Forums Talk Shows & Game Shows How Not To Wreck A Soap by Douglas Marland
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    One of the all time famed soap head writers Douglas Marland wrote and published an article in SOD about how not to destroy a soap. Marland was a former head writer of As The World Turns, Guiding Light, and General Hospital. He worked as a writer on Another World and co-created Loving. He won multiple Emmy awards and Soap Opera Digest awards. Marland, a former actor, loved daytime. He passed away on March 6, 1993. Here is that list.

    1. Watch the show.

    2. Learn the history of the show. You would be surprised at the ideas that you can get from the back story of your characters.

    3. Read the fan mail. The very characters that are not thrilling to you may be the audience’s favorites.

    4. Be objective. When I came in to ATWT, the first thing I said was, what is pleasing the audience? You have to put your own personal likes and dislikes aside and develop the characters that the audience wants to see.

    5. Talk to everyone; writers and actors especially. There may be something in a character’s history that will work beautifully for you, and who would know better than the actor who has been playing the role?

    6. Don’t change a core character. You can certainly give them edges they didn’t have before, or give them a logical reason to change their behavior. But when the audience says, “He would never do that,” then you have failed.

    7. Build new characters slowly. Everyone knows that it takes six months to a year for an audience to care about a new character. Tie them in to existing characters. Don’t shove them down the viewers’ throats.

    8. If you feel staff changes are in order, look within the organization first. P&G [Procter & Gamble] does a lot of promoting from within. Almost all of our producers worked their way up from staff positions, and that means they know the show.

    9. Don’t fire anyone for six months. I feel very deeply that you should look at the show’s canvas before you do anything.

    10. Good soap opera is good storytelling. It’s very simple.

    Now let’s as soap fans list the ways bad soap executives/writers at Y&R and GH have broken these rules.

    Profile photo of Ryan-ScottRyan-Scott
    156 Posts

    The list…..the fabulous list! :bigsmile: :beer:

    I think if they watched their own shows like #1 says we might get a better show. If they saw what their writing is onscreen and see a lot of this unwatchable soap slop like we do changes might be made. I’m really over the “muddy storytelling” as Doug used to call it.

    Profile photo of harlee490harlee490
    963 Posts

    OH my God David the gates of hell as been opened…LOL, don’t watch GH, some realize I was loyal CBSer, so lets name a few to start with Y&R & MAB, LML, Paul R.!

    1. Changing character’s histories .
    2. Thrusting on the viewers mega-many new characters
    3. Disrespecting the characters personalities that Bill Bell so woven into with careful, loving writing. Where MAB & LML took a chain saw it Y&R.
    4. Disrespecting minority characters making them so stereotype, (hidden racial prejudices I believe) I will be fair here LML didn’t as much but MAB has very much so and don’t even realize it, being white blonde CA girl and honestly probably didn’t have people of color or culture around her growing up. She writes through perception of what she thinks people of color should be from perception. Bill did have some of same elements when he created Drucilla but it was about story of young A-A discovering herself and growing, Bill balanced it out much more with Malcolm-photographer, Nathan-investigator, Liv-Doctor, Neil-business professional, what people tend to forget there was the Lewis family of the late ’70s-’80s before the Barbers & Winters. Amy Lewis and her father(?)a middle class educated A-A, he was Chief of police for YEARS, Amy a lawyer.
    5. Destroying families, death of John Abbott was a major mistake (IE Maureen Bauer), John was the heart of Y&R, Carltons, wiped out and Tracy’s only child SHAMEFUL. They are destroying the Newmans, Victor is nothing but mobster a high brow bully, yes Victor can do some horrible things, Bill wrote him controlling especially w\family, vengeful towards Jack, but respectful toward John, Ashley, & Tracy, not any more. Victor also had a heart because if Bill was writing the Adam story trust he wouldn’t made Adam so nonredeemable & simply vile. Adam might have been out of control wanting justice regarding Hope towards Victor. Bill wouldn’t wrote Victor showing literal hatred toward one of his children, maybe disgusted and wanting to teach them a lesson…I can’t some it up better then the book..Victor was “Ruthless”. Big difference from the character today. Chancellors is nothing like they were, Jill has changed to unto a loud mouth (Jill always loud) shrew & weak woman…Bill’s Jill was always scheming for more power since DAY 1. Jill hasn’t had a good meaty story in over 5-6 years. Jill should been in there when Tucker-Chancellor sparing at each other and secretly buying up the stocks and then she would had been in charge of both companies…that’s Bill’s Jill, think of her history. That would have created Kay\Jill fighting over the company and the war had started again…it’s called history.
    5. Sidelining vets for newbies, when MAB has such stable cast of vets. Only a handful of vets receive storylines. Lauren, I want her front & center, hell let that sex-kitten Lauren be present again, it has been seething for years now, Tracey Bergman is HOT for her age, Michael, Gloria, Paul, Neil he’s was stuck in the latest episode of a bad Maury Povich storyline of “who’s your daddy”..ahhh..sickening. I could go on but I know this is long don’t want to over step, sorry for length. This is my bitchfest and sticking to it! J)

    Profile photo of SoapArmageddonSoapArmageddon
    397 Posts

    harlee490, one the things that most shows the truth of your point No. 4 was when Jill’s mother was killed off. Aside from the unnecessary killing of a character that was integral to who Jill is and the heavy-handed way MAB tried to correct LML’s writing. The whole way that story was handled rubbed me the wrong way.

