Dear Mr. Goutman,
If ever I was convinced there is a real world application of the phrase "an exercise in futility", this letter might qualify as proof of that concept. After all, you have been quoted in at least one now infamous interview that you do not listen to what fans have to say and that you follow your gut instincts about what you feel is best for As the World Turns as its executive producer. In many respects I applaud you for it. Vision, however forward thinking or flawed, indicates what might be called passion, which itself implies a belief in something. I think, in your own way, you really do believe in your show.
Savvy viewers (including those of moderate intelligence like myself) more than appreciate the fact that Procter & Gamble/TeleNext soap executive producers like yourself arguably have tougher rows to hoe than their counterparts. You have your corporate bosses at P&G to answer to, as well as another set of head honchos at CBS. Reports from the war front regarding the recent cancellation of ATWT's sister show Guiding Light exposed that often these two factions have differing agendas, which can only make your job that much harder to do in a climate of increasingly draconian budget cuts and free falling ratings amidst an ever shrinking — some openly say dying — genre with roots that can be traced back to Charles Dickens and beyond. No wonder you tune out the noise, if I may, to concentrate on one of the hardest jobs in all of television: producing 350+ hours of television every year.
So why write this letter though you may never read it? Partly because while fans and critics alike often offer criticism form the sidelines, I feel somewhat compelled to make a more direct appeal. The other answer is that I have a feeling someone on staff at ATWT, TeleNext, or CBS reads Daytime Confidential and other soap blogs and against all odds someone there will take some of what I may inarticulately say here and pull your coattails to let you know that whatever your accomplishments with this grand show in the past, your current vision for As the World Turns is not working now.
We fans tend to discount the pressures associated with producing a daily dramatic serial. There are viewers who often proclaim that they don't care about budgets, ratings and contracts; they merely want their favorites on screen everyday or that nebulous thing known as a good show. History; characters we love; don't insult our intelligence, etc. all regardless of cost. Sometimes it seems to me that some of my fellow fans are using the same kind of logic that says if they themselves only have $100 per week to spend on groceries, they would eat at five-star restaurants every night because they want their favorite food served by their favorite waiters and tip them 30% all the time. So, Mr. Goutman, to paraphrase one of our most recent presidents, I kind of feel your pain.
With all of that in mind, it is not my intention to discount or dismiss the hundreds of challenges you face every day in order to bring fictional Oakdale, Illinois to life in these difficult times. It is also not my intention to define for you or anyone else what makes a good show. After all, for all of the widespread praise that One Life to Live'sRon Carlivati receives, there are many who do not like his intricate, chess-like manipulation of intersecting plots and narrative hopscotch. For all of the bellyaching about how horrible Chuck Pratt at All My Children or Dena Higley at Days of Our Lives have been writing, ratings for both shows are — marginally — up.
That, sir, is part of my point in writing to you in this open forum: you don't listen to the fans, but you do pay attention to the ratings. Even moderately intelligent fans like me understand that much. Unfortunately, As the World Turns has neither critical praise to counter its floundering ratings nor rising ratings to mitigate its floundering writing as I compose this letter. Despite all the pressures you face as an executive producer, you are ultimately the captain of that ship, and you are grievously piloting it toward the rocks.
Let's get to the heart of it. The semi-episodic/three-day-two-day storytelling model has failed beyond question. Your rationale for taking the show in this direction seems sound on face value. According to what you (and others) have said, today's viewer is too busy and distracted by work, iPods, texting, Twittering, cable news and all manner of business to fully invest in five days per week of storytelling. So you implemented this semi-episodic model that more or less focuses on your A stories three days a week, your B stories about two days a week and everything is shoehorned where they can fit in. It might even save you some money here and there by limiting the number of characters and sets needed for any given show.
There are two massive problems with both your reasoning and the implementation of same. The first is that of the ever dwindling soap opera audience that is left, plenty of viewers still find time to invest in five day a week storytelling, as the ratings of at least four daytime dramas that regularly best As the World Turns unquestionably prove. The number one daytime drama, The Young and the Restless, even with it's own ratings challenges, has double or more the number of viewers of ATWT. I'm willing to take bets that it is not solely because everyone is taking their lunch at 12:30 Eastern time either.
