Search for Tomorrow

Solid momentum in storytelling is the key to soaps, past and present. It makes us not only invest in the shows and the characters but fills us with anticipation. It is at the very heart of continuing drama. When shows forget this central truth about soap opera, they devolve into a series of breathless moments and a collection of high strung scenes with little long term impact or consequence beyond that day's or week's episode. In other words, furious tap dancing.

To a certain extent, we fans have partial responsibility for this state of affairs. Back when my mother and her friends were watching soaps, they either liked what they saw or didn't. If they liked or didn't like something enough, they would sit down and write a letter to a network if they were so inclined. They mighty have been tempted to call a switchboard. If enough people were thoughtful enough to put pen to paper, spring for the money for a stamp and go to the post office, or sit down and incur a long distance toll charge then we might see change unfold on screen.

The rise of the Internet has produced a different kind of fan reaction. Yes, we are far more informed and savvy about soaps and what goes on behind the scenes than the fans of my mother's generation. However, we are far more impatient than at any time in soap history, too: new characters are routinely dismissed as interlopers. New actors with promise aren't given the time prove to prove their worth unless they hit their first performance out of the ballpark (and sometimes a photo alone can cause convulsions in some fans). A new plot can barely air for two days before angry mobs spring up on message boards proclaiming that it is dragging on too long. We can be so busy looking back at the mythical soap past, dissecting the mistakes of an episode as it is literally airing and criticizing upcoming, but unaired storylines that I think we have lost the ability to see potential when it does not necessarily conform to our preconceptions.

Under these circumstances, is it any wonder why some trigger happy executives might mistake fan-driven insta-reaction as the soap opera equivalent of attention deficit disorder? In fact, ATWT executive producer Christopher Goutman infamously stated that he doesn't think fans have the patience to watch soaps five days a week in their current format. Is it any wonder in that context (among other considerations) why he and head writer Jean Passanante have acted accordingly with warp speed storytelling?

The legendary writers and producers of soap opera understood that the genre was not predicated on immediate payoff or even servicing the immediate needs of fans or fan bases. Agnes Nixon, the soap goddess herself, said, "Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait" in answer to a question about how to deal with impatient fans. Douglas Marland, Bill Bell, Harding Lemay, Henry Slesar and Irna Phillips may have approached soaps differently, but they all wrote and produced with momentum and payoff in mind according to what they felt it was for the good of their shows. They were true to their characters...until time or circumstances caused them to change those characters. The masters of the genre wrote stories forward, rarely back. They kept their eye on history, but were not slaves to it. Even the great Marland resurrected Kim Hughes' long dead daughter and turned her into twins, Frannie & Sabrina. He also shoehorned in a son for Lisa, Scott Eldridge, who had been presumably born during ATWT's short-lived prime time spinoff, Our Private World starring Eileen Fulton. History has never been completely all it's cracked up to be. (continued)


KingTV's picture
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Beautiful, compelling essay, J. Bernard. Your insight and intelligence on the genre shines through with this thesis on the generational passing down of the soaps. I, too, found myself watching Ryan's Hope, Days, Another World and Guiding Light originally due to my step-mother's love for the lives and loves of the people in those cities and towns where they were located. That led to my own exploration of what other soaps were out there and I found the particular style which engrossed me the most at Y&R, GL, DOOL and then Loving and Santa Barbara. The internet has lessened the shock and surprise of what was going to happen and I am not sure if it has been a blessing or a curse for the industry. As much as I want story lines to remain shrouded in having to watch, I find myself hunting for the leaks because I also enjoy knowing what is going to happen and then seeing how the individual show produces and plays the scenario out. Mostly, I just wanted to let you know that I can relate to so much of what you have written and analyzed to be the history of the actual watching of daytime drama. Stories should be long-term and plotted out to involve every single beat and moment. It makes things that much more organic, natural seeming and like read life, where things like falling in love does not take 2 days but 2 years or more, evil plots are thought out and planned while the unwitting participants go about their lives and mysteries, criminal trials and off the charts events take their time in unfolding. Thank you for writing this to educate the new viewers of what the soap opera was originally intended for and to remind the long time fans of why they fell in love with the genre to begin with. Happy new year 2009 and here's to a resurgence of all the soaps and a continued passing on to the next generations of fans.

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You are simply one of the finest commentators on the genre. I remember checking in on DC hoping "DS9Sisko" (which, by the by, is the best of the Treks) posted on certain articles, because they were always a treat. I'm thrilled that you are an official contributor to DC now.

Thank you for pointing out what OLTL and Y&R are doing right now. The shows have rejuvenated my love for the genre in the last year.

Off-topic, I was thinking about "Guiding Light." Anybody else think that the new production model would actually work if the show were cut back to a half-hour? They wouldn't have to rush so much with the editing and shooting. I mean, "The City" had a similar format 13 years earlier and it looked far superior.

