So Long, Larias

I’ve marveled over the years about both the reach of my occasional posts and the staying power of one particular one from 2013. It’s less about me and more about the power of serial storytelling.

blog-salatutYouTuber “MissFinlandia88” started subtitling the gay love story between Elias Vikstedt and Lari Väänänen on the Finnish soap Salatut Elämät (more or less, Secret Lives) about five years ago. In early January 2013, I first wrote about this pairing and how, thanks to one intrepid YouTuber, the show and this couple gained a worldwide English-speaking fanbase. It has been the most-read post on this blog since the beginning.

Social media, you see, works along the same constructs as a soap opera.

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Paavola (left) and Roslöf portrayed Elias and Lari on a Finnish soap opera, known around the world thanks to an intrepid YouTuber who subtitled their scenes for an English-speaking audience.

Sadly, for fans of the Elias and Lari pairing — now known worldwide by the portmanteau Larias — the show has decided to kill off Elias, a shock twist that’s left fans reeling.

Elias came on as an already-out high school student and the son of one of the show’s long-serving characters. He fell for, and had a closeted romance with hockey star, Lari, whose tortured coming-out was the basis for much of their early story. But, it was less about the writing and more about the chemistry between the actors Petteri Paavola (Elias) and Ronny Roslöf (Lari) that propelled the story and sparked the imaginations of the fans.

When Paavola left the show for several months last year, Roslöf’s character took up with older doctor Kalle and now, in spite of Kalle’s recent rampant alcoholism, maybe he’ll once again take up with the grief-stricken Lari, who’s still recovering from a recent gunshot wound. (He was accidentally shot by Elias.) It’s a soap, remember!

petteri

In a recent Instagram post (above) Paavola thanked the couple’s fans and MissFinlandia88 who “took our story around the world.” He also thanked English-speaking fans on YouTube.

Well, all good things come to an end. For Paavola, who has been moonlighting as a real estate agent, he’ll still keep in touch with his on-screen ‘better half.’ The duo have become good friends and even play hockey on the same team. You never know where even a made-up gay relationship will take you.

To start over and watch everything, check out MissFinlandia88’s YouTube channel.

Hasta Luego, Mr. Smith

(Aug. 18, 2015) — With today’s program, Freddie Smith aired his last contract scenes after a four-year run as Sonny Kiriakis on the venerable daytime drama Days of our Lives. Smith, 27, was this year’s recipient of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actor for his work in the role.

Getty|Jason Merritt

Christopher Sean (Paul), Freddie Smith (Sonny) and Guy Wilson (Will) attend the GLAAD Media Awards earlier this year. The three were part of a particularly soapy love triangle that drove much of Smith’s last months on the show.

Sonny, one half of the WilSon supercouple, was a good guy; a rarity in the world of soap. As an out, well-adjusted young man, he helped Will Horton (Chandler Massey, then Guy Wilson) come out, fell in love with him and, in a daytime first, married him in a nearly-weeklong event in April 2014 that harkened back to the “good old days” of soap extravaganzas when audiences were large and budgets were larger.

And the plotting that led up to the wedding was some of the best I’d ever seen on American soaps, but I haven’t thought it was that great since. Oh, there’s been plenty of drama, but a lot of it has been kind of absurd and typical of American serial writers. Still, in spite of the ham-fisted plotting of Sonny’s exit, Smith has never disappointed, always playing true to the character.

Rumor has it that Smith will return to Salem briefly for the show’s 50th anniversary event in November.

Freddie Smith left an indelible mark on the canvas of Days of our Lives, but serials keep going; that’s just what they do by their very nature. Like, you know, sands through the hourglass….

Thanks, Freddie for the hours of entertainment. You’ll be well and truly missed.


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Some Other DAYS/WilSon-Related Posts
I, Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game, and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising
Like Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Ticked-Off at American Dramas. Again.
WilSon, Love & Thanks – Thoughts for Valentine’s Day
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem
Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? | Roberto Perez

This is an excellent thinkpiece on HuffPo Gay Voices from early in August. I would have referenced it earlier, but I’ve been busy recovering from some surgery by not writing! Perdóname.

