Watching the ABC daytime lineup lately has been a little déjà vu for this old time soap viewer. Perhaps “copying” is too strong a term. Maybe “homage” would be a better word or, perhaps, “sticky fingers.” On the other hand, the stories in question here are different from either classic soap opera tropes (boy/girl-meets-hates-falls-in-love-with-girl/boy stuff) or classic soap cliches (supervillain-returns-from-the-dead-with-an-evil-twin shenanigans) because of their very specificity.
All three of the ABC’s daytime dramas currently are airing stories or arcs that have been a little too close to the mark of several cancelled Proctor & Gamble shows, begging the question “Does Brian Frons really admire those old, now defunct serials as much as he loves pilfering CBS soap stars?” Let us count the ways:
BABY, I NEED YOUR LOVING
The Soaps: All My Children vs. Guiding Light
The Story: Uber-popular middle aged firebrand character Reva Shayne/Angie Hubbard (played by uber-popular Emmy-winning actresses Kim Zimmer & Debbi Morgan, respectively) contracts a major, life-altering disease that threatens to take away part of her identity as an uber-popular middle aged firebrand character. She first elects to keep the news to herself, mainly fearing the effect it will have on the love of her life (Josh Lewis/Jesee Hubbard). A close confidant and ally (Billy Lewis/Jake Martin) learns the truth & vows to support her. Then she learns she is pregnant, along with a big “uh oh” that the treatments for her ailment could cost her the well-being or life of her unborn child. She initially chooses her baby’s health over her own, until she is given multiple reasons to live by various contract and recurring characters.
How Do the Stories Compare Overall?: While widely cited around the internet for its current copycat status, All My Children co-headwriter David Kreizman — who has apparently gone green — recycled this story from himself, having written the Reva-Cancer-Pregnancy story on Guiding Light just a little over two years ago. Fortunately, he seems to have learned a little bit from his original’s mistakes. Angie revealed the truth very early on to Jesse (in brilliantly moving scenes between Morgan and Darnell Williams), whereas Reva kept her cancer a secret longer than an Al Gore speech. The writing is more subtle and the fallout from the news as it spreads in Pine Valley seems more intimate than in Peapack.
Strengths: Zimmer was awesome (although she did make a few ham sandwiches from time to time) during her cancer/pregnancy story, which to its credit focused far more realistically on the treatment side of cancer than we have yet to see on AMC. She was also admirably backed up by Jordan Clarke. Morgan, however, has been nothing less than spectacular, with outstanding support by Williams, Ricky Paull Goldin, and Vincent Irizarry as adversary David Hayward. Even Rebecca Budig showed nice depth and range as a sympathetic Greenlee once she learned of Angie’s condition. There is a stronger focus on the emotional fallout on AMC as opposed to the histrionics that sometimes marred the GL version. Major plus: better production values.
Weaknesses: AMC’s version is an almost connect-the-dots remake of the GL story.
AMC Grade:A-, most of which is due to the stellar acting of all the performers involved.
O, BROTHERS, WHERE ART THOU?
The Soaps:One Life to Live vs. Search for Tomorrow
The Story Arc: Mired in or near last place in the Nielsen ratings, a beloved but struggling soap goes through a sudden, jarring reinvention by ditching a portion of its characters, cast & several storylines and shifts about 65% of its tone. A major component of this renovation is the rapid introduction and elevation of three agreeably handsome brothers (upping the hunk factor considerably) and their salt of the earth mother, who immediately ingratiate themselves onto the canvas. The hope is that these new babe magnets & their mama grizzly will help drag up the show’s pathetic ratings from the depths of despair and save it from (rumored) impending cancellation.
How Do the Stories Compare Overall?: Before Search for Tomorrow — then on NBC in 1984 — tried its last big stunt by literally flooding and rebuilding the entire town of Henderson (how is that for being subtle?), the McCleary brothers were quite obviously meant to be SFT’s saviors. (There also was a sister, Adair, but nobody remembers her.) Played by now-soap veterans David Forsyth (Hogan), Jeffrey Meek (Quinn) and Matthew Ashford (Cagney), all three men were a combination of the then-red hot As the World Turns’ rambunctious Snyders and then-redder-hotter Buchanans of One Life to Live only withway-deep Irish roots (perhaps as a nod to ABC timeslot competitor Ryan’s Hope). Their mother Kate (the legendary Maeve McGuire from The Edge of Night) was also meant to bring in viewers by casting an actresss who had been a hit with fans as part of a massively popular super-couple on a freshly cancelled soap. Starting to sound familiar?