More problematic, though, is the fact that your model for ATWT has had the opposite effect than you intended. Stories move at lightning speed; whole arcs are over within two weeks; and sometimes within a single 38 minute episode. Characters lose four-month-old unborn babies after having been pregnant on screen for six weeks; affairs end before they begin; characters hatch plots which are immediately discovered; feuds begin and end within the space of a commercial break. You know what the result of all this is Mr. Goutman? All those iPod listening, working away from home, Twittering, Facebooking soap masses tune in and discover little reason to invest in a choppy, thematically incohesive show which they cannot get a handle on from week to week, much less day to day. The upshot is that you still produce really good individual episodes and performances like today's May 22 show but as a whole the show just doesn't hang together.
Of course, the other albatross around your neck is your head writer Jean Passanante. She has the capacity to tell great stories, but hasn't been doing so for a very long time. I have publicly (on this blog's podcast) called for her firing, but that might have been somewhat unfair. Who knows what might be hampering her from telling the best stories possible? Could it be the limitations and restrictions of your format change? Could it be burnout? Or could it be she has no more stories to tell for this set of characters in this particular setting? She repeats many of the same beats, character-types and story dynamics over and over as the few stories she (and you, when you are not changing story direction on a dime) does focus on go around and around in circles until many of us get dizzy...and sometimes sick. One particular couple has not been christened "The Vortex of Suck" for nothing.
Additionally, I cannot forget about how certain members of your cast, as talented as they are, are played far too heavily all the time while so many others are absolutely wasting away on the sidelines. This is not the usual rant about not utilizing your insanely popular veteran cast members because promising new actors, characters and relationships with potential are inconsistently written or all but ignored, as well. While I am at it, may I ask whose idea it was to install a revolving door in the casting department? I suspect part of this state of affairs is due to your aforementioned format as well as a lack of vision for how to utilize the broad scope of your (mostly) talented cast without breaking the bank.
I assume that even if you do not listen to the fans, you've heard these issues and complaints before in some form or another. So what is the point of this open letter other than another exercise in stating what is seems obvious to many of us watching from day to day? The answer lies in the fact that it is specifically and respectfully addressed to you, Mr. Goutman.
I remember when I first saw you as an actor, as desperate thug Matt Sharkey on my favorite daytime drama of all time, The Edge of Night. You had a certain magnetism and energy onscreen that lent depth to what could have easily been a one-note, stereotypical role. As one of the few people who watched Texas when it originally aired, I was delighted to see you turn up as George St. John during the short run of that serial. When you moved to directing, a smile crossed my face through the years as I saw your name pop up in the credits of many of the soaps I watched. Though I missed most your short tenure on Another World — a show that was already on its last legs when you took over — you made an attempt to resuscitate that failing enterprise as best you could, despite a number of missteps along the way.
Then, Mr. Goutman, you came to As the World Turns and began reinvigorating the show's visual look, direction and style that truly brought Oakdale into the 21st century. Though Hogan Sheffer gets the lion's share of praise for making ATWT must-see during his time there, you deserve as much credit for producing a show that complemented Sheffer's writing with dynamism and vigor. You helped create a true post-Douglas Marland renaissance, which had eluded the show some 10+ years after Marland's death. There were a lot of stumbles, but not for lack of verve. There was a little more money to do all those things then, but it seemed to this viewer that there was also imagination at play on your part that preceded Mr. Sheffer's arrival and which surfaces every now and again when your show does its special holiday themed episodes. You, sir, had vision.
Lately, it seems your vision has been clouded. As the World Turns is beset by listlessness and narrative stagnation. The show looks and feels fragmented and its stories are more "islands" unto themselves than ever. Your actors are increasingly burdened with lifting the writing instead of the other way around. Most detrimental of all, I suspect that while you still have a certain level of passion for the show, you're going through the motions now.
It has been rumored that ATWT may not be renewed after its contract runs out past 2010. I hope this is not true. If the rumors are true, you only have a few months left to get your show's proverbial shit together; this insitution would deserve to go out with a bang, not a whimper. If these rumors are not true, then it is incumbent upon you to do all you can reverse this disastrous course that the show finds itself on as ratings continue to fall and the goodwill of its remaining fans are tested.
Mr. Goutman, I believe you have it in you to revive Oakdale as you did once before, to overcome as many budget deficiencies as is reasonably possible to return As the World Turns to being a true daytime serial as opposed to a weekly psuedo-telenovela. I cannot tell you how to make a good soap opera. I can only ask you to stop producing a bad one.