Perez references the telenovela (soap opera, in English) Que Pobres Tan Ricos, a Mexican drama broadcast in the US on the cable channel Univision. His thesis is that these types of programs tackling gay relationships and homophobia is helping the Latino community better understand LGBT people.

He is absolutely correct, of that I am positive. Alert readers will surely know by now how often I have beat the drum for serial drama and its power to impact the culture. I am reminded of Freddie Smith, the actor who plays a young, gay character on Days of our Lives, relating the story that a fan had written him telling Smith that he had come out to his grandmother by telling her that he was “like Sonny.” It was a perfect way for that young man to relate to his grandmother, who did not have the life experience to process, “I’m gay” in a way that would make sense to her. However by using a character that she understood — and liked — as the analogy, he was setting himself up for success and acceptance.

Anytime we can use powerful storytelling to make others understand how very much alike we all are, the better off we’ll be.

Here’s a link to Perez’s post. Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? I wouldn’t bother trying to check it out on Univision, though. Que Pobres was cancelled at the end of August. No se puede siempre ganarlo todo … or something like that.

All My Children Gets the Axe Again

It’s not every television series that can boast (?) of being cancelled more than once, but that’s the case with the once-perennial fixture of early afternoon viewing, All My Children. While there hasn’t been “official” official word from the show’s producers Prospect Park (at least publicly as of this writing), tweets from star Debbi Morgan (Angie Hubbard) expressing thanks to fans have been widely circulated and quoted by generally reliable sources such as Michael Fairman On Air On Soaps and retweeted by Cady McClain (Dixie Martin).

(Update: Cady McClain [always a class act, BTW] confirms via Michael Fairman.)

The cast of the "new" All My Children included many familiar faces, including original cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

The cast of the “new” All My Children included many familiar faces, including original cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

There’s going to be a lot of snarky fan reaction on the Innerwebs in the coming days and weeks along the lines of:

  • I knew it wouldn’t last.
  • Why couldn’t it have been every day?
  • I didn’t want to watch on Hulu.
  • I couldn’t figure out how to get it on my computer, so I gave up.
  • They didn’t have Erica Kane.

And here’s what I have to say about that, quoting that wonderful singer-songwriter Phoebe Kreutzboo frickin’ hoo.

Honest to God. I’m just happy to see someone try to do something differently. I was appreciative of the opportunity, as a viewer, to meet these characters on this new canvas for a while. To have produced 43 episodes in this new format is not a loss, it’s a win. Producers are finding more and more ways to interact with audiences through the Web than they ever have before:

  • Cady McClain made a cool short movie;
  • Freddie Smith, Shawn Christian (DOOL) and company are making a web series;
  • Indie phenom Adam Goldman is producing his second brilliant web series;
  • Broadway’s Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead produce, script and star in a smart web comedy
  • Kit Williamson and Van Hansis (ATWT) starred in Williamson’s exceptional web program….

I could go on and on. But to the naysayers, just remember, small, closed minds have never discovered new worlds, written great novels, played great music, developed cures for disease or launched the next life-changing app. They laughed at Edison, too, you know.

Pine Valley
It was terrific to see folks like Cady McClain and Debbie Morgan and Darnell Williams and Jill Larson in old familiar roles — even the never-count-him-amongst-the-dead Matthew Cowles — but it was even better to watch some terrific new talent like Eric Nelsen and Denise Tontz and Rob Scott Wilson emerge and breath new life into characters whose names, but not much else, were familiar to longtime viewers.

So, again, we write the elegy — and eulogy — for Pine Valley, but we move on, figuring out what’s next and where we’ll be tomorrow and what we’ll tune into then. Something new. And different. The world still turns. Well, as it were.