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J. Bernard: Thanks for both the fond memories and for holding the mirror up to daytime today and showing how far many shows have changed from those days. I was a little older than you when I started watching soaps and started about a year earlier in '73, but I still have memories etched in my head of how stories I watched with my mom during summer vacations - like Joanne on Search for Tomorrow being blinded, or the Scott/Kathy/Jennifer story you mentioned where Morgan Fairchild's Jennifer crashed through a glass door - stayed there, to the point where even when I was back in school, I had to ask Mom what happened. When my mom went back to work in '76, we depended on newspaper summaries to keep up until vacation rolled around again for me, and that's what got me into first SFT and Y&R and then later ATWT in the late 70s/early 80s. Those stories unfolded slowly, sometimes taking years to unfold, so it's sad how we've lost that today with so many shows moving at breakneck speed. The worst part is that many of daytime's leaders today - Brad bell, Ken Corday, Chris Goutman - were active in the industry in the 80s when the likes of Bill Bell and Doug Marland and others were still writing continuing drama, so it makes you wonder what these folks see differently in today's audience that they create such fast paced fare.

joeyconf's picture
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I'd give anything to be able to rewatch eps of Love of Life from the 70s and 80s. They were less than 15 min long in content due to the CBS 5 minute newscast in the slot. The two actresses who played Van and Meg, Audrey Peters and Tudi Wiggins were fantastic. And yes, Search for Tomorrow in the 70s was awesome. Marie Cheatham and Morgan Fairchild played great bitches. What I especially remember about SFT was the perfect use of music underneath the scenes to create tension in every single scene. The writing on LOL and SFT was almost always excellent. Too bad Soapnet doesn't air old soaps anymore. How many times can you actually watch reruns of friggin' One Tree Hill? Scott

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excellent. Excellent. EXCELLENT! J. Bernard Jones, I have said it before, but it bears repeating... You are a TRUE talent. Thank you so very much for taking the time to write such insightful and compelling material for Daytime Confidential. It is sincerely appreciated. I hope it is not going unnoticed by the insiders of the industry - executives, writers, actors. They could definitely learn very much while also experiencing a truly enjoyable read. Again, Thank You Very Much. And I look forward to "hearing" more of your "voice" in 2009. Happy New Year!

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Love this.
JBJ you are the man and I just love reading your posts.

daisyclover1938's picture
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Great blog Bernard! As usual, you've given me a lot to think about.

I do think about how soaps have changed over the years, but I also think about how I've changed as a viewer. I'm so hyper-critical now. For awhile I was enjoying OLTL and tried to recapture the joy I used to feel as a soap fan back in the day. Back when I didn't Fast Forward, didn't read Spoilers, didn't hop online right after watching an episode to dissect, analyze and criticize every line of dialogue/plot point/hairstyle, etc... It worked for awhile - until the show started drowning in a sea of Camp and told a story (Tarty) that made me ashamed to be a soap fan (sorry, I know you disagree Bernard, but I'm still not "over it" lol)

Anyway, what's interesting to me is that the 3 soaps I enjoy watching the most right now are Ryan's Hope (on SoapNet), Dark Shadows (on DVD) and EastEnders (UK soap). RH and DS are decades old and while I have opinions on them, I don't belong to any forums that discuss the shows at great length. And while I post on an EE thread on TFO, we really just talk briefly about what we're enjoying. My point is that being hyper-critical of these shows would be a waste of time, so the *way* I view them is completely different than how I view current US soaps, and I think it allows me to enjoy them more.

Thanks again for another thoughtful blog Bernard!

DaisyClover (aka SamBot #1)

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Yet again another great article! You always write such compelling articles. My mom also was a soap fan, being a housewife of 9 kids. When we were in school, she whould faithfully watch AMC, RH, Loving, OLTL and GH. I remember some of us running home from school and my mom and a group of neighbor ladies all huddled around the 19 inch watching Karen Woleck on the stand, revealing that she was a hooker, and then it was a soap oprea block party when Luke & Laura got married.

Yes, those were the days! Again, another great article! BRAVO!!!! This should be in Soap Oprea Digest!!


***"Tick.Tick.Tick..The Hunt For Ron Carliviti Is On! REDEEM OLTL! LEAVE RON ALONE!"***

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Yes, the daytime serial "Search For Tomorrow" could have been subtitled "The Joanne Gardner Barron Tate Vincente Tourneur Story",for that character,certainly Mary Stuart,the actress portraying her set the tone for the show's entire 35-year run,producing over 2,000 episodes. In many ways Joanne was much like a radio soap opera heroine,remaining strong and supporting her friends while enduring terrible suffering in her life. But she had time for lighter moments with her co-stars while dealing with the usual situations that when on with her longtime friend Stu Bergman,who was first seen in December in 1951 and stayed until the end of the jobs for 15 year olds,and by the 1970's, a chance to break out in song occasionally. The combination worked for  viewers for at least 30 years,as the show's top rated soap from 1952 to 1955,stayed near the top through the 1960's,and remained a serious contender until CBS-TV,in a dispute with sponsor Proctor and Gamble,canceled it 1982 after more than 31 years with the network. The series premiere on CBS-TV on September 3, 1951 and ended its astounding run on March 26,1982. Then,a week after it left CBS,the soap moved to NBC-TV on March 29,1982 and remained with the network until December 26,1986. When it was on CBS-TV during the early years,the series was seen in 15 to 20 minute installments and it remain that way until the late-1960's. On September 9,1968 the show was extended to a full half-hour.