    It’s true that David Hasselhoff played an original member of the Foster family, but we all know that bringing him on was more about his notoriety
    and being a reality show judge than anything else. They even stunt-casted the man’s daughter, and both of them were just so-so in their scenes.

    To top it all off, Jill’s grief over her mom’s death lasted about a week.
    Jill has been one of the characters that has suffered most from this regime’s way of doing things.

    Profile photo of akbad806akbad806
    243 Posts

    Jill isn’t the Y&R diva to suffer from bad writing, because I hate how they have destroyed Sharon. The stories they give her are so icky and misogynist. Why does she always need some man to make her feel complete? Victor, Adam, Nick, Jack, Sam….ugh!


    Great posting from all. I’ll add my thoughts in later.

    Profile photo of Chelley62Chelley62
    16 Posts

    That Article by Doug Marland has been one of my favorites since the day it was published back in the 90’s. I have posted it or a modified version of it a couple times on Facebook or other soap boards in the past couple years on YR and B&B fan pages. If every soap writer on the planet had followed these rules, the soaps would not be where they are today- in the crapper or barely existing. Thanks for posting it here!

    Profile photo of Soap_StudSoap_Stud
    23 Posts

    Doug Marland was such a gem to the daytime community. He sure is missed. Overall, I think Ron/Frank adhere to these “rules”, as do the folks over at Days. The Bell family certainly love the genre, but I am not sure they really understand how to write for the shows. There have been high points on both of the soaps, but the writing has been so uneven and the canvas of characters is always changing. I wish Maria and Brad would take a step back and bring in writing teams and producers who understand the genre and follow.Marland’s words of wisdom. With network soaps down to four, there are many great writers and producers out there who could really assist the Bell family in producing daily must see soap opera.

    Profile photo of marknsprmomarknsprmo
    407 Posts

    my ideas of what one should do as a new head writer.
    1 come in and find out who the audience is. Are they long time fans who have stuck with the show? Are there alot of newer fans because the long time fans gave up? To newer fans, the current cast IS the cast of the show. The vets from the old days are new to them. Are you going to get the old audience back by bringing back old favs? (maybe not). Who currently on the show is causing a stir? Which newer characters are the audience not happy with?
    2 A writer must be surgeon like in removing characters that are not working. Many times a writer will kill off a very popular character without realizing the importance of that character to the audience ( we do not like for shows to kill off the characters we love unless the actor playing the role has retired or passed on or not willing to return). If an unpopular character/actor has to go, don’t drag it on. Long mysteries about who killed someone we don’t even care about does not work.
    3 Tell stories that are of the same genre that the audience is used to being told. Don’t go all sci fi or action adventure on a show that is more about relationships and family. Conversely if your audience is all about action, don’t suddenly put the breaks on plot. The audience is used to a certain pacing on their show, if you change it, you risk turning them off.
    4 The soaps have been around for a long time, utilize that to your benefit. Find stories in the shows past that can be built on or did not get finished. Sprinkle those kinds of stories with new ones. It can’t all be about the past, but you never want to forget the shows history.
    5 Sorasing and desorasing has been done alot. If you soras the leading couple’s children, you not only age the children, you are also aging the leading couple. Grandma and Grandpa are not exactly sexy in most peoples minds. We also don’t want long time characters to come back decades younger than they were when they left.
    6. Tell some fresh and new and cutting edge stories but mix them in with more traditional fare. Mix it up! Everything should not be new and shiny again. We still like our old stuff too! Most of all DO NOT bore us. And Do Not make us Irate at you! Boredom will cause gradual decrease in viewership. Anger can cause imediate loss of our time.


    I think most of today’s Daytime Dramatic writers don’t even follow the 1st rule to watch the shows they write for and get to know the histories of the characters as well as some of their pivotal storylines.

    I know one thing that used to P*** me Off about the last decade of ATWT and Y&R still does it, is to completely re-arrange the personalities & histories of long time characters and always ALWAYS for the worse! It’s always something crazy, never nuanced nor subtle (which soaps seemingly never know how to do anymore).

    Then there are the newbies that are immediately thrown into the mix, complete with ridiculous back stories that make no sense. If they’d take time to introduce a character and let the audience get to know him/her before shoving them into an instant romance (or series of sex romps) perhaps they wouldn’t have to keep stunt casting because the viewer would actually give a darn about recent characters (as well as the characters they already have).

    I’m pretty much SOAP FREE these days because most of the shows I used to watch are gone and I’ve been utterly alienated from Y&R, which I used to watch on & off for Decades because to me the writing is crap. Newer viewers might disagree with me because they don’t know when the show was of a high standard.

    Marland & those writers of his ilk were focused on great storytelling and compelling characters. So interesting that he could write such strong female characters (Barbara, Lucinda Walsh, Kim Hughes, Emma Snyder, Lisa, etc) while MAB can’t seem to produce 1 complex, strong female character. She’s basically diminished Jill & Katherine who have been strength personified for at least 20 years and removed the backbones of Victoria Newman & what little Sharon had. It doesn’t make me want to go back to daytime at all. The women of Downton Abbey are more progressive.

    Growing up in the 80s and loving soaps from way back then, I have a higher standard for my daytime drama and I refuse to lower my standards. I’ll just be satisfied with classic episodes of As The World Turns & Guiding Light.

    the thoery of opposites
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