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Recent Ramblings on All My Children:

What Soap Operas Can Teach Newspapers About Survival

Like soap operas, the newspaper industry has been slow to innovate and adapt to the digital age. Instead of embracing new ways to tell stories, and new platforms to tell them on, soap operas — like newspapers — resisted. That is, until now. This week Bloomberg TV interviewed veteran soap actress Deidre Hall and co-executive producer Greg Meng from the daytime serial Days of Our Lives, which has seen a four percent resurgence in ratings since the show revamped itself in 2011 (and it’s not even the most popular afternoon soap on air). The Bloomberg segment reveals several interesting points that I believe are applicable to the news industry in its report, ”You thought soap operas were dead…. They’re Not.” The same holds true for newspapers.

via What Soap Operas Can Teach Newspapers About Survival | allDigitocracy.

A good piece. The Bloomberg segment (linked in the cut above) is good, but it would have been better if the empty-headed anchors knew a scintilla about what they were talking about. Well, not like we’ve never seen THAT before!

Massey Leaves Iconic Gay Role as Will Horton

Outlets covering gay entertainment news and those covering soap operas had plenty to write about Fri., Aug. 23, when, in a surprise move, two-time Emmy winner Chandler Massey announced that he had filmed his last scenes as Will Horton on the venerable NBC sudser Days of our Lives.

The story of Will Horton (Emmy winner Chandler Massey, left) discovering himself and his love story with Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith) has been achingly slow, but powerful performances by the duo have overshadowed the typically tepid plotting.

AFTERGLOW. Sonny Kiriakis (Emmy nominee Freddie Smith, right) will find a strange new bedfellow in the new year when an as yet unannounced new actor takes over the role of partner Will Horton (double Emmy winner Chandler Massey, left) on the NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives.

The 22-year-old Massey had announced his intentions to leave the role earlier this year when he won his second consecutive Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor. He has said that he intends to finish college, which was interrupted during his freshman year when he won the role of Will Horton on DOOL.

“I’m done. It’s bittersweet, Massey is quoted as saying on The Backlot. “These four years have been so amazing I’ve built a family here. I’m so grateful to NBC and everyone for these amazing four years. It’s been my privilege and honor to work there.”

Massey was let out of his contract several months early for a variety or reasons. While originally saying that they would not recast the role, producers have now indicated that storylines have dictated a recast.

While many current fans of the show have taken to social media decrying the decision to recast, Massey — the fifth actor to play the role — has been vocal in his support of a recast for some time.

“I think it’s a good move [to recast],” Massey said in The Backlot piece. “I’m biased because I fell in love with Will and Sonny and I want Will and Sonny to be together.”

I agree with him. I fell in love with them, too. But, recasts have always been a part of the life of a continuing drama. After all, excluding babies, 12 actors assayed the part of Tom Hughes on As The World Turns from 1960 until Scott Holmes became “lucky 13” in 1987, staying with the role until the series ended in 2010. There’s hardly a role on a soap that has not been played by another actor at one time or another.

There’s no doubt about it: I will miss Massey, but I do believe that it’s more important that DOOL continue to tell this story and I hope a recast indicates that they tend to do just that.

There are plenty of young people, struggling with their sexuality that need to see other young gay people in a committed relationship to show them that it can be done — insane gunmen, unintended pregnancies, annoying and sometime borderline psychotic parents, drug dealing cousins, perjury, hot architects and Stefano DiMera aside — and that you can come home each night to the loving embrace of Sonny Kiriakis and his fabulous hair.

Thanks, Mr. Massey, for sharing your gifts with us. Your impact on the landscape has been indelible.

Because of DAYS’ shooting schedule, Massey will likely be seen as Will through December.