What’s different? For one thing, the Ford brothers (Robert and James, played by David Gregory and Nicholas Robuck, respectively) along with newly discovered sibling Nate Salinger (Lenny Platt) and hottie mama Inez (Jessica Leccia, best known as Natalia from the Olivia/Natalia codename "Otalia" supercouple of GL) are all quite younger than any of the McClearys. Plus, the two older brothers are Abercrombie & Fitch half-naked. All the freakin' time.
Strengths: For OLTL’s sake, few viewers seem to actually remember much about the final years of Search besides the aforementioned flood. Though new to the canvas on Search, the McCleary clan was populated by a deeply talented cast, which included the aforementioned actors including Patrick Tovatt (best known ATWT’s Cal Strickland) as the patriarch Malcolm. The OLTL Ford/Salinger clan...well, they certainly look pretty.
Weaknesses:Search for Tomorrow did not benefit from the luck of the McCleary Irish and went off the air in 1986. Oops.
OLTL Grade: C-, mostly for the confusion surrounding which brother is trying to hook up with Starr and/or Langston at any given time.
THAT FRAME (UP) DIDN’T COME FROM TARGET
The Soaps:General Hospital vs. The Edge of Night
The Story: Opposite sides of the law collide when a shooting in self-defense turns into frame-up of the shooter when a third party with a vendetta against the other side hides the gun that was used by the assailant.
How Do the Stories Compare Overall?: GH currently is telling a funhouse mirror reversal of one of Edge’s more topical stories of the late 70’s/early 80’s. To wit, in the EON version, good guy hero cop Steve Guthrie (Denny Albee) catches Justin Beiber-esque thug Joey Dials (Joey Jerome) attempting to mug someone on broad daylight. Steve gives chase; the young man turns around with what appears to be a gun and Steve shoots him in the chest. Joey dies in the arms of his shady brother, Mickey Dials (Vasili Bogazianos) and Joey’s “gun” turns out to be a toy. Mickey uses that information to disgrace Steve and the Monticello police department for shooting an unarmed kid. What follows are months of soul searching by Steve, protests against police force, and the revelation that Mickey — in his hatred for the police — switched Joey’s real gun with the fake one!
In the GH version, mobster Sonny Corrinthos (Maurice Benard) has the Steve Guthrie role, Johnny Zacarra (Brandon Barash) gets plugged in the chest like Joey, and Ronnie Dimestico (the much underrated Ronnie Marmo) is the cop who takes on the Mickey Dials slot by — in his hatred for the mob — hiding the gun that Johnny pulled on Sonny and using that information to bring down Sonny by claiming the Dimpled Don shot an unarmed man.
Strengths: Oddly, The Edge of Night’s location filming of the shooting of Joey Dials in 1979 trounces General Hospital’s studio based shooting of Johnny Zaccara in 2010 by a long shot! Back then, EON’s production team took steadicams on the streets of New York and filmed a foot chase that was as exciting, thrilling and brilliantly edited as any prime time cop show, much less daytime. Sonny’s point blank shooting of Johnny Z. certainly had a certain shock value, but having two mobsters who were already trying to kill each other on a soap where there is a shootout every third episode doesn’t have quite the punch of a show’s hero cop shooting a (then presumed) unarmed teenager to death.
Weaknesses: Edge viewers found out about Mickey’s deception early into the story but it was never clear if or how Steve would be exonerated, which happened several months later. With GH, we know it won’t long before poor Ronnie is locked up with Mickey Dials and Sonny will be free to once again to chase Brenda Bada Clink-Boom Bada Bing Barrett (Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo) and/or impregnate the women of upstate New York.
GH Grade: Incomplete. As always.