 18-49. I want your job. Clean out your desk. Your departure is storyline dictated. This is a business.
...But then, It's Only My Opinion.
Jase of The Wreck Center