Other Recent Posts:
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising
Like Sands Through the Gay Hourglass: Ticked Off at American Dramas. Again.
Charm of DAYS’ Gay Supercouple “Cannot be Denied”
Chandler Massey Takes Home Second Emmy
Daytime Emmy Q and A: Freddie Smith

Cady McClain, the Decline of American TV Soaps, and Other Stuff

Here’s a link to a great article by All My Children’s Cady McClain about the decline of soap operas on American television. Alert readers will know that this is a topic that I broach with some frequency because, in all incarnations of my life, I have been and continue to be a storyteller. And one of the best ways to connect with your audience and tell important stories is using the serial format.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day. Read Cady’s piece. She’s bang on; absolutely bang on.

As for the haters that are drawn to comment on her piece (which she tweeted about), I offer up this great piece on the subject courtesy of Mashable. I originally posted it a few months back.

Finally, below I am reposting a piece I did for Salon back in 2010 when As The World Turns was going off the air. It touches on some similar themes and also Cady and I quote from one of the same sources, Robert Allen, who wrote the terrific book, Speaking of Soap Operas, back in the 80s! All great minds…..?

P.S. In re-reading the piece below, it occurs to me that I’ve used the Schemering quote in more recent pieces. I should research more deeply. Still — it’s a great quote!

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LOSING OUR STORIES
On Friday, September 17, 2010, the soap opera As The World Turns goes off the air after a run of 54 years. A significant event? Yes, I think it is.

“We are a narrative species,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time a decade ago. “We exist by storytelling — by relating our situations — and the test of our evolution may lie in getting the story right.”

I have always found true profundity in that quote and I have gone back to it hundreds of times because all of us relate to students, to colleagues, to friends, acquaintances and strangers, by telling our stories. And I often wonder if a generation gap is not widening because our outlets for teaching young people how to develop, expand and express their own stories have severely diminished in recent decades.

By way of example, we seem to be reaching the bitter end of serialized storytelling, something which can be dated back more than 500 years to Persian storytellers. Serial fiction became wildly popular in the 19th century with Charles Dickens, most famously, and other authors who published stories in magazines by installment. In the U.S., serialized stories began to be broadcast daily on radio in the 1930s. Derisively called soap operas, as most were sponsored by household products manufacturers and featured overly dramatic plots, they fast became the chief escapist fare for an audience of millions; most of whom were women.

If not the originator of the idea, certainly the most prolific purveyor of soap opera was Irna Phillips, an iron-willed, opinionated genius who acted-out her stories for a secretary to transcribe in lieu of literally putting pen to paper.

Character First
When Phillips created As The World Turns in 1956, it fast became the number one drama in America and stayed at that top spot for more than two decades. In writing about the program, Robert LaGuardia called Phillips “ahead of her time. … Irna saw daytime drama in terms of time and character, rather than story. She understood something that only loyal soap fans truly know: that people want to become involved with the lives of other people. … Story to Irna was simply a vehicle; it was from the moment-to-moment emotions of her characters, expressed to each other in quiet scenes, that viewers derived true vicarious pleasure.”

Soap operas exploded thanks to the advent of television and at the height of their reach some 30 years ago, daytime dramas reached a staggering 50 million viewers a week and raked in more than $700 million in profit annually. The size of the soap audience, argued essayist Robert C. Allen, made the programs “a significant cultural phenomenon.”

In the often laconic pacing of daily serials, audiences get to know characters on a level more intimate than in episodic storytelling and their emotional investment in those characters intensifies. The late Christopher Schemering, a journalist devoted to daytime drama, once noted that “as characterizations grow and the narrative stretches out over months and years and becomes more complex and ambiguous, one’s involvement deepens, forcing one to come to terms with the quirks of human nature, the darker sides of fundamentally good people. And thus there is the possibility of the viewer experiencing something new or complex or feeling some way he has never felt before.”

Theatre practitioners often say that the purpose of the art form is to illuminate the human condition and, arguably, soap opera’s true calling may be exactly the same.

Old-Fashioned Relevance
While many soaps have been derided over the years for outlandish plots, poor writing and occasional injections of science fiction or utter madness, As The World Turns remained relevant, said Schemering, because it told “powerful stories slowly and surely. The show was old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.” LaGuardia called it the “most historically important soap opera in modern times.”

In its early years, the show introduced what is believed to be the first illegitimate child on television and though the show was never considered cutting-edge like the early days of All My Children — where a young Erica Kane had television’s first legal abortion — the show did not shirk from the exploration of social issues. Over the years, alcoholism, cancer, adoption, racism, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other issues have been mined for stories.

Margo’s Rape
In the early 1990s on As The World Turns, the rape of police detective Margo Hughes was allowed to play out in real time. The character, who had to wait six months before she could take a test to determine if she had contracted HIV/AIDS from her rapist, was allowed to explore her own emotions, those of her husband, family and colleagues, and the impact her rape had on everyone in her life in a way that mirrored what happens in the real world. Nearly 20 years after this story first aired, actress Ellen Dolan says that it remains a touchstone for long-time viewers.

Luke’s Coming Out
The show has also, in recent years, been lauded for its long-term treatment of Luke Snyder’s homosexuality and its sensitive portrayal of young gay men. When the teenager came out to friends and family, he was met with both acceptance and derision, often from surprising or unexpected sources, but the character was allowed to hold to his own truth and the story showed the long-term positive effects of that truth-telling on members of the community.

And while soaps can be innovative and forward thinking, they can also be prudish. When the character of Luke fell in love with Noah Mayer, a young man with a completely different, harsher and occasionally frightening coming out story, the two finally shared daytime’s first gay male kiss — nearly a decade into the 21st century.

A gripping story such as Margo’s rape showed millions of women how one woman, married with children, reacted to such an unspeakable act and how it impacted her life. Luke and Noah’s story was written with intense courage and deep feeling and showed how one town accepted and embraced people who may have been different. Both stories allowed viewers, some of whom may not have had other avenues in which to explore them, new and potentially empowering ways to confront difference and prejudice and violence in their own lives.

A Real American Drama
Nearly 50 years ago, playwright William Inge said that while people may sneer at soap operas, they have “a basis for a truer, more meaningful drama. … I feel that in soap opera we have the roots for a native American drama.” Inge may have been right, but he could not have foretold the societal shifts that have occurred over the last three decades that has pushed the soap opera onto a cultural endangered species list.

Soap opera viewership is down a staggering 30 million weekly viewers since the mid-1980s and the number of dramas on the air has shrunk by more than half as well. The news from the Nielsen ratings continue to show a continuing sharp decline across all daytime dramatic programs in women viewers 18-49, the bread and butter demographic for soaps. In an era when working outside of the home is the norm rather than the exception for both genders, when DVR’s have released viewing from time constraints and online video has even freed it from TV sets, the soap audience has dwindled and is increasingly split between older viewers and teenagers; neither is a group that excites daytime’s traditional advertisers.

“There are two universal human needs or motives,” a colleague of mine wrote recently, “the need to know and the need to belong.”

That’s as important, I believe, as Rosenblatt’s assertion that “[w]e exist by storytelling.”

If Rosenblatt is correct, what becomes of a society that loses its stories? What happens to people who forget who they are or where they came from or who their ancestors were or how they deal with fellow citizens in a crisis? How do we write our history if we have no stories to tell? If there is a primal need for knowledge and belonging — and I fervently believe that there is — how can we satisfy that need if no one tells us our own story? How do we move forward if we cannot add to the narrative? How do we entertain each other without a collective act of imagining? How do we continue to educate future generations if we have no stories to bind us together?

You may be thinking this is all well and good, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a soap opera; it’s just a television show. Does it really matter? I think it does. And I think that any story that can be told without a break for more than 50 years, such as As The World Turns, deserves to be celebrated and its passing deserves to be mourned.

There are still people who need experiential outlets and serial drama may be an important and overlooked one to help people deal with their personal issues and to teach them to tell their own stories in a meaningful way.

What happens to those folks when we can no longer “tune in tomorrow?”